University students around the country have been voting in student union elections over the last few weeks. Socialist Alternative student clubs, in some cases in alliance with other left wing forces, have run tickets taking on the right wing student politicians, and campaigning for fighting student unions that engage and mobilise students and take a clear stand against funding cuts and against Abbott’s reactionary agenda.
The biggest successes for the left so far have been at Curtin in WA and the University of Queensland (see reports). But there have also been important campaigns at a range of other campuses.
At RMIT in Melbourne, Socialist Alternative initiated a broad left ticket involving members of the Greens, feminists, anarchists and other socialists. The ticket, Progressive Focus, won 25 percent of the vote and secured one delegate to the National Union of Students (NUS) conference, as well as two general rep positions.
At Latrobe, Socialist Alternative members won the Indigenous officer position (Jay Wymarra) as well as the education officer public (Jess Lenehan). Socialist Alternative was part of a left ticket that worked with a ticket run by the National Labor Students (the Labor left), which won most positions and defeated a right wing ticket comprising the Labor right and the Liberals.
At Melbourne Uni, the elections were won by Stand Up, an ALP ticket. Socialist Alternative members ran on a left ticket that won one position on Student Council, and one NUS delegate spot.
At the Victorian College of the Arts, SA member James Crafti won the campus coordinator position on the left ticket, which also won the five VCA Student Association Committee positions it stood for.
At Adelaide Uni the Socialist Alternative club initiated the Left Action ticket. Tom Gilchrist won the social justice officer position, and the ticket also secured one NUS delegate.
At Griffith in Queensland, a broad left ticket including Socialist Alternative and left Labor students won 60 percent of the vote in the first round of elections, securing four out of six NUS delegate positions. The second round will elect campus representative positions.
Left victory at Curtin
A coalition of left wing students has won a sweeping victory in the Curtin Student Guild elections.
Left Action candidates played a prominent role on campus over the last year. Before the federal cuts to university funding were announced, we ran a campaign on campus against course and budget cuts. Through the guild and the education collective, Left Action wrote press releases and articles, produced fact sheets, ran campaign stalls and organised forums, meetings and protests.
Two major protests were attended by hundreds of students – a big step forward on a campus with very little political culture or activism. A 14 May protest drew 700 students and was the biggest mobilisation on campus in 25 years. Not since free education was abolished have Curtin students come out in such numbers. The protests have put pressure on management over course and budget cuts, leading to a number of courses and services being saved.
Left Action was recognised as the determined anti-cuts ticket that also stands up for the rights of international students: the funding cuts will impact international students with massive up-front fees set to grow, despite declining support services and classes being replaced with online learning modules. Racism is also a big issue for many international students, and Left Action members have been the ones calling it what it is.
There are few incentives to be on campus these days. Work commitments, loss of campus culture and the cost of parking act as deterrents. So Left Action’s platform also included increased activities, a more diverse range of campus events and reducing the price of coffee at all guild outlets to $2.
The electoral platform of our opponents, Curtin Unity, focused squarely on attacking what were deemed to be “unnecessary protests” and Left Action’s key role in the anti-cuts campaign. It is commonplace for wannabe student politicians, who collaborate with Liberal Party members, to declare their commitment to keeping politics out of student organisations. This was no different for Curtin Unity.
Its alleged “non-political” stance was dishonest. Keeping politics out of student organisations just means accepting the neoliberal agenda and being quiet when university students face the biggest cuts to education funding in 17 years. It means accepting the imminent attacks of an Abbott government. Curtin Unity’s platform was a right wing attack on the most progressive and important campaign run by the guild in decades.
Students were more discerning than Curtin Unity gave them credit for. After one day of polling, the campaign material of our opponents suddenly changed. Their campaigners openly admitted that their criticism of the anti-cuts campaign wasn’t popular.
Supporters of Curtin Unity continued to wage an online campaign of malicious lies and slander in an attempt to discredit Left Action. Students who tried to defend Left Action had their comments deleted. Despite their attempt to silence the left, which included tearing down our posters every night, the election results are an overwhelming vindication of Left Action’s commitment to fighting for students’ rights and welfare.
Left Action won every position that we stood for and won the presidency with 62 percent of the vote. We are now in a good position to continue the fight against the education cuts, to resist the university management running Curtin like a business, and to stand up against whatever Abbott might throw at us.
Liberals tossed out of UQ student union
Students at the University of Queensland have finally ousted one of the most widely reviled student administrations in the country, delivering a shattering defeat to the Liberal National Party aligned Fresh ticket in student union elections.
Fresh had been in office since 2007. During a six-year reign, they implemented constitutional changes that abolished important activist positions within the union. They also made it difficult for any subsequent union to reverse the changes.
The women’s and queer collectives were refused any support from the union, and their facilities were vandalised. New, undemocratic regulations made it nigh impossible for anyone but the major political parties on campus to contest the student union elections.
Fifty thousand dollars of student union money was spent promoting Fresh directly in 2012 alone.
The purpose of the student union – to be a fighting and representative association for student interests – was totally perverted by the Liberals, who instead focused on bringing fast food chains, such as Subway and Burger Urge, onto campus.
All of this was made possible through total unaccountability. Union elections in 2010 and 2012 were rigged, and monthly union council meetings, which are supposed to function as the decision-making body of the union, were not convened.
Last year, the Liberals actually excluded all opposition groups from running in the elections. This led to the biggest protests on campus in over a decade. Thousands of students joined protests calling for a democratic union.
So the ouster of the LNP can only inspire hope for the future.
However, the opposition Reform ticket that won the elections this year is run by Labor Party students. Their promises to students hardly mentioned fighting cuts to the tertiary sector and were a far cry from an activist agenda. UQ students will have to hold the new Labor administration of the union to account and fight for genuine democracy.