Playground Politics is new Glass series about political groups on QUT campuses, where we interview student groups from across the political spectrum.
Can you tell me a bit about the history of your group? How did it start at QUT?
Our club at QUT has been around for over a decade now, and we’ve been the largest and most serious socialist activist club here for a long time.
What does your group aim to achieve on campus?
We’re a socialist club with anti-capitalist politics. We organise a bunch of different events for students to learn more about anticapitalist ideas and socialist theory. We also spend time organising and promoting activism around a bunch of different issues – from students rights and the climate, to fighting against sexism, racism and homophobia. These issues are important to university students; we don’t live in a bubble outside this horrible, rotten system. So our club is interested in spreading anticapitalist politics as a solution to all the injustices we face.
What has your group been getting up to this year so far?
Throughout the year, the QUT socialist club has organised activism both on and off campus. One of the best things we’ve done this year was kick off a national protest wave against transphobe Posie Parker. She travelled to Australia on a speaking tour to galvanise the far right around anti-trans politics. The trans rights protests we built across Australia were a huge success. They also laid the basis for even bigger counter-protests in New Zealand, causing her to end the tour early and fly home! Posie Parker will never be back to spread her anti-trans rhetoric because of these amazing protests.
We’ve also fought for climate justice all year. Our socialist Environment Officer in the Guild has been organising protests, public talks and craft days, which our club has helped promote. Socialist Alternative also helped promote, and participated in the National Union of Students protest for the climate in March. Our club looks forward to continuing the fight for climate action all year.
The housing crisis is also an issue taking the country by storm. So we’ve been busy taking protest action against the Labor government, which is offering students and workers nothing during the biggest housing crisis we’ve seen. We have been fighting alongside other groups in Brisbane to secure rent freezes and build more public housing.
How can students join your group and what can they expect if they join?
We organise lots of events that students can come to! Our club hosts weekly discussion groups to talk about anticapitalist politics. We also host public meetings throughout the semester for students to check out. These are spaces where all left wing students can debate out ideas about how we should fight for change. If you want to get involved come to any of our meetings, or message us on our social media.
What’s your relationship like with the SAlt nationally/broader movements?
Socialist Alternative is a national organisation with student clubs across all the major cities. We are part of this national group, which adds strength to our club. We can coordinate activism with hundreds of other socialists from across the country this way. We’re also active in most left wing activist campaigns around Brisbane, because we want to work together with anyone fighting for change in the here and now.
Can you explain to me the political positions of your group as if I’m five or an alien (or both)?
We live in a world where profit comes before human need. Capitalism drives more and more people into poverty every day, meanwhile the billionaires doubled their wealth during the pandemic. Every day, the class divide between us and the rich grows deeper. And on top of all of this, our leaders are handing down more and more attacks on students and workers living conditions. Student poverty is on the rise, there’s a backlash against women’s rights in many places around the world, and Indigenous people and immigrants are facing the brunt of a racist assault by the Liberals.
Socialist Alternative wants to win a world without billionaires. We want to fight against oppression in all its forms. We want to win the liberation of all, and to do this we have to build left wing politics in Australia. We need more people out on the streets, which is where we have power. The more people who want to fight this rotten system, the better.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing QUT students at the moment?
The rising cost of living, and the rise in student poverty, is one of the biggest issues facing QUT students. For students who work, our wages are going backwards as inflation continues rising. For those on welfare payments like Jobseeker, Labor’s $2.85 a day increase is a slap in the face – that extra money wouldn’t even buy you a head of lettuce at the supermarket. Rents are skyrocketing in the city, and privately owned student accommodations are price gouging people for shoebox-sized rooms. And on top of all this, the Labor Party government is refusing to take action, or implement any real solutions to each of these issues. They’ve put themselves on the side of landlords and big business, and would rather spend $368 billion on nuclear submarines than healthcare, education, or housing!
Last year, only 351 out of 50,216 enrolled students voted in the Guild elections. Additionally, almost all positions were elected unopposed. Why do you think that was? What do you think this says about the state of student politics at QUT?
We think the union could make itself more relevant to other students if it ran more public campaigns to fight for students rights and social justice. Right now the Guild operates like another wing of the university management, like a corporation, and so the elections don’t seem that important to most students. Previously, tickets like REACH have run the union like a bureaucratic and empty service provision body, and they have seen their positions in the Guild just as another line to put on their resume. We think student unions should be organising campaigns to improve our educational experience and fight for causes that students care about, such as LGBTI rights, climate justice and so on. That’s how we’ll create interest in the Guild.
Is the club or anyone from your club intending to run a ticket or run in the next Guild elections in October?
Socialist Alternative will run again in this year’s elections under the Left Action ticket. We’re looking for support from left wing students to re-elect us as Environment Officer so we can continue our activism on the climate.
What role do you think discussion of federal and state politics should play in Student Representative Council meetings?
We think that politics should play an important role in SRC meetings. Many elected office bearers in the Guild are members of political groups or parties themselves. But more importantly, unions have historically been bodies for students to promote their political interests, from opposing wars to standing up to the government. Right now the Queensland Labor government is preparing to build more youth detention centres for their tough on crime agenda, which disproportionately puts Indigenous kids behind bars. And the federal Labor government is splashing cash on nuclear submarines to gear up for a war with China. Our union should not turn a blind eye to these disgraceful things. We should use the body that represents students to fight injustices. Students care about all sorts of political issues, and we want to have our union take up as many as possible.
Is your group aligned with or contain members of any existing or past Guild electoral tickets (Grow, Reach, EPIC, etc)?
Every year Socialist Alternative runs as the ticket Left Action in the QUT Guild elections. Left Action is an activist ticket which believes the Guild should not be run like a business, but rather a body that stands up and fights for student rights and interests.
Are any of your members currently involved with the Guild /or have been in the past, and if so, who?
This year, Left Action holds the Environment Officer position in the Guild, as well as two councillors.
Do you have any other general commentary on student unionism at QUT or around Australia at the moment?
There are massive attacks facing students right now: our HECs debts are increasing, and housing is becoming unaffordable. The climate crisis, which students want to see action on, is getting worse by the day. The Labor government just handed down a budget that could only offer a measly $2.85 increase to Jobseeker welfare. Everywhere we look there are issues students should be fighting for – but our unions across Australia are missing in action. Socialist Alternative wants to build back the strength of our student unions so that we can take on any fight that the government and university bosses throw our way.
QUT desperately needs to build a union that fights for student interests. We need a union that isn’t afraid to stand up to the university when it hands down course cuts or fee increases. The Guild should be a body that stands up to university management, rather than take a seat at their table. Our union should fight for the rights of students, and take political stands against injustices that we care about. A lot of people elected to the student union would prefer to work with the government instead of fighting them. But the government is obviously hostile to our demands and wants to protect the status quo – we’re not going to get what we need just by asking nicely. So to win, we need to fight as activists, and be radical and disruptive to put pressure on the people in power.