Sunday, April 20, 2008

Do anarchists support voluntary membership?

On 13 April there was a very interesting programme about anarchy on Chris Laidlaw's 'Ideas' programme on National Radio. In an interview, Wellington anarchist Sam Buchanan described the principles behind anarchy,

"It starts from fairly simple principles….We have no right to be ruled unless we give consent to authority....Everything must be done by voluntary agreement…Let's work by voluntary agreement to finding out how can we make a society run without coercion, without authority, without violence."

So if everything must be done by voluntary agreement, would anarchists support voluntary membership of all incorporated societies?


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Why is Young Labour Abusing VUWSA Resources? Better Question: Why Not?

Last year during that infamous VUWSA election campaign, the candidates representing the Victoria branch of Young Labour put up a series of 'anonymous' posters decrying their opponents as secret agents for the ACT Party.
Now the (in)accuracy of this charge notwithstanding, the results of that election might have indicated that those who voted were opposed to party politics interfering with student politics. Therefore those Young Labour members who were elected could be trusted to not do what they accused the others of wanting to do. Right?

If you believe that, then you don't know Young Labour.

In the March 3 issue of Salient we got a glimpse of how neutral our Executive were going to be. Asked whether Helen or John was the guy for them, two of the Young Labour wing of VUWSA gave us these answers:

Sonny Thomas (Campaigns Officer):
Helen. She can stitch together a coalition better than anyone else. And she’s a better leader.

Katie de Roo (Clubs Officer):
Helen 100%. She is a true [New Zealand] leader that will continue to take New Zealand forward as she has done from 1999. John will take us back to the 90s, and who wants that?
One can give them some kudos for being honest, and after all it's not like these views are going to interfere with their work. Right?

If you believe that, you're not very good at this game yet.

The events of last week, as outlined on Mr Farrar's blog, clearly proves there are members of the VUWSA executive who are more than okay with using student resources for the benefit of the Labour Party.

Now there are many who say that stacking a poll on a blog in favour of one party is a trivial thing, and I would usually agree. Obviously the Young Labour wing of VUWSA do not share this view or they would never had done it. More to the point, they WOULD NOT ABUSE INTERNET BANDWIDTH THAT HAD ALREADY BEEN EXCEEDED to do it.
If the honour of the Labour Party was secondary to the reasons they had been elected, then I'm quite sure they could have performed this poll-stacking in their own time and at their own cost.

But this can be forgiven as this event was a one-off. Right?

Oh dear.

Now the name 'Sonny Thomas' should have rung some alarm bells earlier on. Considering he is the current Vice-President of Young Labour, and keeping in mind who the party in government is, on paper this could be just about the most biased person you could have as Campaigns Officer. The reality? Is much the same.
A most reliable source tells me that when appointing a campaigns coordinator to assist him, one of the questions in the interview was:

"How do you feel about working for someone who is partisan?"

If you were one of the 43 percent of young people who support National, the answer would be "somewhat uneasy".
But those crazy ideas of non-partisan representation of all students' interests cannot possibly compete with what the Labour Party can offer:
Members of VicLabour have gone on to higher levels of political activism within
the Labour Party, Victoria University and the wider community. Most
recently, New Zealand’s youngest MP, Darren Hughes, was a member of VicLabour.
If that wasn't enough motivation, Saturday's New Zealand Herald should put it over the top:
Other new faces likely to win safe Labour seats include Iain Lees-Galloway in Palmerston North, where Steve Maharey is retiring to become vice-chancellor of Massey University. Mr Lees-Galloway, 29, is a campaigns and media adviser with the Nurses Organisation and is a former students' association president at Massey.
Down the line, a former student president at Victoria University, Chris Hipkins, 29, will stand a good chance of replacing Paul Swain in Rimutaka. He is at present working in the office of Prime Minister Helen Clark and has been a political adviser to Trevor Mallard and Mr Maharey.
Many have used student politics as a stepping stone to get into the Labour caucus; this year's VUWSA intake is certainly no exception.

Of course, none of what these people do would matter if association membership wasn't compulsory. But you can bet that Young Labour will fight the voluntary movement tooth and nail to ensure students continue subsidising their political aspirations. Right?


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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Press Release: Finally, a Labour minister supports freedom of association

Student Choice were very pleased to hear Clayton Cosgrove's firm support for freedom of association and voluntary membership of clubs, unions etc. So we thought we'd publicly congratulate him, and remind him - and the rest of Labour - that what's good enough for workers, footy players, real estate agents, the Law Society etc etc is plenty good enough for students too.

Finally, a Labour minister supports freedom of association

Media release: Student Choice, 19 March 2008

Voluntary membership lobbyists Student Choice are congratulating Clayton Cosgrove after he demonstrated his support for freedom of association and hopes he will now persuade his colleagues why compulsory membership of tertiary student associations is wrong.

Speaking on Morning Report last week about a bill to reform the real estate profession, Mr Cosgrove defended plans to make membership of the Real Estate Institute voluntary by arguing in favour of voluntary membership and freedom of association.

Mr Cosgrove said, "We haven't had compulsory unionism for 20 years. Why should I as a politician tell you or anybody else what you should belong to?....If you want to join the footy club, the workingmen's club, the institute - go for it. It's your choice and you should have that right."

It's great that Mr Cosgrove understands the importance of freedom of association and voluntary membership and recognises that politicians shouldn't be telling any New Zealanders they should have to join any organisation.

We hope Mr Cosgrove will turn his attention to New Zealand's tertiary institutions where over 200,000 tertiary students are forced to join compulsory student associations as a result of the Education Act. New Zealanders cannot study unless they join and pay money to compulsory student associations. Compulsory student associations take over $20 million a year from New Zealand students.

If Mr Cosgrove looks at the tertiary student associations he'd see gross political misrepresentation, widespread waste, inefficiency and fraud - all caused by compulsory membership.

Unfortunately many of Mr Cosgrove's colleagues are prepared to tolerate the violation of students' right to freedom of association because of the benefits compulsory membership delivers to the Labour Party.

We encourage Mr Cosgrove to extend his support of voluntary membership to New Zealand's tertiary institutions.



Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Australian compulsory membership dead and buried

Fascinating developments in Australia and great news for voluntary membership supporters in New Zealand.

In the lead up-up to Australia's November 24 election, then Opposition spokesman Stephen Smith ruled out repealing the Liberal's voluntary membership law, saying, "We will allow students to voluntarily organise themselves."

Australian Labor uphold freedom of association while Labour in this country continue to trash it.

And this weekend just gone, NUS, the National Union of Students, (equivalent to NZUSA) has abandoned any attempt to reinstate compulsory membership.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that, "Angus McFarland, who is the president-elect of the National Union of Students, said students now recognised that the old system was imperfect and it was difficult for the union to argue on the one hand that students should be paying for their services and on the other that the cost of tuition was too high."

"A lot of students started university resenting their student organisations - now that's completely not in our best interests," Mr McFarland said."

If National introduces voluntary membership in New Zealand, would Labour and NZUSA give up on it so quickly? I doubt it. Compulsory membership is too important to Labour. Just look at the backgrounds of many of their new candidates.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hollow victory for Vuwsa compulsion jockeys

Now that the dust has settled following the elections at the compulsory Victoria University of Wellington Students Association (Vuwsa) a couple of months back, enough time has passed to draw some conclusions from the result.

1. The outcome was not a victory for the left over the right.
Despite the attacks on the supposedly ‘right wing’ A Team and the presence of a Workers Party presidential candidate, the election wasn’t a struggle of left versus right. Traditional left issues such as free education, universal allowances and opposition to loans barely got a mention.

Instead the election was a battle of insiders versus outsiders. The insiders regard Vuwsa as their own personal association – there to serve their interests. Insiders regard all students’ monies as rightfully belonging to the insiders and they should be free to use it as they wish.

As outsiders, the A Team posed a real threat to the insiders’ control of Vuwsa. The A Team’s refund policy threatened the insiders’ most important asset – the unearned funds provided by compulsory membership. In order to protect this asset, the insiders turned not to the left for support but to other insiders who stood to lose their Vuwsa-supplied privileges should the A Team get elected. The main group of insiders were club members. Other insiders, such as the people around Salient and Vuwsa staff members bolstered them; both these groups beat the drums against the A Team and successfully whipped up fear among part of the wider student body and motivated them to vote.

The insiders’ main message was “if the A Team get elected you’ll lose your privileges”.

2. Vuwsa’s claim to represent all students is totally shot to hell.
In their attack on the A Team – and by extension, the students who voted for them - the insiders vilified them as a group of right wingers intent on destroying Vuwsa. It’s obvious from the respective positions of the insiders and outsiders, that they have incompatible views. Given this, how can the president and executive-elect claim to represent the views of all students including the outsiders? And if an organisation can’t or won’t represent these students why should they be forced to join it?

3. When it comes to a choice between protecting their privilege and fair reporting, ‘student media’ will always choose to protect its privilege.
As pre-eminent insiders, the prospect of a budget-cutting executive scares the crap out of so-called student media. Budget cuts potentially mean that the ‘student media’ will no longer receive its unearned subsidy from student politicians and might have to make up for the shortfall by doing unimaginably horrid stuff like selling ads.

That’s why Salient swung in behind the other insiders to vilify the A Team. Any pretence of objectivity rapidly went out the window. Salient’s main goal was to scare students out of voting for the outsiders.

But once again the 2007 Vuwsa election has been useful. It reminds us yet again that ‘student media’ are not the fearless, independent champions of truth they keep telling each other they are. Instead they’re merely another group of insiders out to keep their hands in students’ pockets.

Anybody proposing to upset the insiders’ privilege should forget about getting a fair hearing from ‘student media’.

4. National-voting students will be increasingly misrepresented by Vuwsa in 2008.
Vuwsa has misrepresented national and centre-right voting students for years, and this is only set to intensify in 2008. Here’s why.

As a Workers Party member, 2008 president Joel Cosgrove sees Vuwsa as a vehicle in which socialists can gain positions of leadership that can then be used “to fight against the capitalist system that is the root of student and workers oppression.”

There’s a lot of bad blood between the Workers Party and Young Labour. Nick Kelly, the last Workers Party Vuwsa president, failed to gain re-election for 2007 and held Young Labour partially responsible. In addition Cosgrove will be under pressure from his Workers Party buddies to put the heat on Labour who they see as a bourgeoisie non-socialist party little better than National. Kelly described the Labour government as one that was “actively attacking students”.

On the other hand you have a number of Young Labour executive members who will primarily be focused on assisting their party in election year by attacking National.

Although Cosgrove’s Workers Party background will lead him to want to attack Labour, he will minimise attacks on Labour as to do so might aid National. And a National government threatening to introduce voluntary membership poses a far greater threat to the Workers Party and other insiders. Cosgrove will have little choice but to tone down any criticism of Labour which, in his eyes, will be the lesser of two evils.

So expect to see extensive attacks on National in 2008 by Vuwsa and other student associations. The orchestrated reaction to John Key’s recent comments about tuition fees as an indication of things to come.

5. Vuwsa will not undertake reform as insiders believe they have ‘won’.
The most significant aspect of the 2007 election is that the insiders will take their victory as a sign that they have defeated their opponents and can therefore carry on with business as usual.

Agree with them or not, the A-Team raised serious questions about the way Vuwsa operates and whether or not it does so in the interests of the people it claims to represent. Having defeated the A-Team the insiders will assume that they can safely ignore the A-Team’s criticism. The insiders will not examine Vuwsa and ask the tough questions about its legitimacy.

With compulsory membership secure in the short term, insiders will be happy to see the money keep rolling in and with unsatisfied students unable to remove their funding Vuwsa leadership can carry on through 2008 pursuing the insiders’ agenda. Goal number one for 2008 will be to aid a National defeat.

This failure to reform will mean that Vuwsa will be unprepared if it is in a position where it has to attract members and persuade people of the value of membership.

If Vuwsa finds itself in a position where it has to attract members, it will experience a massive drop in income and will not be able to continue in its current form. If this happens, the insiders will blame the government that introduces voluntary membership rather than taking responsibility for their own failure to reform a terminally flawed system of membership.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Press Release: Student Choice Welcomes New Tertiary Education Minister

Sent out yesterday evening, and placed on Scoop earlier this afternoon. For extra credit, compare the behaviour I warn about below to what NZUSA, OUSA and OPSA talk about in their press releases. Cheers guys!

Student Choice Welcomes New Tertiary Education Minister

31 October 2007
Press Release - Student Choice

Student Choice congratulates Pete Hodgson on becoming the new Minister of Tertiary Education after today's Cabinet reshuffle, and challenges him to allow students the right to freedom of association by introducing voluntary membership for all student associations.

Spokesman Mike Heine said today, "tertiary education is a tough portfolio. One achievement of this Government has been to acknowledge the existence of multiple stakeholders, all with varying viewpoints, and recognising their views when formulating tertiary education policy.

"What previous Ministers and Governments have failed to realise is that students are no different; our opinions are just as varied as any other part of society.

"The current laws on compulsory student membership do not reflect this. Instead, student associations and NZUSA claim to speak for all students when they lobby for causes such as 'free education'. The reality, as they know, is very different.

"Student Choice hopes Mr Hodgson will remember this next time these groups attack his Government.

The only way Mr Hodgson can have an honest dialogue with students is to accept that students do not speak with one voice, and allow us the same freedom of association other groups in society enjoy," concluded Mr Heine.

Student Choice is a student-run, national organisation promoting voluntary student association membership on the grounds of freedom of association.


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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

EXCLUSIVE: VUWSA membership still compulsory

The Salient gang on the trail of another hot scoop

Well it has to be said, Salient are full of super sleuths.
Take this excerpt from Laura McQuillan's year in review article:
Salient also found out that VUWSA membership can be voluntary upon application to the VUWSA President, and suggests pro-VSM students sort that out for next year so we don’t have to hear about freedom of association anymore (by the way, to the guy in INTP363 who said in the first lecture that VUWSA membership violates his human rights – you’re a dick, and your voice sounds like Mickey Mouse).
First of all, to INTP363 guy, you're absolutely correct. No one should have to join an association that misrepresents their views.
But wait a minute - according to Salient we don't have to! Association membership is in fact voluntary after all!

But before I tell Student Choice to disband and go home, it might pay to have a closer look at the issue than Salient did.
The 'discoveries' they referred to in their September 17 article were taken from 229(A) from the Education Amendment Act 2000:

(5) A students association may, on the grounds of hardship, exempt any student from the obligation to pay the membership fee of the association; and a student so exempted may nonetheless be a member of the association.

A students association may exempt any student from membership of the association on the grounds of conscientious objection; and, if exempted, the association must pay the student's membership fee to a charity of its choice.

(7) Every students association must ensure that information about the rights in subsections (5) and (6) is available to students before enrolment, and must make rules for dealing in a fair, timely, and consistent way with applications for exemption under either subsection.

Colour me confused, because I see nothing in there that provides for voluntary membership. What it does say is:

* If you're too poor you can beg the association to let them waive the levy - but you still have to join.

* If you have serious philosophical objections to joining a student association you can beg the association to let you not join, and if you're lucky (not everyone was granted such freedom this year) they'll agree - but you don't get your money back.

I would like to publicly congratulate Salient on 'discovering' a clause seven years after it was passed into law, and then totally misinterpreting it. That takes some remarkable skill to pull off.
There is also the issue of VUWSA violating subsection (7) in not making these 'exemptions' known to the student populace - a crime I suspect occurs on campuses nationwide.

The bigger point than that, even, is that freedom of association is not something anyone should ever have to ask permission for. To quote fellow Student Choice member Peter McCaffrey from the 17/9 article:
"The line of argument negates the notion of a right. It asks us to accept the violation of a right because a process exists whereby that right can be won through an appeal… rather than as something which is the natural entitlement of each citizen."
Student Choice advocates for a law change that will give all students this natural entitlement, without exception.
Until we get this, Salient - and everyone else - will be hearing plenty about it.

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