By Alison Dellit and Marcel Cameron
MELBOURNE — As Green Left Weekly went to press, 100 students were still occupying the main finance department of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in an attempt to force the administration to reverse its decision to introduce up-front fees for Australian undergraduates next semester.
Two weeks ago, the RMIT Council decided to charge fees to 12.5% of 1998 first-year undergraduate students.
Three hundred students took control of the building following a 500-strong rally on August 20. Two hundred students then barricaded themselves on the fifth floor of Kay House, where the finance department is located.
Students have demanded that the chancellor call an urgent meeting of the council to reverse the decision and that classes be cancelled to allow students to attend.
While the students have been barricaded in the building to prevent more students joining them, morale remains high, and most seem committed to staying until their demands are met. Collectives have been set up to coordinate food distribution and space management. Regular general meetings discuss the next steps.
The occupation has drawn wide support and publicised the education cuts and fees. Some 20 people have stayed outside the building, blocking half of Swanston Street.
Two demonstrations since August 20 attracted several hundred students. Many are also supporting the action by obtaining solidarity messages, organising food and distributing information.
The Electrical Trades Union has agreed not to cut off power, and the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union has made similar pledges about ensuring the students' access to phones, lights and power.
High school students have also shown their support. Walking out of classes, some 200 students attended the rally, and a new issue of Student Underground, the high school newspaper of Resistance, has been issued.
Around 50 high school students have joined the occupation, forming their own collectives and organising with students outside to get information distributed at schools around Melbourne. Thirty high school students attended the solidarity rally on August 22.
High school spokesperson and Resistance member Reuben Endeon told Green Left Weekly, "The walkout shows that high school students want to fight, because we are going to end up having to pay these fees if we don't get the decision reversed."
Actions planned for August 27 include a rally outside RMIT and an afternoon student and staff strike.