Five years ago the Illawarra held its collective breath as thousands of steel workers were given an ultimatum delivered by steel bosses on behalf of their shareholders.
Throw 500 steel workers and their families under a bus and accept cuts to pay and conditions, or we close down the whole show and the Illawarra will lose up to 10,000 jobs in the steelworks and broader community.
It will go down in history as the 's... sandwich' we had to have, corporate blackmail by multinationals who are driven by profit - not the public good. They are not accountable to communities, only to shareholders.
Does this sound familiar? Isn't that what the University of Wollongong bosses have given their staff, an ultimatum dressed up as a multiple-choice quick test? Either accept pay cuts with job cuts or you will get ... even bigger job cuts and pay cuts.
Read more: How did it all go so wrong, so fast for UOW?
The carrot and stick approach usually works better when the carrot looks a little different to the stick. It is no wonder that the straw poll vote that the vice-chancellor intends to hold this week doesn't look promising for the austerity options - all of them.
How about listening to what your staff are telling you loud and clear! They want a fourth option - one different to the others.
Frankly, it wasn't a distinguished effort by the UOW bosses. Let's expose the elephants in the room.
Let's presume that UOW has significant reserves and liquid assets. They will say these are for a rainy day, an unexpected hit on cash flow or an unforeseen economic challenge. Hello? It's pouring outside.
First, universities may think and, at times, act as multinational corporations but their shareholders in the main don't drive jaguars, holiday in Monaco or have Swiss bank accounts. They are teachers andcleaners and steelworkers.
Universities are not private companies; they are public institutions owned by the people and must be held accountable to the people whose taxes pay for them. When our community demands that the UOW bosses open the books and reveal the true state of their finances and the size of their reserves it is not a request from an interested third party - it is an expectation from the owners of the institution.
Second, let's presume that UOW has significant reserves and liquid assets. They will say these are for a rainy day, an unexpected hit on cash flow or an unforeseen economic challenge.
Hello? It's pouring outside, over 10,000 have already lost their jobs in the region and this is perhaps the greatest and least expected hit on our economy since the war. This is precisely what reserves are meant for.
Let's be clear, unlike the steelworks, your shareholders want you, the bosses to use the reserves to maintain employment levels and your offering of courses to our children. It is why you exist.
Let's not forget, UOW is the second largest workplace in our region. Every job lost here will take another two in the broader community - it's called the multiplier effect and we know from bitter experience in the 1980s and '90s how devastating that can be to a region.
This brings me to the question of the jobs themselves and the fallacy of the UOW strengthening its bottom line with profits year in-year out and accumulated earnings on the back of the exploitation of the growing pool of casual and insecure workers and full-fee international students.
This crisis did not start with a pandemic in the past two months - it has been coming for two decades. The cancer starts when you start operating as a business and not as an educational institution. It gets worse when you adopt the seasonal fruit-picker and backpacker job framework as your business model.
To be fair, UOW is not an orphan in this regard. Government policy and funding models have steered the entire university and TAFE sectors in this direction and solutions to the current economic squeeze in that sector must involve both assistance and reform by government.
If these things do not occur, this crisis will be paid for like so many more before, by the workers themselves and the community they live in. If that were to happen the UOW management may well get a medal from the government but they will have failed the pub test.
By Arthur Rorris is the secretary of the South Coast Labour Council.
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