It feels strange to be writing this! Given this is my final report, I wanted to reflect on the tremendous achievements we’ve had over the past two years.
The SRC is a very different beast to the one I first became involved in. In my first year the SRC had been following a long course of being mostly concerned with the delivery of services to the student body – legal assistance, social work, secondhand books, etc.
These are valuable in and of themselves, but they neglect the true role of a student union, which is to organise the student body and campaign for student rights. A lot of first- and second-years getting involved in the SRC this year have no idea just how ‘dead’ student activism was in NSW when I came to uni in 2011.
This was the scenario: there was this strange mythology about the 3000-strong anti-VSU demonstrations of 2006 which viewed them as a glorious but bygone era of student protest, now as historically distant as the moratoriums of 1970s Vietnam War activists.
We were told that students no longer engaged with these sorts of tactics. The SRC didn’t organise rallies anymore. Its most recent demonstration had been in 2009 and was a flop: a 50-person march down George Street about student hunger which garnered little to no media attention or raising of student political consciousness.
The National Union of Students still organised so-called ‘National Days of Action’, but they had degenerated into ‘noodle day’ and the farce of my first year which involved a patronising sausage sizzle and the handing out of novelty cheques.
The enviro collective was still strong, and the anti-racism collective still did good work, but there was no broad-based education movement on campus. Students, even in the Arts and Law faculties, didn’t have any idea the SRC existed.
As an Education Officer at the SRC I was part of a team of people, including Tim Scriven, Freya Bundey and Evan Gray, who wanted to see the SRC transform into a mass campaigning union, which could mobilise thousands of students out to rallies and actions, empower and train people as activists, and co-ordinate students so they could take an active role in grassroots community campaigns run with the backing of the SRC’s huge financial resource.
I helped set up the Education Action Group (EAG), which had not met for two years, and in the wake of the university’s announcement of cuts to staff we opened up the direction of the campaign to any student who wanted to turn up.
We had literally no existing practice to go off, but the experiment worked. By having weekly meetings, daily stalls, lecture bashes, petitions, leaflet bombing and flyering against the cuts we turned out a thousand students to a demonstration within the first few weeks of semester.
We occupied the Dean of Arts’ office, then tried to occupy the Senate. There had not been an occupation in 10 years. The EAG started having meetings of 50 to 80 people and became an absolute powerhouse. The campaign worked and we helped save hundreds of staff from losing their jobs. Campaigns that actually worked were virtually unknown at that stage. This is all common practice now. Our alliances with staff unions, the NTEU and CPSU, have been absolutely essential. As we saw in the strikes, when staff and students unite we are unbeatable.
What we have now is a mass, campaigning union which students know about and actively participate in. We’re not at the 1970s yet, or even the 1990s, but we’re on the right course.
Now for the thank yous…
My biggest thank you goes to Casey Thompson. You have been an absolute powerhouse as Education Officer. You are literally the most organised activist I have ever met, the hardest working, the most consistently capable at getting things done. There is no one more principled than you. There is not a single person more politically certain about what she believes in. Thank you for being an amazing partner and a fantastic student activist, a committed socialist and a daring fighter. I hope that we will be fighting together for the rest of our lives.
My second biggest thank you goes to my ideological inspiration: Tim Scriven. Tim, you are a creative and formidable intelligence, whose vision of a student movement which actually went out and organised demonstrations, occupations, and worked in a mass alliance between workers and students, is the absolute guide to everything I’ve ever done as an activist. You have helped me more than anybody develop as an individual, and discover my theory of change.
Thank you to all the other activists on the radical left I’ve had the pleasure to work with. Thank you to Evan, to Ed, to Tenaya, to Freya, to Erima, to Tom, to Kieran, to Brigitte.
You are phenomenal at what you do, and I have nothing but respect for it. Thank you to Dylan, Jen, John, Alisha, Robby, Todd and everyone else in Unity – I don’t always agree with you politically, but you’ve got good hearts and you’re wonderful people.
Thank you to Sydney Labor Students. I never thought that when all of us met in a Chinese restaurant at Haymarket, with a sick feeling at the bottom of our stomachs at everything wrong with NLS, that our dream of a more democratic student Labor caucus that cared about socialism and activism rather than careerism, would actually be realised. Despite the headkicking, we’re still here and no one will ever move us. I’d like to thank all the old hats, from Max, to the other Max, to Leon, to Jeremy, to Pete, to Alex, to the other Alex, to Chari, to Seb, to Sam, to James, to Georgia, to Harry and to Vivian. I’m inspired by our first-years, like Pip, Max H, Chiara, Oliver, Naaman, Kenan, Harry and everyone else (sorry to anyone I’ve missed!).
Good luck to Jen as Pres next year. You have a huge job, but I’m sure you’ll be a fantastic student leader. Don’t take anybody’s flack. You’ll kick ass.