This year one of the focuses of the student movement will be to kick Howard out at the next federal election. Howard has done major damage in areas like education, health, job conditions and the environment. He has also whipped up racism and we need to bring his rein to a close.
Howard’s legacy on education will be particularly visible as students go back to campuses in the next few weeks. First year students will see the dramatic effects of Howard’s attacks on student unions. As a result of his policy of Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU) many o-week activities and events run by the student union have been cut or reduced.
Unfortunately, the effects of this will be felt not just during o-week but throughout the year as the cost of joining student clubs and getting involved in campus life will also increase. This comes on top of the higher fees new students will have to pay and the further the commodification of education creeping in on many campuses.
As students struggle with the costs of university they will be further affected with Howard’s attacks in the form of Work Choices. This latest attack on workers rights further entrenches job insecurity, low pay and poor conditions. As casual workers, students are hit hard by Howard’s agenda and balancing study and work becomes even harder.
Very few students argue that a new Liberal Party leader would deliver better policies than Howard. But some do argue that a Labor Party government would fix some of our problems. But is the ALP really anything to get excited over?
It was actually the ALP who first introduced HECS fees. After 7 years in office the Victorian ALP has still not fully repealed the VSU legislation introduced under Kennet. On many social issues the ALP are hardly progressive. The ALP not only first introduced mandatory detention for refugees but completely supported the Howard government’s divisive policies on refugees during and after the Tampa affair.
It also supported the invasion of Iraq. While, its rhetoric on industrial relations sounds impressive, the ‘Accord’ years under Hawke and Keating saw a massive drop in real wages and huge attacks on working people.
New Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, has promised an ‘education revolution’ but has been shy on any concrete policies with the exception of piecemeal changes to fees for science students. It has not pledged to eliminate HECS or even reverse Howard’s fee hikes. Rudd has said he will wind back some of the Work Choices legislation but is unclear on what he will replace it with. The reality is the differences between the ALP and the Liberals are purely over style rather than substance.
We cannot have illusions in the ALP. It is a false idea that all we have to do to fix education, IR, the environment, etc is vote for the ALP in the coming election. We can have no confidence in the ALP to carry out even limited reforms. Throughout the western world ex-social democratic parties have shifted to the right and jumped on the neo-liberal band wagon. This reflects the changing nature of the world under globalised capitalism. This change in world order has restricted the possibility of social democratic polices.
Hamstrung by the realities of global capitalism, the ALP could not, even if it wanted to, provide fully funded education for all. It may eliminate the more jagged edges of Work Choices but its replacement will be a different version of the same thing.
It is for these reasons that while the Socialist Student Group will be actively involved in the campaign to kick out Howard later this year, we will be linking the demands for free education and workers rights to the need to change society. We need to replace the rule of profit with priorities based on human and social need. To do this we must not only make Howard history but also make capitalism history.
By Yorran Pelekanakis