Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose: What the "progressive" student politicians of the 1980s failed to grasp was that the students whose fees paid their honoraria were no longer the revolutionary vanguard they had appeared to be in the 1960s and 70s. They may have dressed like the poor, but, increasingly, students were thinking like the middle-class kids they'd always been. Thirty years on, and progressive politics is something student "unionists" are even less willing to either fight for - or pay for.
WITH THE Voluntary Student Membership Bill about to become law, I was minded of an article I wrote for the Otago University student newspaper, Critic, in June of 1981.
Even thirty years ago it was clear to those willing to take a dispassionate look at the state of student politics that the peak organisation, NZUSA, was becoming further and further removed from its base – the ordinary students of New Zealand.
That the problems then afflicting NZUSA have, over three decades, migrated down to its constituent organisations – the students associations themselves – suggests that such dispassionate analyses of student politics as were published over that time went as unheeded as my own.
These were my concluding remarks:
“The [student] progressive movement, as such, owes its existence to the belief among a minority of New Zealand university students that NZUSA has an important social and political role to play in the development of New Zealand society.
By virtue of their commitment to this belief they have risen to positions of authority in their local student associations, and from there to National Office. In many instances they are developing radical policy positions within NZUSA that would be defeated if put before the rank-and-file of their constituents. Recognising the unrepresentative character of their actions, and yet determined – even at the risk of behaving undemocratically – to promote progressive policies, they have moved further and further away from the people who elected them: the students.
Isolated from their members and divided among themselves, progressive student politicians continue to pass policy motion after policy motion – all the time aware that effective action based on their own decisions is virtually impossible – the mass student support being non-existent.
[ … ]
The obvious need within NZUSA at the present time is for a drastic shift of power away from the upper echelons – National Office, student [association] executives – towards the student body. Only when policies arise out of political action at the grass-roots level, and only when those policies are based on the objective needs and genuine aspirations of students, can NZUSA lay claim, once again, to the title of a democratic representative institution.”
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