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(en) Australia, Sydney, anarchist zine Mutiny #30 - The revolution will not be Anglicised: international students & the Australian student movement By Red Sonja

Date Sun, 28 Sep 2008 11:39:17 +0300



"Considering borders only as systems of control facing the outside, oriented
towards the international sphere, immigration & global flows, is to run the risk
of not understanding the importance of borders in the governance & biopolitical
composition of the nation's interior." http://www.migreurop.org/article913.html
In August 2006, Masters of Accounting student Rajneesh Joga was murdered in his
workplace, in his cab. Taxi drivers staged a sit-in at Flinders Street station &
marched to Parliament. They secured a mass meeting held at Flemington Racecourse
with the then Victorian transport Minister, Peter Batchelor, promising safety
improvements including the introduction of safety screens.

The promises came to nothing, & in the early hours of 29th April 2008, Jalwinder
Singh, a 23 year old international student was stabbed in his cab. The police,
though they came to the scene to investigate his abandoned cab, which had
slammed into a pole, did not find Jalwinder, who lay bleeding a hundred metres
away. He was found by pedestrians hours later. Jalwinder is alive, but still
very weak, & still has to pay his medical bills & work out how to pay his
international student fees now that he cannot drive his cab. On the 29th & 30th
April 2008, hundreds of taxi drivers, mostly students, staged a protest outside
Flinders Street station.

Unlike the previous action, drivers were not allowed to use the radio dispatch
system to organise the protest. The drivers were predominantly informed of the
action via text message, passed amongst the night-time driver student networks.
In the 3 months since the strike, there have been at least 21 incidents of
hospitalisation of Indian international student cabbies. 8 of these have been
stabbings.

The concentration of Indian international students in this dangerous &
precarious employment should of itself cause people to question the common
stereotype of the cashed up international student.
Sergio Fiedler, project officer with the UNSW Student Guild, put it this way in
a submission to a Senate Inquiry into Higher Education in 1999:
"The status of international students within Australian society has been a
polemical issue. The common stereotype is that they are from extremely
wealthy backgrounds & therefore able to afford full fees in Australia. Coming
from places that some consider part of the Third World, these students
are certainly part of the elite or middle classes in their own countries.
However, the international students' experience in Australia is often one of
discrimination & disadvantage in relation to their local counterparts. In this
respect, the process of coming to Australia & becoming a student
in a local University such as UNSW involves ­as it mostly happens
through immigration- a drastic & downward change in social position
within society." (My emphasis)
In other words, it is arguable that regardless of the class status of
international students in their home country, their relationship to Australian
border control mechanisms, namely, their lack of labour market mobility &
effectively restricted political rights, their class position shifts
significantly once they are subject to these controls: i.e. from the moment they
enter the country.

"We do not just work in your 7-11s, we do not just work in your petrol
stations, we do not just drive your cabs ­ we drive your economy" ­ from a
protest speech at the cabbie strike

Mickie Skelton, a Melbourne uni student, artist & journo, who brought food to
the striking cabbies, wrote this about the strike:
"The labour pool from which Night-shift Taxi drivers are drawn, as are many
casual service industry workers, overwhelmingly consists of International
students from nations such as China or India, whose student visa conditions
prevent them from working more than 20 hours in one week during semester
A breach of these working conditions is sufficient to compel the retraction of
the visa, often without any right to appeal.
As is the nature of casual labour, employers often use various informal
measures to compel workers to take on more shifts, & work longer hours,
without the incentive of permanency or pay rise. Effectively what this means
in the context of the 20 hour working limit for International Students, is that
more mainstream casual hire jobs for unskilled labour are harder to secure,
seeing as the worker in this case is required not only to inform the employer
that they do not wish to work more than 20 hours, but in fact cannot, & thus
cannot be pressured to do so.
This has several results, with one of the most significant being that Migrants
will take on jobs where they are able to discreetly work over their 20 hour
limit, which naturally is accompanied by a corresponding reluctance to be
assertive about working conditions on the fear of being fired, or worse
reported for visa breach.
A second effect is that International students often take on jobs that many
people would consider beneath them, such as late-night petrol station
attendants, 7-11 clerks, call centre operators, night shift security guards
or taxi drivers. The idea of these jobs as low-status occupations does not
go unrecognised by those who work them. The perception of these jobs as
undesirable is contributed to not only by their low pay & poor hours, along
with total lack of union support , but is also reinforced by the ethnicity of
those most likely to work it. In this way the denigrating aspect of these jobs
becomes a repeating cycle, as deep seated racism spits upon these workers
& their jobs while also forcing them into them. The language used by my
informants reinforces this division of ethnicity, as they spoke of jobs which
"Australians" would not do ­ in this case the exclusive caste of "Australian"
corresponding to a perceived racial divide, reinforced by the economic division
of labour. However, this low-status perception is not necessarily something
which is accepted by the workers of these professions, & the protest which I
attended can on one level be read & understood as a rupturing point at the
level of respect, where the amount of respect afforded to the protestors had
dipped too radically beneath their own levels of self-image."
The cabbies whose homes I have visited whilst helping out with the Victorian
Taxi Drivers Association (VTDA) sleep, study, work in shifts. There might be one
computer in the house, with many more students than beds, with drivers splitting
cab shifts, & studying & eating around their work hours, whatever they may be. &
of course, in regards to housing, local students tend to know which suburbs are
cheaper, & safer in regards to public transport. International students do not.
It was these kinds of conditions that lead to the death of three Indian
international students in a house fire in Footscray in January this year.
One Chinese student studying at
Swinburne University, who did not want
to be named, told The Age she had lived
in the living room of a two-bedroom city
apartment for six months, which housed
five other people. It is these conditions
that lead international students to sleep
in the 24-hour computer labs at RMIT &
other universities.
International students are a hyper-
exploited workforce whether they are
studying at MIT, CQU, Sydney University
­ & it is the 20 hour work restriction
that makes it so: firstly because it
restricts international student mobility
in the labour market to the lowest-paid
end of the scale, secondly because the
cost of study means that for those who are forced to earn their course fees,
there is no question that many will have to breach these restrictions ­ & risk
deportation to meet their financial obligations to the university.
The National Union of Students, in particular, all National President's of the
National Union of Students within my political memory (i.e. since 2000) with the
exception of Michael Nguyen, have been actively hostile to the international
students department, & campaigning around the rights of international students.
NUS & campus student unions have on many occasions used racialised plagiarism
scandals to point-score in regards to privatisation, actively contributing to
the stereotype of international students as wealthy cheats, buying their way
into "our" higher education system & taking "our" uni places. In the most
extreme cases, like that of the business interests
of those members of the Labor Right who actively destroyed the old Melbourne
University Student Union, local students have used their knowledge of
international student vulnerability to turn a profit.
The left claims to support those incarcerated or abused by border protection
schemes­ yet we have historically said very little about the conditions under
which students come into Australia. International student issues in regards to
housing, racial violence, & worker exploitation are increasingly in the media.
The left claims to speak for all students ­ yet student welfare & education
campaigns are often confined to whingeing about youth allowance, just months
after a group of students (the cabbies) took to
the streets asking their passengers to stop killing them at work.
For all the talk in the left about the working class, or the undercommons, or
however we choose to describe it­when international students as workers are
organising & fighting back we are often slow to respond. I don't quite
understand why, but I suspect it is a lot more to do with the extent to which
the left has been convinced by the racist left nationalist defence of Aussie
jobs & Aussie university places than most would care to admit. If we only like
to stand in solidarity with those brown people who we can define as totally
helpless & victimised (refugees), & whom we can manoeuvre ourselves to speak on
behalf of, is it any wonder that our "movement" remains overwhelmingly white
despite the massive transformation in the racial composition of the Australian
working class, for which international students & former international
students are significantly responsible?
Perhaps what I really mean to ask is: for how long can the "student movement", &
the "workers movement" ignore the struggles of international students before it
seems less like incompetence & more like complicity?
_________________________________________
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