Music School sackings just the start of ANU VC’s assault
On Thursday 3 May, Australian National University vice chancellor Ian Young announced restructuring that will devastate the School of Music. In a drastic violation of conditions in the Enterprise Agreement, all 32 academic and general staff have been sacked, and will be forced to reapply for their positions.
Twelve jobs will be lost permanently. Theory classes and the dedicated one-on-one instruction needed for instrument teaching will be abolished in favour of poorly-funded allowances for private tutoring. Courses will be “professionalised” in the name of producing industry ready graduates.
The announcement came just three days after Young indicated he would back away from university wide cuts he threatened in April. But he only promised to slow down his timetable and to use forced redundancies as a last resort, a promise he has already betrayed.
While Young denies any link between the School of Music and these broader plans, the connection is clear. In statements to The Australian, he explained that he is still pursuing $40 million dollars in staff cuts, with up to 150 jobs to go, and administrative “savings” (read: more staff cuts).
The vice chancellor has modified his tactics but not his goal. The Music School attacks are simply the first ruthless step in this program of sackings and increased workloads.
In response to the backlash from staff and students against his restructuring plans, including hundreds-strong turnouts to a meeting and rally called by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), he says he will slow the process down a little. He hopes that through targeted attacks on particular areas he can isolate us and limit our capacity to resist collectively.
Young has clearly stated that he will work with senior local managers to identify savings in each college. And with the current Enterprise Agreement expiring at the end of June, we can expect more aggressive attacks from the administration in the next bargaining round.
As staff and students from across the university, we need to recognise that this attack on the Music School is an attack on all of us. If we do not stand together against this, it will make it easier for Young to implement further cuts.
The initial response of Music School workers and students has been shock and outrage. Around 70 people turned up to a meeting called by the ANU Students’ Association on the day following the announcement. They have called a rally for Monday 14 May. This is the important next step – a strong response from staff and students will be important here if the campaign is to develop.
An effective campaign against the attacks on ANU workers will require united action from staff and students beyond the Music School. Academic and general workers on the campus need to develop a network of unionists willing to take a stand by becoming actively involved in mobilising our colleagues and saying we will not tolerate any cuts, anywhere.
The ANU is in surplus. There is no reason to believe these cuts are necessary. But Young is determined to batter workers and devalue students’ education at the ANU, in the name of “sound economic management”. He is doing what business and government want to happen everywhere. Vice chancellors at Sydney and Macquarie Universities have taken similar steps, so has Qantas CEO Alan Joyce. They want workers and students to bear the costs of the weakness of their profit-based economic system, their self-serving decisions and declining returns from their investments.
Business and government are amply represented on the ANU Council that appointed and backs Young, and which is headed by former Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans.
Building the campaign
It is likely that nothing short of industrial action across the campus can hope to save the music school and turn back further assaults. Only by making it clear that there will be no “business as usual” while ANU management attacks us can we exert the pressure that will probably be necessary to roll back their plans.
Earlier this year Victorian nurses took industrial action, defied hospital managers, the Baillieu state government and the Fair Work Act to win their dispute over pay and plans to close beds, undermine their conditions and increase their workloads. We can learn a lot from their example.
The first step is for a large turnout to rallies, campaign committee and general meetings. We can spread the word about the seriousness of the situation as widely as possible and get as many people as possible to the protest next week and to the general union meeting when it occurs. From there we can plan a stop work meeting and prepare the ground for a campaign of industrial action.
Monday 14 May Concert and rally lunchtime Union Court ANU.
Union meeting to be advised.
This article by Rachel Morgain, Rick Kuhn, John Passant and Peter Jones first appeared in Socialist Alternative.