This piece below written by Jade Mawby, Left Action Presidential Candidate, is in direct response to a piece published on 28th August regarding Jacob Fowler’s opinion on solidarity motions found here.
Student unions are inherently political. At their core, they are a reflection of the competing political ideas on how best to run our education system. Left wing activists fight for an education system in the interests of students and staff. Those of the centre and the right, however, align their policies with that of the university management, whose sole purpose is to corporatise our education. Over the past few years, there has been an attempt by council members like Jacob to depoliticise Guild elections and turn it into a mundane showdown over which private food outlets should be introduced on campus. This covers up the fact that they intend to toe the line of university management, even when it includes sacking staff and reducing the quality of our education.
If it were not for left wing activists on Guild discussing the recent cuts to education standards at UWA, education would not even be an issue discussed during the elections. Universities around the country are more and more resembling degree factories with expanding class sizes, shortened semesters, fee hikes and cuts to student welfare services. Just last year, the Liberal government announced a $2.2 billion cut to education funding. As a result, the Australian Defence Department has attempted to fill this gap and we now see our universities being used to conduct research into weaponry. This is not the end of government attacks on our education, but really only a taster of what is to come. The Liberals have indicated their intentions to deregulate the universities, introduce trimesters and push content entirely online in the near future. In order to stop this steamroller of attacks, we require a fight back, but this means different things for different people. For the majority of student hacks, it means inviting the steamroller to ride right over them and accepting every decision handed down to them by the government or university administration. But for left wing activists, it means standing up to these bodies and mobilising students against them. The point of elections is to allow the student body to vote on which approach they would like to take.
It is also the case that students are subject to the racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination that exists in wider society. The racist and xenophobic actions of the Australian government, including the mandatory detention of refugees in offshore hell holes, increases the confidence of bigots and shifts their fringe ideas into the mainstream. It leads to an increase in actions like the recent attack on Abdullah Qaiser, a Pakistani student at the University of Newcastle who was viciously beaten in an attack by racist students and told to “go back to your fucking country.”
To be apolitical in this context and not take a stance on these issues is to side with those that are carrying out these atrocities. It denies oppressed groups access to the Guild’s resources, funds and organisation might, which would enable them to fight back against attacks on their rights. Student hacks at UWA would rather use the Guild to boost their egos with fancy titles and springboard their careers into politics and law.
Jacob points to low voter turnout at Guild elections to justify not engaging with political motions. But following this logic, why should the guild do anything? The distinction between political and non-political motions is an arbitrary one. It is one that justifies egoists, like Jacob, occupying ‘special’ offices above ordinary students without having to make controversial decisions that may upset his rich clique of friends. This entire argument is a cynical one, as it attempts to prevent the Guild from taking progressive stances that right-wing councillors themselves do not agree with. The Guild councillors that do this are actually just cowards and aren’t willing to own up to their right-wing political worldview.
Are the people involved in guild even affected by federal politics, which has recently seen increasing cuts to social services, the lowering of the HECs repayment threshold, cuts to penalty rates and attacks on unionism. Unlikely. But for most ordinary students, politics is not something they can ignore, as it shapes their daily lives – it dictates whether on any given day they can afford meals, pay rent or attend campus without facing racial or sexual discrimination.
The article also claims that political motions push people away from engaging with the Guild. This claim is ridiculous and has no basis in reality. The reason engagement with the Guild is so low is because of the apoliticism of the Guild. Why would any ordinary student want to attend monthly guild council meetings where wealthy student hacks indulge in self congratulatory wanks as they unanimously vote themselves onto ever expanding bureaucratic committees and reword rule books? This is what pushes the majority of ordinary students away from Guild politics. And outside of these meetings there is very little formal space that enables student consultation with the Guild. This set up actually suits student politicians very well, because it means they do not have to justify to students the right wing political positions that they do take. If they did, they would quickly find welcoming weapons companies onto campus and voting against motions to support refugees are unpopular politicise outside of the Golden Triangle. The lack of student involvement in Guild allows hacks to win office on the most contentless of platforms because they can rely on their networks of equally as right wing, rich college friends to vote for them. A left-wing alternative to running the Guild would involve large meetings and debates on issues in society. This would draw in wider layers of students into having a say over Guild affairs because the Guild would then actually be relevant to their lives and interests.
It does matter what the guild does and demanding that motions have ‘actual outcomes’ on campus is to ignore the institutional weight that the student guild can have. Solidarity motions give support to those facing discrimination and can draw more people into the fight for particular social campaigns. It would have been an absolute shame if the guild had refused to support last year’s marriage equality campaign. By Jacob’s logic, the guild should have not been involved in spreading the word, attending rallies and signing up students to vote in the plebiscite. The guild should not be catering to the most elite, right-wing students in the society, but rather involving students in progressive campaigns for their rights.
The current state of Guild politics is a far cry from the UWA Student Guild of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which today’s councillors could learn a lot from. This was an era in which the Guild was involved in serious campaigns against the Vietnam War, against South African apartheid, and for Aboriginal rights. The Guild even protected draft resisters during the Vietnam War and Pelican ran two Vietnam Moratorium covers, one entitled “Smash the Draft.” The Guild’s Public Affairs Officer of 1970, Bill Thomas, went to jail and then underground for resisting the draft. These student representatives wanted to be on the right side of history; today’s student representatives just want to be on the right side of the university management.