PASSWORD RESET

Magazine of the Socialist Party in Australia

Fighting VSU: A guide to action

By Socialist Party reporters

If the proposed changes to VSU are to be defeated the students from campuses across the country will have to participate and unite in a campaign of education and direct action. Students simply can’t rely on the National Union of Students to do all the agitating on their behalf.

The forming of campus committees to fight VSU is a must if the campaign is to reach out to all students, university academic and general staff. These committees need to play an educating role as well as being at the forefront of organising a systematic campaign of direct action. This campus committees must be organized on a citywide basis as in Melbourne with the Student Unionism Network.

Students need to reach out to workers on campus – both academic and non-academic – who are also under attack from the Howard Government. Federal government funding to universities has been tied to the willingness of administrations to offer individual contracts to staff. Ultimately we need to build joint student/worker strikes on campus, supported by the broader trade union movement in order to beat off the attacks on student unions and workers? wages and conditions.

ALP-style gentle lobbying of the Federal government will not get us victory in this campaign as Canberra is clearly hell bent on wiping out effective student unions. This campaign will need militant mass action to defeat the Government. However direct action undertaken before the groundwork has been done to win over the mass of students only isolates student activists. We must oppose both timid lobbying and substitutionalism by activists for mass action in the year ahead.

It is also vital to link the struggle against VSU to the attacks for education in general and furthermore the attacks on other sections of society. Students need to consciously turn to groups of workers and communities to build links.

For example during the 1994 fight against VSU, La Trobe Uni SRC brought down the Weipa, Qld strikers to Melbourne to raise funds amongst trade unions and students. Student activists tailored their pro-student union message to different groups of students e.g. in sports, arts, ethnic groups and more. The non-ALP left didn’t reject the legal and lobbying aspect of the struggle, but at all times this was considered an auxiliary to the mobilization of the student body.

In the past some left-leaning activists have labeled less active students as apathetic who watch way too much reality television, with Creed blearing from Triple M in the background, and a copy of the tabloid paper of choice close by. For VSU to be defeated then this attitude must change.

Changes in the past 10 years to financial support for students have seen a lull in campus activity. Many students now juggle one or two part-time jobs with their study load, so the time available to participate in other features of campus life has diminished. This poses the need for the anti-VSU campaign to explain the bread and butter benefits of student unions as well as taking up the concerns of casual workers.

If students are to care enough to save their unions, then they need to believe in the role that a politically active and socially vibrant student union can play on campus and in the wider community. Presently some student unions fall well short of the vision as defenders of student rights and upholders of campus social activity. Thus many students won’t be overly fussed if their union disappears overnight. However at the crux of any argument must be that the culture of the union must change rather than the structure.

A grassroots cross campus national campaign against VSU is the first step to beating off this attack and in the process show students the benefits of 100% unionism.