File spoon-archives/aut-op-sy.archive/aut-op-sy_1997/aut-op-sy.9704, message 102


Date: Wed, 14 May 1997 09:59:45 +1000
Subject: final points on the student occupations


[Marg, I don't know if this is adequate to Leftlink, becuse it may be more
for discussion purposes - and I'm sure it would draw them, which I know is
not really what leftlink is about. It's more about circulating information.
I'll leave it up to your discretion whether you want to post it. Thanks,
regards, Bruce Lindsay][ everyone else can probably just ignore this bit!!]




Further to the reports on the series of actions of the student movement in
the last few weeks and days. At my own campus - Monash Clayton - I have
been told by comrades of mine that the rally held yesterday to coincide
with the University Council's meeting to endorse up-front fees actually
produced the first notable setback for administration, when it forced the
meeting to be abandoned and postponed until July. Those who saw the news
got an idea of the increasing police presence and repression that is
accompanying the students' actions these days. The Monash rally, was called
at short notice and there were a couple of hundred students involved - and
more to the point there were bands (who performed for free) and the action
lasted all afternoon - the Council meeting being at 5pm. Apparently there
were rumours of underground entrances but if so it didn't seem to make any
difference. I was told that a number of councillors just gave up and went
home, others (obviously with loser stamped across their foreheads) tried to
get passed the students' line but failed. Also, the admin building was
locked from early in the morning to deter occupation. So, like on the
living income rally in March when BHP locked the building down in
expectation of an occupation, we can use the *sense* of our power to make
the Power go into seige-mode, without even actualizing it. I would say that
this is a specific form of making our power real.

I would like to make some further analytic points on the present movement,
at least as far as I see it here in Melbourne and see the rest of the
country from this perspective.

Firstly, beginning with the BHP occupation last and building to the present
wave of actions, there is a sense, if uncertain, that some space has opened
by our collective actions, that there is *possibility*, and that it is a
new possibility not dependant on the thankless petitioning of parties,
government's, lobbied, etc, or upon the depressing memories of past glories
(Whitlam?) or defeats (everything since?). This sense cannot be either
overstated or ignored. Nor can it be isolated from other struggles. In many
ways nothing has changed, we did not get Melbourne Uni to overturn its
decision about fees. But I feel it was certainly a "strategic withdrawal".
Part of its success was that it seems the strategic terrain has changed up
to now, and that the demoralizing passivity of rallying and going home to
our private, atomized existence is being shed. The technocratic-gangster
state (in the university, or elsewhere) has not been so worried. We have
many other struggles peppering it to thank also. It is important to
remember I feel that, while getting many more people involved is important,
we are striving for a qualitative change in the state of things - that
those involved and getting involved begin to know something of their own
power, ie. of our power and not their Power.

Secondly, the character of the refusal in the student movement -
specifically  the present refusal of formal privatized, user-pays
mechanisms - should be put in to the context of the restructuring of higher
education (education as a whole?), accelerated by the conservative
governments.

It is aimed at an "amercanized" system, of elite (privatized/corporatized)
schools, middle level technical schools, and the TAFE and labor market
training system.

The university I used to work at  - Swinburne - stated this explicitly, and
provides an excellent example of the middle level school: vocationalized,
automated, austere. This system as a whole is aimed at reproducing the
"dual economy" of elites (and the narrowing band who strive - mainly
through massive debt - to enter their institutions) and "mass
intellectuals" (whose  skills are narrowed and education is increasingly
integrated into a precarious, "flexible" labor-market).

In so far as the restructuring imposes spending cuts and so forth, which
must be seen in the context of the reorganization of welfare, income
support, etc, serves on the one hand to push down the value of the *social
wage*, that is it produces austerity. This increases and intensified the
work of the unwaged student as well as the waged staff in the institutions,
and also the work needed to survive studying (ie, waged work outside study,
the reproductive work of women at home, etc).

On the other hand, notably in *parts* of the technical universities (and
even large universities) and in the TAFES/labor market training programs
there is a tendency to *fuse* the unwaged work of the student to the needs
of the labor market (eg. the constant move into and out of the
school/workforce, the tailoring of courses to industries and capital's
needs, incorporation of unpaid work as students into industrial
workplaces). There is a an attendant heirarchy of exploitation in the
education system as in the labor market itself.

 What the struggle against fees seems to represent in this context is a
refusal of a key, strategic area of development - that of the establishment
of elite schools (no doubt subsidized by taxpayers), which are in reality
already massive corporations. The character of this refusal emerges out of
the historic demands of the student movement for public education, not
constituted as a *private* commodity. This does not means it has yet or has
ever (or necessarily believes it has) come to terms with the status of
education as a *public* commodity (eg. in the grading system), which
organized heirarchy through the state instead of the "corporation." Neither
does it mean that the movement has come to terms, to such a degree, with
the struggles in other sectors of education and training (eg.against
austerity, automation and "mechanization" of curriciulum,
super-exploitation of the unwaged/low-paid, etc). Certainly, the increasing
focus on a "living income" in place of Austudy/the dole is an important
broadening of struggle against cuts to the social wage. Esepcially in its
capacity to link with sectors outside of the "middle class" students.

 On the other hand, the occupation at Northern Met. TAFE was part of the
struggle for the student union itself as a means of protecting students at
this pole of the education system - vicious de-unionization is not just the
province of the most exploited sectors of the working class but of their
schools also - in the effort to further push down the conditions
accumulated in the social wage.

Thirdly, the series of occupations and "disruptions" reveals that the real
strategy available to the movement is the public reappropriation of space
(both social and physical). Furthermore, this is determined by the content
of what students do - ie their work - which is essentially socialized,
creative, intellectual, interactive. They cannot "withdraw" their labour in
this regard because to withdraw from being social, creative, etc, is really
negating yourself, even though capital wants us to do this more or less
anyway. The occupations showed the possibility of reappropriating
creativity, interactivity, etc, *on our terms* - even if this was on a very
limited basis.

It would seem to have been more fully developed at UTS, where they began to
make links to other struggles such as Bougainville, as well as transform
the nature of power and politics to participatory-democratic, collective,
ethical, etc, processes. We can glimpse all of this in what has just
happened.

It is also important to note that at Melbourne Uni at least there was
considerable sympathy generated among the staff - whose character of work
is based upon the same creativity, interactivity, etc, as the students,
only they are waged workers (and with differing interests because of this).
The management likes to call them effectively "service" workers now. At the
height of the actions on Friday, when there was a large march around the
campus and the possibility of occupying other buildings (which happened
half-heartedly in the Law Library), it would seem that there was some
possibility of the some staff more concretely supporting the students.

This would have been a decisive development but as it happened this didn't
come off. The local staff union apparently refused to call a meeting of
members.

All of this raises the question of the relationship between the staff and
students, and I guess more broadly the students and workers in general now
that the bulk of the workforce is in the service sector and similary
perform work that is social, creative, interactive, "personal," or
whatever. For my part, I think that '68 is way dead, and the students
cannot be seen as just a "detonator" of other social sectors, notably the
factory workers, wage-workers, etc. Like other "social", community, etc,
struggles, the students are being looked to as a way out of the mess. Now
they are not just asserting *right* but moreover asserting the possibility
of (democratic, collective...) *control*, ie, over their existence and
their future, over social and material space.

Fourthly, because the state is geared to "crisis" there has already been a
visible increase in the level of repression and intimidation on the ground,
although the student movement has been faced with overt political
repression for several years. There is every likelihood that the level of
repression will remain or get higher. This is true of the state police,
including the regular presence of paramilitary forces in relation to the
student movement (and the young working class in general), but on campus
the increase in the level of campus cops and their greater presence (and
probably enthusiasm). Fortunately the networks of student activists seem to
be pretty well aware of the question of repression and the need for
security. However, it would be reasonably safe to assume that numerous
teams of well-paid (white, emotionally-retarded, homophobic...) members of
Victoria's finest are buried away (in their well-appointed offices)
figuring out how to "neutralize", "pacify," "surgically remove," etc the
irritation in the student movement right now. Perhaps they know about all
of this before you do!

Well, that no doubt is more than enough for now. I can just imagine the
criticisms that'll come down upon me for these suggestions. Oh well, that
is the nature of learning I guess.

Regards,

Bruce Lindsay.







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