Strong result for socialists in University of Sydney student elections

8 October 2023
Hersha Kadkol

Socialists won the highest vote of any political faction contesting the University of Sydney Students’ Representative Council elections in September. Left Action, the ticket organised by Socialist Alternative club members, received 23.88 percent of the formal votes cast, and nine of its candidates have been elected as representatives in a 37-seat council. This comes off the back of last year’s result, when Left Action also won close to a quarter of the vote.

For years, the socialists came up against large campus election machines organised by student politicians in major parties, as well as apolitical or right-wing bloc votes from the colleges or clubs and societies. We could eke out only a small minority on the council. Now, socialist activists are a leading force in the SRC.

With a growing representation of activists over career hacks, the SRC can be part of rebuilding a culture of left-wing protest, which is very much needed in the current context of inequality, climate crisis and the resurgence of mainstream racist politics.

Already, the track record of Socialist Alternative members in the SRC is impressive. Jasmine Al-rawi, convener of USYD Students for Palestine and this year’s SRC global solidarity officer, organised the biggest on-campus pro-Palestine forum for years in May. Yasmine Johnson, an SRC education officer, has taken on the housing crisis, helping to initiate the Get A Room! Students for Affordable Housing campaign. Currently, our club is organising a campus rally to stand up to racism and vote Yes in the upcoming referendum, as well as promoting protests to shut down the fossil fuel industry and defend LGBTI rights.

This contrasts with other political forces on campus that have used SRC titles to pad out their resumes for future careers, or disappeared into the bureaucratic processes of the SRC. Worse, they have spent many hours sitting on boards with university management for little gain. This is even the fate of the campus faction with a left reputation, the Grassroots Left, which has held the presidency and the lion’s share of positions in the SRC executive for four years.

How did Left Action achieve this result? To begin with, the other campus factions are simply not what they used to be. A contested presidential race in 2019 brought out 5,362 voters, whereas this year’s presidential race between Harrison Brennan of Grassroots (the victor) and Rose Donnelly of the Labor Left netted only 2,023. Since the pandemic, the apolitical social networks that were built by most factions have diminished. The number of active members of Grassroots has declined even while they have run the SRC, and their centre of gravity has shifted towards more moderate law students. The Labor Left have begun to rebuild after spending years in the shadows, but still lack the campaigning skills needed for election victory.

It’s the willingness of Socialist Alternative to be uncompromising in the fight against university management, the rich and the government that enables us to put forward policies like free education for all and an end to for-profit student housing that cut though to voters. It was also easy for Left Action voters to agree with arguments about the importance of activism—that you have to fight for what you want, because the rich and powerful won’t be shifted by polite asking.

We in the Socialist Alternative club are constantly campaigning around lots of issues thrown up by capitalism, which puts us in a good position to convey our message to students and convince them to vote for left-wing activist candidates.

All of this is underpinned by our shared commitment to rebuilding a revolutionary socialist left. We are constantly fighting for socialist politics on the campus, building our numbers and capabilities, as well as working towards our goal of rebuilding an activist culture on campus.

So, while the other political forces faded during the years of the pandemic, we held strong.

There will be much to fight around next year. The cost-of-living crisis is spiralling out of control, we are facing down another hot and fiery summer from hell and Sydney University management continues to cut courses and crowd out classes.

We look forward to doing what we can with the SRC to build campaigns around all these issues and encourage other Sydney University students and political factions to join us in those fights.

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