A meeting was called by the NSW National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) at the University of Technology Sydney on August 14 to discuss UniSuper’s divestment from Transfield. UniSuper is the superannuation fund all NTEU members are mandated to invest their retirement savings in under the terms of Enterprise Bargaining. It is co-directed by Australian University Vice Chancellors and NTEU representatives.
Based on initiatives taken by union members at the University of Sydney, Deakin and Victoria universities, the NTEU NSW moved to pass a motion at state level calling on UniSuper to divest members’ funds from Transfield. The meeting held at UTS was to discuss dissemination of a letter to be signed by members calling on UniSuper to divest and other campaign strategies. The aim is to transform this from a local to a national campaign culminating in total divestment.
The meeting attended by a small but committed group and presided over by Richard Bailey, the NTEU’s refugees campaigner and Genevieve Kelly, president of NTEU NSW, discussed the implications of such a campaign.
While preliminary discussions have been had between Richard Bailey and campus representatives of UniSuper, who are not unfavourable to divestment, XBorder called strongly for the campaign to be rolled out publicly through the union and academic groups rather than through behind closed doors discussions with UniSuper. As a financial enterprise, invested first and foremost in ensuring profitability and members’ loyalty, it was felt that UniSuper would do its best to depoliticise such a campaign and obfuscate by playing on members’ justifiable concerns regarding the profitability of their retirement savings by using complex financial arguments. The meeting pointed out that, as most NTEU members are appalled by mandatory detention and as the union already has a policy opposing it, the focus should be on the public denouncement of Transfield and the refusal to participate in the border industrial complex through the use of members’ funds.
The meeting culminated in a commitment to circulate the letter calling for divestment and encouraging individual unions to pass motions calling on UniSuper to divest from Transfield. XBorder strongly urges those unions to use the motion successfully passed at the Victoria University branch of the NTEU and to look at the motion just passed by Melbourne University Student Union.
It was further decided that members present would work at local level to organise meetings to present the campaign to members at their branches.
The academics for refugees network emerging from the letter signed by over 1500 academics could be used as a further means for disseminating the divestment letter.
A webpage will be created on the NTEU site where, in addition to information about the campaign, members could register their commitment and a rolling ticker would count the numbers of members signed up to divestment.
It was additionally felt that high profile academic NTEU members could be asked to publicly pledge their support through letters and/or video. Members could be asked to post photos of themselves holding the letter, etc.
Other ideas include pressurising vice chancellors, as UniSuper board members, through direct action methods, thus involving student and autonomous groups in the action.
The public nature of this campaign, it was felt, would serve to encourage other unions whose superannuation funds are invested in Transfield or the other companies which profit from mandatory detention to divest.
While UniSuper will doubtless do it’s all to distract from the aims if this campaign, it is vital that NTEU stand firm on the arguments. This is far from being an unwinnable struggle.