Student workers addressed by unionists in panel discussion, VUW

April 30, 2009

Despite the rainy night and the presence of a significant crowd in the Bar on campus, a good turnout showed to the panel discussion organised by Vuwsa and NZUSA on the topic of “The importance of students being collectively organised when the global economy carks it”.

Sue B, Peter Conway, Andrew Little speaking, Jordan King, MC.

Sue B, Peter Conway, Andrew Little speaking, Jordan King, MC.

The panel comprised Jordan King of NZUSA, MC-ing, with Sue Bradford MP, Green party spokesperson on employment and union issues; Andrew Little, President of the Labour Party and National Secretary of the EPMU; and Peter Conway, Secretary of the CTU.

Each speaker in turn gave some insights into their years as students – Sue in the 60’s & early 70’s at Auckland Uni, then again in the 80’s doing her MA, was involved in some of the great student activism efforts, against Vietnam War, Springbok Tours, and Anti-nuclear demos; Andrew and Peter were both at VUW, Andrew as President of Vuwsa for some of his time, Peter admitting to involvement in campus Folk Music and Communist clubs (…a heady combination!)

All three stressed the changes they’d seen, for the worse, in the amount of time students have to engage in clubs and politics on campus, due to the onerous requirements of work necessary to keep fed and housed, since the removal of universal student bursaries when the student loan scheme came into force in the early 90’s.

There was a lot of general discussion about the impact of the recession – which Sue B likened to a ‘phony war’ over the last 18 months to two years – which may this year begin to be felt by students, as job retrenchment begins to hit families who have been supporting their children at university, and as part-time positions dry up in the workplaces traditionally supplying casualised jobs to students.

Whereas factories and industrial sites have been gradually laying off workers as demand for consumption has eased over the past year, which has seen many unions negotiating better terms for staff, student jobs haven’t been as much affected yet; although the VC’s committees and TEC have been bracing for a roll-on effect as redundant employees register for tertiary education, to make the best of a shrinking job market by taking the opportunity to upskill during the downturn – a pattern of behaviour that is repeating the experiences of workers made redundant around the time of the ‘87 crash; to which there are many parallels in the current recessionary period.

All of the speakers stressed that the Government needs to be made accountable for the quality of the decisions that are being made around where ‘recession relief’ spending is to be done, and questioning whether big ticket projects such as roading or buildings should be balanced by investment in upskilling workers via tertiary institution funding, with suggestions that 2009 may be our “Winter of Discontent”.

A short but lively discussion concluded the evening, which carried on for about half an hour longer than the event had been advertised, resulting in some time-pressed individuals leaving during the question time.

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