Sunday, September 25, 2005

What Type Of Student Politics?

'University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small'. These are the words of the notorious Henry Kissinger US secretary of state). Scarily enough this has often been quiet true of students Unions and the politics around them. Personality politics takes over and it can descend into a farce. This year can't and won't be the same. The stakes have now been raised to the highest they've been in decades. The OECD has now said that third level fees should be reintroduced and everyone seems to be treating it as a fait accompli.

Basically the future of education is up for grabs this year. There are frightening prospects at stake here: Privatisation, reintroduction of fees and basic notions of democracy are on table and the student movement could very easily lose. This is one year college politics are important. This year you have a damn right to be vicious if the S.U. isn't doing its job and organising.
Students' Unions like trade unions, were founded to defend and advance the interests of their members against the attacks of the state and college. The college structure is un-democratic and hierarchical, and in contrast our unions are democratic and the officers are accountable, constitutionally at least. The unions are based on the principles of direct democracy, where the mass of membership have final control over what decisions are made, and representatives have to carry out mandates and can be hauled up to account. In this role the union promotes self-management and empowerment among students. However, with a high student turnover, the only permanent force in the unions is elements of the college authorities them-selves.

Taken aside and fed bullshit about their own importance by the college, many union officers end up as apologists for actions taken by the college authorities, instead of standing up to them for their members. The union ends up filling the gaps left by the college and state, putting band-aids over symptoms instead of striking the root cause. For instance, instead of tackling the housing crisis by combating property speculation and fighting for an extension of rent allowance to students, unions play the role of agencies in advertising houses.

Where the unions should be fighting on issues, instead it ends up managing them on behalf of the college and state Often with a leadership who's main priority seems to be keeping things ticking over, rather than acting to empower the membership in fighting for a better life and a better education.

As anarchists we argue for mass based campaigns that involve general participation in making decisions as well as implementing them. This means organising from the grassroots up. Involving students in the decision making process through open non-hierarchical meetings, where anyone can get involved. Instead of expecting them to show up and passively take part in events they have no control over. A union's strength lies in the mass of numbers it contains, not in the limited abilities of individual officers.

One of the greatest tricks the right tries to pull at every union election is to convince us that politics should not come into student unions. What sort of bullshit is that? Everything is political and the issues facing students are loaded with political content and they need a political response. Unfortunately, the student unions are lacking a sense of political purpose. Overall the movement has no clear aims, it is more concerned with making 'bad things go away' than actually identifying what the core problems facing us are and fighting on them. When ever the state plans something dodgy around education, our leaders can be heard criticising it on the radio, and usually that's that. There is no one putting across a clear perspective on what we actually want to see happen in education. The student movement reacts to the state's agenda instead of attempting to set the agenda.

The state and college can easily close it's eyes and ears to the student movement and ignore the union's lobbying. But what they can't afford to do is ignore direct action based tactics, which disrupt the college structure and force them to give into demands. The recent successful UCD library occupations over opening hour cutbacks is an example of this. These sort of actions threaten the college more than anything because they are the ones that involve students alongside staff and give them a taste of their own power. And that is what the college and state are afraid of most of all.

For the past few years, the student movement has been struggling to retain many of the victories of the past such as free fees, if we continue to act defensively we can expect to get no where. Now more than ever we need to be on the offensive, putting forward a vision of education where the participants in education, workers, students and academics have a direct say in the decisions made. After all, regardless of how much we whinge about how we are being treated by the powers that be, in the final analysis, the problem comes down to one of control over within the decision making structures.

Currently our colleges are ran by faceless bureaucrats and un-representative decision making bodies which consistently act against our interests. Most governing authorities, while giving token representation to trade and student unions, are dominated by people appointed by the state. Even then they just act as rubber stampers for various practically anonymous committees running our colleges. Would UCD Governing Authority have made the decision to increase post grad fees by 10% if it was composed of people directly elected by students, workers and academics instead of cronies of business and Fianna Fail? I think not. Why was '1.6m spent on Hugh Brady, the UCD president's house, when the college can't even afford to fund the library for books?

And then, there's the state, and institutions like the OECD, in whose interests do you think they are being run? The OECD recently recommended the re-introduction of fees dressed up in the usual bullshit about social inclusion. But a peek at whose running the show, a former Australian minister of education Dawkins and his track record back home, shows that such changes only benefit the well off. Why has the Irish state being so reluctant to properly fund grants, student accommodation and to tackle the wider inequality in communities which is where educational inequality really begins?

If you're one of the thousands of people who see the reintroduction of fees as the end of your third level education there is no use moaning about it when it happens- get out there and stop it. Go to meetings or even better organise one yourself, go to the protest you organised. Get stuck in because if you don't your about to get royally shafted. Don't forget it was beaten by students just like you two years ago. Those in control of these decisions are making them in the interests of business and the rich, that's quite clear. We need to stop them.

An article from No Masters Issue One

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