VSU campaign needs leadership


By Mark Abberton

MELBOURNE — The Student Unionism Network (SUN) is at a crossroads in its planning for the Victorian day of action against "voluntary student unionism" (VSU) on March 31.

SUN has pressured the Victorian branch of the National Union of Students (NUS) to support the action and has held a successful anti-VSU teach-in, which got the campaign off to a good start. There has been substantial discussion about the importance of on-campus organising against VSU, the need to build links with trade unions and the importance of inspiring students to join the campaign.

There has been no opposition within SUN or NUS to the idea that a mass campaign is needed. The debate has focused on how the "leaders" of the campaign can involve as many people as possible.

NUS argued at the beginning of the campaign the need to prove to students that student unions are good for them before students would mobilise against VSU. Other campus activists pointed out that it is more effective to be politically straightforward and convince students to fight VSU because student unions do, or should, campaign for student rights and should be defended.

The debate has now shifted to what tactics should be used at the March 31 rally. This debate in SUN is between those who argue that all anti-VSU rallies must end in "a militant direct action at an education target", such as an occupation, and those who argue that a range of actions are needed to attract the most student and worker support as possible.

The latter position does not oppose occupations in principle, but asserts that no one tactic should be used above all others if it will not result in large mobilisations which can stop VSU. The government will be convinced that it cannot get away with introducing VSU only when the campaign has built enough support amongst workers that they take industrial action on students' behalf, or when enough students are mobilised to shift broader public opinion overwhelmingly against VSU.

There is no question that the student movement has to be militant to defend its interests. But militant actions must strengthen an ongoing mass campaign.