Attila the Pun
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Compulsory freedom of choice

Sarah-Jane Collins is the NSW president of the National Union of Students. As such, she has a pretty vested interest in defending compulsory student unionism. As voluntary unionism has been attempted for the last 10 years, you think she would have had time to come up with some pretty compelling arguments to counter the Government's:

The federal Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, said this week: "It's a matter of principle in the 21st century that people should be free to join or to not join a [student] union."

Seems fair enough to me.

Nelson's argument is that universal membership of student associations contravenes the right to freedom of association, and that students should be given a choice as to whether or not they join.

Freedom of association being right up there with freedom of speech and freedom of religion in the pantheon of human rights.

The picture painted by the Government is one of exclusivity.

No, its one of freedom of association.

Student associations, the Coalition argues, take your money, invest it in fighting for communism, throw in some free beer and do nothing for students who are not interested in these things.

Thats not far from the truth, and the unions are their own worst enemy in the image they present, but it is not what the Government has argued. (as an aside, my student union spent a lot of money on promoting communism, but didn't give away any free beer as it would offend muslim students on campus)

So where are her arguments for compulsory unionism? You are removing a persons fundamental freedom, and imposing a financial burden on students, so you need some pretty powerful arguments to support it.

We may not see the advocates who push for change to university policy so that they are fairer and better for all students, nor do we notice the student representatives who argue for small but significant changes to practice on university committees and boards. And, unless we are in trouble with our studies, living arrangements or finances, we do not need the free legal advice, counselling and advocacy that student associations provide. Without crystal balls, how can we be sure that we will not need such services?

They are arguments as to why a student *should* join a union, not arguments as to why they *must* join a union.

Most of us sign up for and get involved in clubs and societies on our campuses, but few stop to think about the funding these clubs receive from student organisations, and how important it is to them.

You want to join a club, you pay to join it. That is how every other club (outside the precious uni campus) pays for itself.

The paper also outlines a process in place at most universities, by which those who do not want to join the students association can apply for (and are generally granted) an exemption.

So at "most" universities you can apply for an exemption and "generally" you are granted one? On what grounds? It is purely for those in financial difficulties, or can those ideologically opposed to compulsory unionism get an exemption as well? If you want to use it as a defence, you are going to need more detail than that.

The fight over voluntary unionism will be couched in terms of choice versus compulsion.

How else could you "couch" a fight which involves press ganging people into a union?

But what the Government will not mention is that students have already made their choice. In 1999 students came out in support of universal membership in large and determined numbers. In 1994, when the Western Australian Liberal government introduced voluntary unionism, students spent almost 10 years campaigning to have it reversed. The Gallop Government finally changed the legislation in 2003.

So if students are such a big fan of unionism, won't they all flock to join up under a voluntary regime? She doesn't even raise the free rider problem, which actually has some merit, and instead claims that students should be forced to join a union, because they are all in overwhelming support of it. If so, let them show it by joining out of choice.

The Government is trying to impose its ideology on the student body through voluntary unionism.

And you aren't imposing an ideology?

Over the years universities, their administrators and, overwhelmingly, students have rejected this policy. We will continue to say no and we will continue to fight for universal membership, because that is our choice.

bwhahaahah. It is students "choice" to be forced to do something? Did she even read this before submitting it? Also note the use of the word "universal" instead of "compulsory". Never let it be said that the left doesn't understand the power of attempting to control the language of a debate.

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