Life During Capitalism- one history student's perspective on life during capitalism

"To omit or to minimize these voices of resistance is to create the idea that power only rests with those who have the guns, who possess the wealth, who own the newspapers and the television stations. I want to point out that people who seem to have no power, whether working people, people of colour, or women-once they organize and protest and create movements-have a voice no government can suppress." Howard Zinn

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Student Unions: Would you like change with that?

Student unions: Would you like change with that?
By Omar Hamed
Left: Greek students fight the police in 2006.

It is always interesting times when I start agreeing with anyone from Act on Campus. But the times are indeed interesting and I do indeed find myself agreeing with David Seymour from Act on Campus. I wouldn’t agree with all of what he wrote in his article A New Way for AUSA, (Craccum #18) but for the most part he spelt out a phenomenon that anyone with one or more eyes is able to see.

Seymour spelt out how the Auckland University Students Association (AUSA) has become a “service model union” and is engaged in a “partnership” with the University administration. What Seymour described can be summed up using these terms, which describe types of unions. Basically these terms originated in trade union circles to describe unions which offer services to their members by working in partnership with employers. Instead of organising workers to campaign for better conditions, as had traditionally been the role of unions, the “service model” focused on providing services to their members such as life insurance, subsidised health care and holiday homes on the Gold Coast.

Well the same terminology can be used to explain students associations. AUSA as Seymour pointed out is “in the University’s pocket” just like any good service-model union should be. This allows it to focus on what it perceives as its real job; making sure orientation is cool and that our radio station, student magazine, cheap beer, free events keep on flowing. I heard Dan the Prez himself say exactly that at a SRC meeting this year. Someone got some debate going about the Louise Nicholas rape allegations and Dan moved to shut it down stating that AUSA is about providing services rather than “wasting time” on issues like women’s rights. (Interestingly and sickeningly enough I heard that Victoria University Student’s Association President Nick Kelly has opened up betting on whether the Womensfest down there will make a profit.) So you see, that students associations now see themselves as merely service providers making sure we get as much change as possible from a fiver when we ask for a beer at Shadows rather than trying to change anything themselves.

Now I thoroughly agree with Seymour when he says we have to be more like the Unite! Union and stop letting AUSA be a “training ground for the politically ambitious”. Unite! is one of the foremost exponents of the “organising model” in Aotearoa and their embracing of this style of unionism is the reason their members in KFC, Pizza Hut and Starbucks were able to “beat the brands” as one Unite! organiser put it.

The organising-model in contrast to the service-model is about giving power to union members and a strong focus on recruiting and creative militant and high profile campaigning that seeks to build community support for unionism and build a strong community base for workers rights and support to struggle for improved conditions. This model, while not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, is much more preferable to the service model.

This year I watched in horror as AUSA went through the motions of unionism without actually doing anything. Our campaign against international students fee raises was a joke, which amounted to putting up a thousand posters and issuing a media release. That’s not even a campaign! However the AUSA executive are much too busy working on increasing student services to run proper campaigns. A better strategy would have been an occupation of the entire campus followed by mass marches through the city center and roadblocks surrounding the campus. That’s what student unions do in places like Chile where students have been fighting running battles with riot police as part of a campaign for subsidised bus travel. They (the students) are armed with homemade rocket launchers not “Just say No!” posters and a badly written media release. Neither do the supermarket distribution workers I’ve just spent the afternoon with in South Auckland, where we were picketing supermarkets and blockading illegal distribution depots.

In order to reclaim our student union from the aspiring politicos we need a grassroots network of students who believe in union democracy and organising campaigns that are relevant to students. The organising-model is also tied closely to progressive social movements like the anti-war movement, the global justice movement and the environmental movement, which would help dispel all those folk who go around shouting “student apathy” everywhere as organising for change helps promote collective identity and politicisation.

The 2007 bunch of AUSA executives seem much like the old and the only hope I would see for next year is from a grassroots student uprising against union bureaucracy and for a program of social change and student involvement. Pressuring AUSA for campaigns, building strong clubs that organise students for progressive causes like Students for Justice in Palestine and Greens on Campus do, building the student movement off campus in workplaces and communities and never giving up hope of having a student union based around people not profit. We can all contribute to a better student union if we remember that those on the executive are our delegates and not our representatives and ultimately it is the people who have the power.
Published in Craccum September 11



At 8:42 PM, Blogger John said...

I really dont think auckland universiy students care about anything but how much change they can get from a fiver. I think the kind of mass campaign you are talking about would be cool but im skeptical that such a campaign can occur while our economic conditions are so good. Places like chile and even france have quite different conditions to ours and i think to compare our student unions is kinda pointless. I hate the AUSA but i think its as bad as it is because Auckland uni students are comfortable and middle upper class. That said organising and training now is absoloutly vital as conditions are likely to become bad soon.

At 11:36 AM, Blogger Abdul said...

fuck nick kelly hes a piece of crap. He doesnt represent me. I heard a rumour that he touches little boys. As for aucklanders, im sick of people accusing them of being upper middle class poofs...some of the poor poofs from around the country may get scholarships to go to auckland for getting change from a fiver, of course you want to get as much back as possible....the dirty student unionists shouldnt get the money of those that earn it, greedy bastards


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