The more things change

At the recent farewell for union colleage Cathy Rytmeister, one of the guests reminded me of a YouTube video I recorded for the National Tertiary Education Union nearly fifteen years ago. He said he thought it was “brave” at the time. Certainly Cathy has some words to say about that:

Be brave. Be brave. Sometimes speaking out is your best defence. Passivity allows you to be pushed around. I know that nowadays it’s a lot harder, because people are casual and it’s their livelihood at stake if they speak out … [Paraphrasing a well-known folk song] ‘Join the union while you may. Don’t wait till your dying day. That may not be far away, you dirty, blackleg academic.’ Get as involved as you can and don’t give up hope.

The video was significant as one of the union’s early forays into social media. It was written about in the Australian Financial Review:

The National Tertiary Education Union has harnessed the power of video, using website YouTube to rally members ahead of a national strike on Wednesday week. A video produced by the university union’s NSW division, featuring an academic claiming heavy workloads forced her to choose between family and career, received 2300 hits in three days last week. Union officials say the response proves just how effective social media can be in getting messages out, and web users can expect to see a lot more online from the NTEU…

The video is no longer publicly available, but I am fortunate to have a father who downloaded it at the time with an eye to posterity. I had to convert it from an archaic file format in order to watch it.

With enterprise bargaining and industrial action happening across the Australian higher education sector, this glimpse into my university work fifteen years ago as a casual academic and PhD candidate reminded me of the importance of collective action and systemic change.

One thought on “The more things change

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