On May 19, thousands of students in nine cities took to the streets to oppose the government's proposed "voluntary student unionism" (VSU) legislation. The rally, with the theme "VSU: it's not about choice, it's about silence", was organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) in conjunction with campus activist collectives.
Keara Courtney reports that 2000 students mobilised in Sydney. They came from all the metropolitan campuses, including the University of Western Sydney. The Sydney University contingent of 750 students joined the University of Technology, Sydney contingent led by a huge banner declaring "VSU equals silence". Huge Telly-tubby props with anti-VSU slogans painted on their tummies contributed to a vibrant and colourful rally.
Speakers included Doug Cameron, an executive vice-president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions; the Democrats' Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja; Amanda Tattersall, the NSW NUS president; and Resistance activist Aaron Benedek. Given the success of the rally, the Cross-Campus Education Network has resolved to hold an emergency picket the day the VSU legislation goes to the Senate.
1000 students protested in Melbourne, gathering on the State Library lawns and marching to Parliament House. The Melbourne University contingent of around 400 joined the demonstration after a motion not to join the main rally was defeated.
There was a range of speakers from the student movement and trade unions. Resistance members collected the names of hundreds of students interested in participating in emergency East Timor and Indonesia solidarity actions.
Bernie Wunsch reports from Lismore that the action there began with students setting up a road checkpoint at the Southern Cross University's main entrance. A rally of more than 200 students was held in the Goodman Plaza.
Many fiery speakers condemned both the Howard government's attacks on student unionism and the SCU administration, which opposes VSU in principle but is carrying out attacks on student and staff rights. Two hundred staff held a stop-work meeting on the same day.
More than 400 students protested in Brisbane, reports Andrea Marklew. Students painted their faces white and carried placards stating "Universities will become ghost towns under VSU". Michael Lee, the federal shadow education minister, and Dean Wells, the state education minister, emphasised the threat VSU posed to student services.
At the end of the march, students who attempted to occupy the lobby of the department of education office, decided after some discussion to rejoin the rest of the rally outside the building.
From Wollongong Justin Randell reports that speakers addressed the rally of students and staff at Wollongong University before they marched across campus. The rally was supported by both academic and non-academic staff.
Speakers included student representative council president Kane Gleeson, Natalie Stevens, the NUS NSW co-environment officer, and Angela Luvera from Resistance. Students linked arms to form the shape of a giant "No VSU" while a banner of David Kemp was burnt.
Three hundred students rallied in Hobart, 400 in Adelaide and 200 in Canberra as part of the national day of action.