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May 18, 2009 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

President’s Column

As some readers may be aware, I have had a long involvement with the Workers’ Party (WP). I joined the WP in 2002 and until recently was the longest serving member of the Wellington branch.

Last Tuesday I was informed that I had been expelled from the WP. This is the first time that the Party has expelled anyone.

In essence the WP expelled me as they feel my actions as VUWSA President are inconsistent with WP policy and the platform I stood on. I regard this claim as total nonsense.

In my President’s Welcome in the Handbook Diary I made the following statement: VUWSA is a union. The purpose of any union, be it a students’ association or a trade union, is for its members to be better off by working together as a collective. Through having a strong democratic union, members of VUWSA can collectively make gains that they wouldn’t achieve as individuals.

When I stood in the VUWSA election I did so with the aim to help build a strong, accountable and democratic association that would serve the interests of its members. Indeed, this was the explicit platform that I stood on.

I have never made any secret of my politics or the things I believe the student body should be fighting for (such as universal student allowances).

What I do not believe in however is putting forward a political agenda or taking certain actions to advance my own beliefs or those of outside organisations. The role of the VUWSA Executive is to serve members and work collectively for the benefit of the association.

This means that actions taken by members of the Executive need to be based on VUWSA policy. In areas where VUWSA has no policy, then VUWSA should seek to formulate policy by holding a Student Representative Council (SRC) meeting or other meeting of students in order to get a mandate from students. It is in such a forum that I and any other member of VUWSA can argue for what we believe to be the best position for VUWSA to take on a given issue. In the end however, it is up to the membership. The WP disagrees with this process.

There are plenty of examples from the past which highlight the importance of winning over students to a given position or stance before publicly advocating it on behalf of the association.

In 1948 there was a communist-led uprising in Czechoslovakia led by Gottwald, the leader of the Czech Communist Party. This was at the very start of the Cold War and in the West this event was widely viewed as a communist coup. The Socialist Club – a coalition of members of the Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ) and the Labour Party, plus various independent leftist on campus – had managed to get a majority on the Executive. In his memoir Working Class Son, former Communist Party member Ron Smith gives the following description of the incident:

At the height of this Harold Dowrick, President of the Students’ Association, moved, and the rest of the Executive thoughtlessly voted for, a motion to send a telegram to Gottwald congratulating him on the triumph of democracy in Czechoslovakia.

The media were frenzied, a special meeting was called and the entire Executive were rolled and replaced with a more politically conservative one. There are plenty of other examples from VUWSA’s history where what could be deemed as left wing positions have been taken by VUWSA. These include the Vietnam War, the 1981 Springbok Tour, civil unions, and the US-led invasion of Iraq. However in these cases, unlike in 1948, the left and members of the Executive went out and won student support for the position VUWSA eventually took.

Sixty years later it would seem the WP have yet to learn these lessons from the past. When I joined the WP (then Anti-Capitalist Alliance) I understood it to be a party that believed in building mass movements and arguing for its politics on the street to workers, students and whoever else could be won to progressive politics. Members of the Party would decry what they termed ‘the politics of impatience’. Yet it seems in 2009 the WP have succumbed to this themselves.

Wearing an “I (Heart) My Penis” t-shirt to graduation and burning a flag in the student bar may be fun for the participants, and is a sure way to get attention and possibly your photo in the newspaper.

What is obvious to most though is that such stunts have a tendency to exasperate negativity surrounding students and student politics, rather than helping to bring about any progressive change. Worse still, such self indulgent stunts actually alienate people who may have otherwise been open to the ideas you are trying to promote. Sadly the WP seem to have abandoned the idea of winning wider support for their politics, instead preferring embarrassing spectacles and left posturing. The ideal situation for WP members involved in these activities is to achieve some sort of martyrdom by being arrested or censured by the authorities.

This year I have made significant inroads in sorting out the administrative mess my immediate predecessors left me, and have made steady improvements in VUWSA’s service delivery and accountability to students. It is my intention to continue this work for the remainder of 2009, in order for VUWSA to best serve students.


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Comments (4)

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  1. cvalda says:

    So. How about that collective agreement with VUWSA staff?

  2. Owlzy says:

    I’d kill a thousand me’s for a collective agreement. That’s for sure.

  3. Cowlzy says:

    So how about that Unite. I’d be asking questions over their competency before asking where the collective is.

  4. cvalda says:

    Supersizemypay and the Drop Youth Rates campaign demonstrate some thorough competency. Plus, the mere fact that they’ve unionised casual fast-food sites, which people argued you can’t do.

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