By Yorran Pelekanakis, 2nd year student at Melbourne University
2005 is not the first time the student movement will have faced the attack of Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU). It is also by no means the first time it has been fought and defeated. Throughout the 90s students were forced to struggle against anti-student governments.
One of the biggest struggles was in 1994 against the Victorian Kennett Government. In an atmosphere of privatisation, school and hospital closures and a general attack on public services the Kennett government sought to shut down some of the most vocal opposition to these attacks.
While the situation in 2005 compared to 1994 is obviously different, there are important similarities and lessons that can be learnt from the defence of our student unions. On the back of a triumphant electoral victory the Kennett Government, like Howard’s after July, had a majority in both houses of parliament and arrogantly thought it could push through any ‘reforms’ it wanted.
Students from all the different campuses across the state began to link up and collectively organise a mass campaign of resistance. The effects of VSU and want it meant for students were explained and the student body at large was involved in the campaign to defend their unions, its services, representation and voice. As a result the broad campaign which included mass rallies, actions and a media intervention, the Kennett Government was forced to retreat and significantly water down the original VSU legislation.
Despite big successes the campaign was not perfect and unfortunately the legislation was still passed. This however, did not mean the end of the campaign. Far from it! The fight then went to a campus level as each university administration attempted to implement the legislation. The results were mixed. At some campuses where the struggle was most successful one could not notice the difference between how the union operated before and after the legislation.
However at others were the movement was weaker the union was forced to drastically cut back many of its functions. One lesson however, was clear. Those campuses which had been most active before the legislation was passed, involving the student body at large and explaining what the attacks would mean and prepared to fight and stand up for their unions were the campuses where the struggle against the university was most successful. So armed with the lessons form the past, get active and defend your student union!