Tenaya Alattas defends the importance of un-glamorous grassroots activism

Of significance this year to the education department has been the 7 days of industrial action undertaken by staff at Sydney University.

There are many tensions inherent in the traditional narrative given by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and other SRC office bearers including assumptions about the desired return to some previous golden age, or the problems of a promised future itself. More so is the lack of ability to respond reflexively to this period of (class) struggle in anything but a celebratory light.

What one loses in this is the fact that many students failed to engage or even understand the basis of their staff on strike. This is not because students are stupid, apathetic or lacking in empathy.

But for many a student of more pressing concern is:  Where will we live? How will we be able to afford such expensive rent in Sydney? How will we find jobs that pay enough so that we can enjoy ourselves and still live in comfort? Will we pay for rent or food this week? When will we pay back our student debt? How?
So, who’s at fault for the poverty of student movement? Are the student politicians to blame whose activism propped up conveniently around election times? A spectacle largely consisting of drab bureaucrats-in-training seeking to undercut each other on who could deliver the most alcohol.

Is the left to blame? Did the pickets begin to feel like the ritualistic repetition of demonstrations without purpose, a rally or march, operating under a logic of registration of dissent, that if somehow the right number of voices were raised, we would change things.

As Education Officer I think it is important to impress that as a student at Sydney University, we have #nofuture. This is not as mighty or noble an idea of immiseration, nor is it a lofty ideal espousing a return to times once past of #freeeducation. Rather it’s the sober acknowledgement that ‘housing, higher education, debt, no future, your life getting worse forever, unless we do something together as a political project #jdemoley”. Privatising debt, deregulating fees, precarious insecure casualised employment (like that of our teachers) or minimum wage, no collective bargaining and no safety net.

Given that one of the first effects we’ll see from the Abbott agenda is a widening inability to meet basic costs of living, this means projects like eviction resistance, food projects, simple, less glamorous activities which are nevertheless the heart of building an effective resistance.

Lastly I would like to express my solidarity to all those arrested during the strikes. With 17 arrests, 11 court trials it not just the charges themselves, nor the outrageous prospect of being jailed for having the temerity to protest but the suspension of life between charge and verdict which is punitive.

Many of those arrested at the strike have not yet faced trial, meaning extraordinary gaps between charge and trial process. In this time, the very possibility of a future, a life, the ability to travel, or to study is suspended. So even if we have #nofuture as part of the left we must come to understand how vital it is that we defend those victimised by the courts, deprived of their liberty, that we do not sit licking our wounds. The strike is not ever over. So, on December 2, 3, 4, 9, 10 and 11 come to the Downing Centre to demonstrate solidarity with those arrested.

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