Vanguard October 2014 p. 8
This time last year despair was growing in NSW TAFE colleges. Sackings, course and college closures, fee hikes and rampant privatisation were taking a heavy psychological toll.
1200 TAFE staff positions have disappeared in a year. And the 'Smart and Skilled' agenda that decimated TAFE in Victoria and South Australia (where it is called ‘Skills for All’) isn't due in NSW till 2015!
'Smart and Skilled', with bipartisan support, emerged under Labor. Now in Victoria only 27 per cent of non-university higher education is offered by TAFE.
According to former senior Victorian TAFE executive, Virginia Simmons, the resulting corporate bonanza led to over-servicing, “a scandalous waste of government money, in the order of $200 million”. (The Australian, September 15)
She cites aged or disability care with 18,800 enrolments, equivalent to half the total numbers of workers in the entire industry and nine times the annual intake of new employees, as just one example.
Ms Simmons said that “as a result of this use of the training market for profit-making purposes, expensive, resource-intensive and technical training was being pushed onto TAFEs as for-profit colleges colonised low-cost areas such as transport, warehousing, retail and administration.”
In a happy coincidence for capitalism, flooding markets with potential workers also drives down the price of labour power, increasing profits proportionally.
Market led recovery
But in NSW, TAFE teachers have had time to organise, and the mood is gradually shifting.
Maxine Sharkey, who heads the NSW Teachers Federation TAFE section, says of her organisers and activists, “I have to tell them to take a day off. They work seven days a week, long hours. I've told them they have to take a week's holiday, because they refuse to take two.”
The song “I've been everywhere man” was clearly written in anticipation of Maxine's mob. Every market in NSW sees a TAFE crew arrive with their stall and information. Maxine reckons she should be paid a markets' allowance. “I've bought so many handmade soaps and bottles of olive oil when I've been talking to stall holders and asking them to sign our petition.”
From the Big Day Out to local forums engendering wide publicity or hounding Premier Baird in local shopping centres, it's been non-stop. There have been 42 stalls or protests since last September. But smaller events in schools and TAFEs, plus National TAFE Day in June and September's 'Do Your Block for TAFE' week of local leafleting, spread the message even further.
Behind the scenes work supporting members has engendered hope and greater commitment to repay that support by campaigning.
Taking on corporate giants
On July 15 Federation organiser Kathy Nicholson posted on Facebook, “John Robertson ALP Opposition leader visited Meadowbank TAFE this morning with the Ryde ALP candidate Jerome Laxale. John did his electrical apprenticeship at Meadowbank. He categorically stated today that if Labor is returned at March 2015 NSW election Labor will cancel Smart and Skilled and end the privatisation and destruction of TAFE.”
While getting a politician to make a promise before an election might seem easy, breaking bipartisan support for the dismemberment of TAFE has been a huge achievement.
The union believes there's massive opposition to the corporate takeover of TAFE. Polling, using the ALP's preferred company, will deliver the proof and hammer details into Robertson's promise. But if struggle dies down corporations will cannibalise TAFE. They run our country, no matter which party has the parliamentary numbers. Getting anything out of them requires skill in mobilising people.
It also raises the question, is this the way things have to be? Is the constant battle of capitalism as good as it gets? Or do we need an alternative?