Students protest VSU, Labor backflip
Zoe Kenny & Chris Peterson
Across Australia on August 25, around 2000 students took part in a national day of action against the federal government's "voluntary student unionism" (VSU), the second major protest this semester. The day before, the federal ALP announced that it would support the introduction of VSU and would not repeal the legislation if it wins government.
The biggest protest took place in Melbourne, where 1000 students met at the State Library to oppose VSU and express outrage at the ALP's backflip.
Jenny Macklin, deputy leader of the federal opposition, attempted to speak to the rally but was greeted with cries of "sell out" and "Shame Labor shame". The chair intervened and took a vote to allow Macklin to speak. However, Macklin's argument, that this legislation was the best that could be offered and that the most important issue was to defend student services, was ridiculed by the crowd. They again chanted "Shame Labor shame' until Macklin stormed off.
The rally was also addressed by a Greens speaker Gemma Pinell and the Australian Democrats' Natasha Stott Despoja. Both reaffirmed their opposition to VSU. The rally marched to state parliament. After the rally 30 student activists occupied the Victorian ALP office for a couple of hours.
In Sydney 350 students marched from Sydney University past University of Technology, Sydney, where contingents from UTS and the Australian Catholic University also joined the rally. The students marched to the Liberal Party's headquarters, where an "open mic" session was held. They were outraged at the ALP lining up with the government on VSU.
Felix Aldridge, president of the National Union of Students and a member of the National Organisation of Labor Students (NOLS), attempted to speak about the success of the campaign to date but did not mention the ALP's backdown. This was met with chants of "No compromise Felix" and "Shame Labor shame".
Rose Jackson, president of the University of Sydney Students Association and also a NOLS member announced: "As a card-carrying member of the Labor Party, today I am ashamed of my party". Members of the crowd encouraged her to "cut up your card".
The Perth protest was held at state parliament house and was attended by around 150 people. A number of the speakers, including the ALP's leader in the Senate, Chris Evans, focused on the services expected to be lost as a consequence of the Howard government's anti-student union agenda. Students starting chanting "VSU it's all about lies, Labor fuck your compromise" during Evans' speech.
The protesters then marched to Menzies House (Liberal Party headquarters) for a impromptu speakout. Resistance organiser and University of Western Australia guild councillor Trent Hawkins called for solidarity with trade unions, which are also under attack from the Howard government, and called for student contingents to participate in union rallies.
Students in Canberra also took part in the national protests.
From Green Left Weekly, August 31, 2005.
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