Left wins Curtin student elections
The Curtin Student Guild elections concluded last week with a hard-fought victory for the left writes Jess McLeod in Socialist Alternative.
Student elections at Curtin have not been so contested in years. This was also the first time since 1996 that left wing students, unaligned to the Labor Party, have run a full ticket. This year saw a match between the left and right. Left Action, an alliance of left wing students, went head-to-head with Unity, a right wing ticket dominated and organised by Liberal party students.
Left Action won President, Education Vice President, Women’s officer, Queer officer and 4 councillors, knocking the Liberals out of key positions. Running on a principled and openly left wing basis, Left Action’s platform was for a Guild that would stand up for students’ rights and support social justice campaigns. There was clearly an audience for this at Curtin.
Our opponents’ motto, “Real students, real issues, real results”, was an attack on the Left, saying that politics should stay out of the guild.
Of course Unity wanted to seem apolitical – because they were attempting to get Liberal Party members elected into key positions in the Guild.
Their “apolitical” election campaign was also part of a right wing attack on the work of Left Action officer bearers this year. In particular they were hostile to the successful marriage equality campaign work carried out by this year’s Queer officer, Sam Cavallaro, and I.
Not only has the work given a boost to the campaign, it has also shown the positive role that student organisations can play when they engage with issues that matter to students.
The Guild is set up with equity departments, such as women’s, queer and international, to acknowledge the discrimination that is faced by sections of the student population. The right’s denial of this was an implicit attack on an important area of the Guild.
It also meant that Unity gave a green light to some of their extremely right wing supporters. Left Action’s material was defaced and homophobic abuse yelled at campaigners. Unity supporters even attempted to whip up anti-communist hysteria with a poster campaign resurrecting the Nazi slogan “Better Dead Than Red!”
The right wing nature of Unity’s “apolitical” campaign was most exposed by the issue of the impending course and budget cuts at Curtin. Although they claimed to be about “real students, real issues” they had nothing to say about the cuts!
Curtin’s administration has recently announced a major restructuring of the funding model. Twenty percent will be taken from the academic salaries budget of every school and put into a research pool. Schools will then have to compete with each other, based on research output, to retrieve the funds.
As Curtin strives to become a research intensive university it will mean even less for the under-resourced teaching sector and a more market driven education system.
Students who ran with Left Action recognised that the Guild is not about offering a student perspective to the university management. The Guild needs to be oriented to defending students’ rights and giving students an avenue to be involved. This message clearly appealed to a significant layer of students.
The recent elections are a victory for the left and have laid the basis for a serious campaign against the cuts at Curtin University in 2013.