TAFE students: 'The fight's not over'


By Toni Stevens

MELBOURNE — Student union leaders at Chisholm TAFE are optimistic about maintaining student control of the fledgling Chisholm Association of TAFE Students (CATS) after a recent occupation of the administration office at the Frankston campus forced management to withdraw an eviction notice served on the union.

This follows months of hostility between CATS and Chisholm TAFE management. CATS leaders accused management of trying to create an organisation of "management stooges" instead of a democratic, active student organisation.

So far this year Chisholm management has:

lcut the combined student organisation's budget by more than $150,000;

l"sacked" the student organisation's staff at Frankston;

lrefused to allow the student organisation to carry out student rights and advocacy work;

ldemanded that the student organisation use students' money to subsidise ski trips for Chisholm staff members; and

lrefused to recognise the democratically elected student representatives from the Noble Park, Bonbeach, Moorabbin, Frankston and Dandenong campuses, which make up the CATS Peak Council.

Students at Chisholm have responded to these attacks by campaigning, holding student meetings and continuing to put arguments to Chisholm management and its governing council over the benefits of student unions. At Moorabbin campus alone, 2000 students signed a petition protesting the cuts to the student organisation budget.

The campaign was stepped up after management refused to negotiate with the CATS peak council, sacked the student organisation staff at the Frankston campus and served the student union with an eviction notice. Frankston students responded by calling a rally on June 8 which was attended by around 200 students as well as representatives of the Victorian TAFE Students and Apprentices Network (VTSAN) and the other Chisholm campuses. National Union of Students president Jacob Varghese addressed the rally, which culminated in a student occupation of the administration offices.

The occupation was well supported, with students from Melbourne's TAFEs, universities and secondary colleges visiting. Donations of food and money kept the occupation going as several dozen students maintained a constant presence. Faxes of support were received from student unions across the country, as well as from trade unions.

The occupation was officially supported by CATS, which used the action to force management back to the negotiating table. The occupation ended on June 11, when student leaders appeared to have struck a favourable deal with management over key issues, including overturning the eviction notice and reinstating the sacked staff.

Maurice Sibelle, VTSAN coordinator, told Resistance: "Chisholm comprises 60,000 students across nine campuses. It is the largest stand-alone TAFE in Victoria. If this campaign for a student-controlled organisation at Chisholm is successful, it will be a real boost to our ability to organise TAFE students around issues that concern them.

"The fight's not over yet. We still have to ensure that management honour the June 11 agreement. We need to be vigilant; we need to ensure that we get a real, student-controlled student union."