Left-wing activist Kyol Blakeney has won an overwhelming vote of 61 per cent to become President of the Sydney University SRC. He was supported by the Grassroots ticket which involved student activists, Greens members and Solidarity students. The allied tickets of Grassroots and Switch won 18 out of 33 council seats, giving them a majority.
Kyol campaigned on a left-wing, activist platform. He has been particularly active in the Redfern Tent Embassy struggle for affordable housing for Indigenous people and he is committed to the fight for free tertiary education.
His opponent, Labor student Amy Knox, was supported by the Labor ticket Stand Up. They focused more on apolitical promises of lecture recordings and cheap textbooks. The unpopularity of the Labor Party more generally also went against them. The student body has not forgotten the previous federal Labor government’s proposal to cut $2.3 billion from higher education.
Socialist Alternative members did a deal with the Labor students before the elections in an attempt to secure themselves the Education Officer positions. Instead of running with the rest of the Left, they opportunistically supported presidential candidate Amy Knox and ran their own ticket called Left Action.
Kyol was clearly the more left-wing, activist candidate. Yet SAlt continued to support Knox, even after she announced that she did not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
This unprincipled stand backfired. Socialist Alternative only managed to secure one position on council, and will lose the Education Officer position. In the aftermath they have tried to explain away the result by slandering Grassroots as conservatives who were part of, “a concerted and coordinated effort by the other political factions on campus to keep us out of office” around the country.
But their Labor ally, outgoing SRC president, Jennifer Light, had it right when she told the Sydney Morning Herald that the result showed, “the Abbott government had shifted students to the left of Labor,” and that, “At a university like Sydney University, people want to be radical”.
The Grassroots campaign was by no means perfect. Campaigning for the SRC elections provided an opportunity to politicise the campus and convince students to join the fight against Abbott. Unfortunately, even among the Left there was a temptation to try to win votes by promising to provide better services, or to rely on bureaucratic devices like multiple ticket brands to harvest votes. But Grassroots nonetheless sees control of the SRC as a way of promoting campus activism.
A left-wing, activist orientated SRC puts us in a good position to continue the fight on campus against the Abbott government. Many of the government’s budget proposals would hit students hard. In particular fee deregulation threatens to let student fees soar.
The government has had to back down recently on these incredibly unpopular measures, but they show no signs of giving up on them. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has said, “The government remains firmly committed to all of the budget measures.”
Using the uncertainty of funding as an excuse, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence continues to wield the axe on campus. Among library staff 156 positions are being scrapped and library services also reduced. Spence also continues to join other vice-chancellors in lobbying for fee deregulation despite the overwhelming opposition to it among the university community.
A fighting SRC has the potential to pull in thousands of students to fight back against the Abbott government and his collaborator on campus, Michael Spence. Last year students joined staff picket lines during the strikes to defend working conditions at the university. The year before that thousands of students were involved in sit-ins, walk-outs and other actions to oppose job cuts.
This year students have mobilised for National Days of Action against the proposed education reforms. A small but lively picket was also held outside Spence’s sham of a consultation meeting on fee deregulation. The SRC should take up these struggles and provide leadership to the student movement.
While the Left has won a majority on council we should not get caught up in the bureaucratic processes or structures of the SRC. The orientation towards activism must continue. We need to reach out and encourage more students to get involved in the campaigns.
As Abbott goes on the offensive flaming racism and Islamophobia in an attempt to distract and divide, we need student activists in the SRC to throw themselves into these campaigns. A fighting, activist SRC can help build the student movement.
By Vivian Honan