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(en) Ireland, No Masters #1 - What Type Of Student Politics?

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 4 Oct 2004 15:22:26 +0200 (CEST)

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'University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so
small'. These are the words of the notorious Henry Kissinger US
secretary of state). Scarily enough this has often been quiet true of
students Unions and the politics around them. Personality politics
takes over and it can descend into a farce. This year can't and
won't be the same. The stakes have now been raised to the
highest they've been in decades. The OECD has now said that
third level fees should be reintroduced and everyone seems to be
treating it as a fait accompli.

Basically the future of education is up for grabs this year. There
are frightening prospects at stake here: Privatisation,
reintroduction of fees and basic notions of democracy are on table
and the student movement could very easily lose. This is one year
college politics are important. This year you have a damn right to
be vicious if the S.U. isn't doing its job and organising.

Students' Unions like trade unions, were founded to defend and
advance the interests of their members against the attacks of the
state and college. The college structure is un-democratic and
hierarchical, and in contrast our unions are democratic and the
officers are accountable, constitutionally at least. The unions are
based on the principles of direct democracy, where the mass of
membership have final control over what decisions are made, and
representatives have to carry out mandates and can be hauled up
to account. In this role the union promotes self-management and
empowerment among students. However, with a high student
turnover, the only permanent force in the unions is elements of
the college authorities them-selves.

Taken aside and fed bullshit about their own importance by the
college, many union officers end up as apologists for actions taken
by the college authorities, instead of standing up to them for their
members. The union ends up filling the gaps left by the college
and state, putting band-aids over symptoms instead of striking the
root cause. For instance, instead of tackling the housing crisis by
combating property speculation and fighting for an extension of
rent allowance to students, unions play the role of agencies in
advertising houses. Where the unions should be fighting on
issues, instead it ends up managing them on behalf of the college
and state Often with a leadership who's main priority seems to be
keeping things ticking over, rather than acting to empower the
membership in fighting for a better life and a better education.

As anarchists we argue for mass based campaigns that involve
general participation in making decisions as well as implementing
them. This means organising from the grassroots up. Involving
students in the decision making process through open
non-hierarchical meetings, where anyone can get involved.
Instead of expecting them to show up and passively take part in
events they have no control over. A union's strength lies in the
mass of numbers it contains, not in the limited abilities of
individual officers,

One of the greatest tricks the right tries to pull at every union
election is to convince us that politics should not come into
student unions. What sort of bullshit is that? Everything is
political and the issues facing students are loaded with political
content and they need a political response. Unfortunately, the
student unions are lacking a sense of political purpose. Overall the
movement has no clear aims, it is more concerned with making
'bad things go away' than actually identifying what the core
problems facing us are and fighting on them. When ever the state
plans something dodgy around education, our leaders can be
heard criticising it on the radio, and usually that's that. There is no
one putting across a clear perspective on what we actually want to
see happen in education. The student movement reacts to the
state's agenda instead of attempting to set the agenda.

The state and college can easily close it's eyes and ears to the
student movement and ignore the union's lobbying. But what they
can't afford to do is ignore direct action based tactics, which
disrupt the college structure and force them to give into demands.
The recent successful UCD library occupations over opening hour
cutbacks is an example of this. These sort of actions threaten the
college more than anything because they are the ones that involve
students alongside staff and give them a taste of their own power.
And that is what the college and state are afraid of most of all.

For the past few years, the student movement has been struggling
to retain many of the victories of the past such as free fees, if we
continue to act defensively we can expect to get no where. Now
more than ever we need to be on the offensive, putting forward a
vision of education where the participants in education, workers,
students and academics have a direct say in the decisions made.
After all, regardless of how much we whinge about how we are
being treated by the powers that be, in the final analysis, the
problem comes down to one of control over within the decision
making structures.

Currently our colleges are ran by faceless bureaucrats and
un-representative decision making bodies which consistently act
against our interests. Most governing authorities, while giving
token representation to trade and student unions, are dominated
by people appointed by the state. Even then they just act as rubber
stampers for various practically anonymous committees running
our colleges. Would UCD Governing Authority have made the
decision to increase post grad fees by 10% if it was composed of
people directly elected by students, workers and academics
instead of cronies of business and Fianna Fail? I think not. Why
was '1.6m spent on Hugh Brady, the UCD president's house,
when the college can't even afford to fund the library for books?

And then, there's the state, and institutions like the OECD, in
whose interests do you think they are being run? The OECD
recently recommended the re-introduction of fees dressed up in
the usual bullshit about social inclusion. But a peek at whose
running the show, a former Australian minister of education
Dawkins and his track record back home, shows that such
changes only benefit the well off. Why has the Irish state being so
reluctant to properly fund grants, student accommodation and to
tackle the wider inequality in communities which is where
educational inequality really begins?

If you're one of the thousands of people who see the
reintroduction of fees as the end of your third level education there
is no use moaning about it when it happens- get out there and
stop it. Go to meetings or even better organise one yourself, go to
the protest you organised. Get stuck in because if you don't your
about to get royally shafted. Don't forget it was beaten by students
just like you two years ago. Those in control of these decisions are
making them in the interests of business and the rich, that's quite
clear. We need to stop them.

This article is from No Masters issue 1

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