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.