Tuesday, October 14, 2008

October 14

October the 14th was a beautiful day last year as well. I remember sitting in the sun with my writing group, my hair still wet from swimming. There's a photo of me from that weekend, I look very young, very happy and very relaxed.

I am a historian and a storyteller, and an introvert - of course I look backwards. I have always marked anniversaries of joy, heartbreak or change. I find it hard not to as the seasons change; the length and direction of the shadows are so evocative.

This time round, in this lot of sunshine, I have been remembering not just what I was doing a year ago, but what Aaron Pascoe was doing a year ago. I imagine him making sure there were enough guns for each officer, and making sure all the door breaking down routinues were properly established. The sunshine becomes creepy.

It makes me want to write poetry (and I can't write poetry). As if by putting space around my words I'll be able to make them express more. I expect I will write more over the next four weeks. As each day passes I will think about what was happening a year ago. Remember my stressed, manic, passionate, worried, loving, confused, fighting self. I will remember the people around me, and that together we did extraordinary things.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What do we want?

It's hard not to feel a sense of achievement. I've marched demanding universal student allowances; I've got up at 6.30am to put leaflets in lectures to get other students to march for universal student allowances, I've sat in long meetings talking about protests we were going to organise demanding universal student allowance, I've occupied buildings demanding a universal student allowance.

Although I left university a long time ago, I haven't forgotten the issue. I organised in workplaces where there were heaps of student workers. I've seen the the power that the employers had, because students needed to work outside lecture times.

I know that a universal student allowance won't just make a difference to the children of the middle and upper classes. The current threshold is $46,000 - so no student who has two parents in full-time work (even if it only pays at the minimum wage) is eligible for the full allowance.* Tertiary education is a requirement not just for middle class jobs. There is a full-time year long course for machine sewing - a job that only just pays more than minimum wage at unionised workplaces.

I think this shows the value of being organised, even in the minimal way that students are organised.

But it continues a theme of the labour government, which is ignoring the beneficiaries and targeting those with work. This comes with explicit, and implicit, ideology that those who are in work are more worthy than those who are not. This is a dangerous ideology at any time, at a time of rising unemployment it's purpose is to continue to draw attention away from the structural reasons for unemployment.

Unlike Julie I don't see Labour as a force for good.** This doesn't change my vote, or my view of labour. But it makes me think about everyone who was part of the chain that struggled against privatisation of education, against fees, and for allowances, for almost 20 years. A chain that must be continued, no matter what happens after this election.

* one of my pet issues as a union organiser was that entitlements to means tested programmes were generally indexed to inflation, if they were indexed at all, not to the minimum wage. This has meant that the entitlement of workers to things such as the community service card has declined dramatically, till anyone on full time work is no longer eligible. This is true of other programmes such as income related rents, the disability allowance, and so on. The government was giving with one hand and taking with the other.

** Although I do think that universal student allowances is a feminist policy, as is any policy that attacks student debt. Because of the wage gap women tend to take much longer to pay off student loans than men, and the amount of money they end up having to pay back is a much higher proportion of their lifetime income. Eliminating the need to borrow to live reduces, but does not eliminate this inequality.