Activists created the Monash Student Association; for all student unions including the MSA to be strong and vibrant, activism must continue to play a vital role. Unfortunately, the MSA Executive, along with a couple of their supporters, recently mounted an attack on activism at Monash, attempting to shut down the Activist Space. They were opposed by several honourable student representatives, including the Environmental and Social Justice Officer, the Male Queer Officer, and the office-bearers for Education (Academic Affairs), Activities and Welfare.
Located on the second floor of the Campus Centre, the Activist Space is used by a plethora of social justice and environment-based groups at Monash, including the Monash Refugee Action Collective, Students for Palestine, Left Action and Socialist Alternative. It is open to all students at all hours of the day, and remains a hub of progressive discussion and organisation in what can often be a rather right wing environment.
That elements within Go!, the student ticket dominated by Labor students, wanted it shut down is unsurprising. Their non-participation in on-campus activism is unrivalled. None of them, for instance, attended World Refugee Day, a march a thousand strong through the city for refugee rights – and this at a time when the inhumane policies of the Labor Party have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of refugees at sea and a resurgence of refugee rights to the forefront of public consciousness.
These are rights that can only be fought for by campaigning, by enlisting likeminded people who will struggle for social justice. This is tough if the student union is unwilling to allow these people even one room in which to meet, organize and discuss.
However, the activist space was secured, won in an 11-4 vote after hours of argument during Monash Student Council. Its defence was headed not only by Monash’s sole progressive ticket Left Action in collaboration with the recently elected Education (Academic Affairs) officer; members of the Go! caucus voting in support of the survival of the Activist Space led to the relative isolation of the MSA Executive and
the defeat of the motion.
Student run student services are continually restricted by a university bureaucracy focussed on turning our education into a machine for profit. The justification for getting rid of the Activist Space was that it would be subsumed in the restructuring of offices to make space for a student counsellor. This ignores the fact that such space could easily be found if the University and those heading the union were willing. The arguments in the defence of the Activist Space were never against the union expanding the outreach of its student services – Left Action has time and again called for student run student services in the face of students’ money for SSAF being appropriated by the bureaucracy for the bureaucracy, and recently staged a protest outside a luncheon hosted by the Vice-Chancellor. An increase in counselling services at the University does not necessitate an attack on the existence of social justice activities and facilities on campus. Furthermore, any increase in student run student services would be undermined by undercutting students’ abilities to organise and discuss, which is exactly what those who attacked the
Activist Space attempted to do.
The fight for the Activist Space was won, but, as student elections approach, the battle for student representatives willing to fight for a progressive student body and grass-roots activism at Monash remains in its infancy. Attempting to shut the Activist Space coincides with the University’s agenda of stifling student activism, and with the Government and University administration continuing to squeeze money out of students and inhibit activism, we need to band together to fight for what we have. While we follow the growing calls for revolution in Greece and Spain and the uprisings against dictators waged throughout the Middle-East, it is worth remembering that for months now in Quebec, hundreds of thousands have been mobilising daily, sparked by student protests against fee increases. Activism made the MSA, and with the Activist Space intact, it can salvage it.
Those interested in a more left-wing student union should contact the Environmental and Social Justice Officer, Laura Riccardi: 0401315387.
Constantinos Karavias is a member of MRAC, Socialist Alternative and Left Action.