It was fantastic to see so many university staff and students participating. I was honoured to speak for the National Tertiary Education Union as we assembled at the University of Sydney this morning.
For what it's worth, here's the speech I gave ... arguing for a just transition everywhere, including in higher education where I work.
It’s great to be here with so many university staff and students united in our determination to get this rotten Morrison government to take the climate crisis seriously!
I want to talk a bit about why we’re here today, what we’re fighting for, and what it means for university staff and students to be in this fight together.
One of the three demands of today’s strike is for a fair and just transition to a new economy.
That demand is the bridge between the goals of the climate movement and the goals of the union movement.
The demand for a just transition is the reason that wharfies from the Maritime Union of Australia have walked off the job at Port Botany today to join the strike!
It’s the reason that manufacturing workers at Fenner Dunlop in Victoria are also taking industrial action and joining their local climate strike!
And it’s one of the reasons that the NTEU has thrown its weight behind the school strike movement, and why thousands of university staff are joining students and walking off their campuses all over the country to participate.
Now, when you think of a ‘just transition’, maybe you think of the need to create good, secure jobs for people whose jobs will disappear in fossil fuel industries like coal, oil and gas. That’s going to be absolutely vital.
But the idea of a just transition is way bigger than that. The whole economy needs a transition if we’re going to stop runaway climate change … so what kind of transition will it be?
What will the transition look like in higher education, one of our biggest industries and employers?
Yes, it’s got to involve universities shifting to 100% renewable energy! And it has definitely got to involve divestment from all fossil fuel investments!
But it won’t be a just transition if we go renewable while we continue to casualise teaching and administration. We’ve got to cut job insecurity and cut wage theft as well as cutting emissions!
And it won’t be a just transition if we divest from fossil fuels while we divest responsibility for university operations like cleaning and security to dodgy contractors who pay minimum wage and treat their workers like crap. We’ve got to have ethical employment practices as well as ethical investments!
Both of those things – the casualisation and outsourcing of work - are getting worse right here at Sydney Uni, and at other universities around the country.
There will be people who tell you that we’ve got to worry first about decarbonisation, then about decasualisation. They’ll tell you that divestment is more important than what happens to the cleaning staff.
They’re wrong. They’re wrong because they’re holding on to the very fantasy that has got us into this mess – that’s the fantasy that we can continue with business as usual while we save the planet.
Business as usual is wrecking working lives and wrecking the planet at the same time. At universities. And across the economy.
That’s why the fight of the climate movement and the fight of the union movement is ultimately the same fight. It’s the fight for an economy that puts people and planet first, not last.
It’s the fight for a world in which no natural resources, no communities, no cultures, and no workers are treated as expendable.
And striking is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal in that combined fight: it’s so fitting that the action that is bringing our movements together, inspired by the school student organisers, is a strike.
So let’s strike for climate, let’s fight for a just transition. And let’s come back here on Monday after today’s strike to keep fighting for a fair and just transition at our own university!