Students at Sydney University are going to the polls to elect the 2013 Student Representative Council (SRC), the campus student union, this month. Student activists and members of Solidarity have organised a ticket, Stop the Cuts, to build on the student and staff campaign last semester against job cuts.
With our education still under attack, Stop the Cuts is campaigning for a fighting SRC that will build the student movement.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor Shane Houston is dissolving the Koori Centre into other departments and gutting services for Aboriginal students. General staff are suffering from slow and insidous cuts to their budgets.
At a federal level, Gillard talks about an “education revolution”, but it’s Labor that has waged an education counter-revolution since the 1980s. In 1981, the government paid for 89 per cent of university funding, but by 2010 it was only 40.5 per cent. The same year Gillard ignored her own Bradley Review’s recommendation that university base-funding be increased by 10 per cent.
Now Gillard is uncapping student enrolments without increasing student-staff ratios—so classes will be larger, education quality will be worse and services will be drained. She has promised business that she will cut the corporate tax rate by another 2 per cent, making clear that the restoration of university funding is not going to happen without a fight.
A fighting SRC
Last semester, rallies, petitions, speak-outs, sit-ins, walk-outs and pickets organised by the Education Action Group (EAG) won back 47 of the Vice-Chancellor Micheal Spence’s planned 100 academic redundancies.
We pulled hundreds of students into action. At its peak, the campaign mobilised 1500 students and staff to march on the Spence’s office, organised a mass walk out that saw 300 students walk out of 8 different classes, and led a succesful blockade of a University Senate meeting.
It has been the biggest campaign on an Australian campus since the movement against Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU). Hundreds of students have learnt that if we fight and organise, we can win back a quality education that has been eroded by decades of deregulation, cuts, and corporatisation.
Those students should have an SRC that is prepared to throw its full might behind them.
But rather than being at the head of the fight, this year’s SRC leaders, Labor Left President, Phoebe Drake, and Education Officer, David Pink, dragged their feet, only agreeing to participate in an anti-cuts Education Action Group (EAG) after students who wanted to campaign had already established it.
Later, the President, Education Officer and the Vice President, a member of The Greens, undermined the EAG’s decision to send a student contingent to meet with Spence, instead arranging to meet with him alone, reflecting their preference of appealing to the university management for change. Many of the Labor Left students did not participate in the anti-cuts campaign.
These students are running the ticket StandUp—actually a collection of many tickets covering an array of issues, including StandUp against the Cuts. The intention is appeal to all students to maximise their vote, rather than use the elections to campaign around the crucial issues.
Labor Left would not run with Stop the Cuts because they wanted to run with Labor Right, a faction that abstained from fighting against the cuts. Together they are running a very similar campaign to the ticket Voice, with policies designed purely for election time, such as free wifi, longer library opening hours, and recorded lectures.
Voice is an unholy alliance of “independents”, wet Liberals and conservatives. Their presidential candidate was also an Education Officer, Sam Farrell, who did absolutely nothing about the cuts.
Grassroots, a ticket made of students from The Greens and some other activists, are also running several tickets. Unfortunately, they are too are running a myriad of tickets to appeal to niche voting blocs rather than using the elections to build the fight. Stop the Cuts is preferencing one of the grassroots tickets, Grassroots to Stop the Cuts, that some education activists are running on.
It goes without saying that the Liberal ticket Rise should be every student’s last preference. The Liberals supported the cuts and actively oppose student unionism, and when they had power in the SRC in 2010 they attempted to completely gut activist collectives.
Student elections shouldn’t be about accruing the most amount of votes on whatever basis, but about politicising the campus and building the fight back. The elections are an opportunity to lecture bash, leaflet and plaster the campus to arm students in the fight against Spence, Gillard and Abbott.
A solid vote for Stop the Cuts will lay the basis for a fighting SRC in 2013.