Ignoring Half the Membership is No Way to Lead a Branch

A Response to Fightback from Rank and File Action

NTEU Fightback have issued a statement criticising members of the Sydney University NTEU Branch Committee, including members of RAFA, who sought to maintain branch unity and reach a compromise after Thursday’s extraordinary tied vote. Here we respond.

The mass meeting of March 23 put us in a position no one was prepared for: a vote of close to 600 members that ended up tied on the two substantive motions – one to defer the upcoming strikes, one to maintain them. Fightback’s statement avoids all mention of this crucial context.

The role of the Branch Committee is to implement the will of the membership, even when that will is split 50:50. That evening, BC thrashed out a compromise: 1) To defer the strike of Wednesday March 29 to the following week to allow time to consider developments in bargaining; 2) To maintain the strike on Friday March 31 (Census Day). This satisfies those who want more time for deliberation, and it maintains a plan for 48hrs of strikes should progress in bargaining be deemed insufficient.

RAFA’s position on strikes is obvious: we initiated, moved, and seconded the BC majority motion on Thursday. But for our industrial campaign to advance, we need to ensure that as many members as possible are committed to it. By slightly rearranging our strikes, we have secured the support of both sides of Thursday’s debate for ongoing industrial action.

Indeed, it was our hope that this solution would receive the unanimous support of Branch Committee members. Sadly, it did not. NTEU Fightback argued that our branch would be better served by simply maintaining a previous resolution to strike next Wednesday and Friday. After their motion was defeated, they either opposed or abstained from the motion endorsing the revised plan of strike action.

As a technical matter of procedure, it is true that Thursday’s vote did not overturn the existing resolution to strike on March 29 and 31. Politically, though, Fightback’s proposal struck us as entirely devoid of strategic sense, and likely to have produced a deep rift in the branch.

For the Branch Committee to have insisted that we were entitled to ignore the sentiment of a full half of the members’ meeting and maintain next Wednesday’s strike would have elicited strong resistance from many of those who sided with the minority motion. This would have seriously endangered not just that strike, but any future industrial action.

Do such considerations not occur to Fightback? Or is their desire to differentiate themselves from the rest of the branch so strong as to outweigh them? Sadly, this is not the first time that Fightback have seized on, or simply manufactured, opportunities to advertise themselves as the most militant, with seeming indifference to the strategic implications of their proposals.

In classic sectarian fashion, Fightback have listed RAFA members by name in their statement denouncing us. But the fact is, we’re happy to be associated with a decision that shows due regard for the will of the membership and the need for branch unity to take our industrial campaign forward. While Fightback expends disproportionate energy on point-scoring, we in RAFA will continue to listen to members, and seek as much unity as is possible, to carry on the militant fight we need for a fair EA.

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