Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Time to take stock in the student movement

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Last month about 1,000 students participated in the all-Melbourne student rally against the increasing in fees by the vast majority of Australia?s universities. In Sydney there were similar numbers.At Sydney University, at RMIT and Monash Universities in Melbourne, and at a few others, hundreds of students occupied or attempted to occupy their Administration buildings.
These actions were marked by the militancy of the students involved, which in turn reflects the growing mood of anger amongst millions of young people towards the fee increases and the capitalist system in general. Students expressed bitterness towards the University Councils, the Federal Government, the bosses? media, and to the mini-army of private security and police used to try and crush the protests. At RMIT in particular the police were violent and on two separate occasions they assaulted an SP member as even the Melbourne Herald Sun admitted.
At the Melbourne University rally the SP approached the CFMEU (construction union) and they closed down all construction sites on campus for the duration of the rally. The CFMEU believe the issue was a political disagreement between the university administration and the student body and not a police issue. The union did not believe the bosses could protect the health and safety of union members with the presence of Force Response Unit police on the campus next to dangerous workplaces. This walkout by building workers was a great boost for students. At that university and at the RMIT and Monash actions, SP students participated in the protests and occupations.
However in no case did the aims of the protests succeed. Every university got through the fee increases they wanted. The student protests, while very militant, were not mass actions incorporating the bulk of the student body. This reflects several things, one being the extra pressures on students to work part-time or casual to pay their way through school. This extra workload and stress load undermines the ability of students to participate in student politics.
The other factor is the subjective weakness; the general shift to the Right in the leadership of the workers? and student movement since the neo-liberal onslaught began in the mid 1970s, leading to the collapse of the Labor Party as an organising factor on campus and the wiping out of the Communist Party a decade ago.
The ALP first introduced HECS and are now seen as part of the problem, not the solution. In the late 1960s the mass student movements were led by the Communist Party or the Maoists, neither of whom exist in any real sense today with the collapse of the Stalinist block and the move towards capitalism by China.
Ultimately the creation of a new workers? party with free education for all in its programme is the only way to overcome the neo-liberal policies of the major parties and uni administrations.
This needs to be linked to a transitional programme of demands which link the day to day issues to the maximum issues and thereby get beyond a layer of radical students into the hearts and minds of the broader layers.
Student activists need better preparation of actions too with more inclusive democratic discussion before actions.
The increase in fees is a blow to students and workers as a whole. The taking stock of the past few months of activity and seriously discussing how to rebuild the student movement into a mass force and build links with the working class and communities must be the next step.


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