Why do we need a student union?
- To Fight for the Right of All Students to a Free Quality Public Education
- To Fight for Democratic Governance of the Schools by Students, Staff and Faculty
- To Unite and Fight for All Sectors of Public Education across California
- To Fight Against Oppression in the Movement, in Society and Everywhere
What are our organizing principles?
- Participatory Democracy
- Orientation towards Mobilization and Mass Direct Action
- Political Independence
- Student and Worker Solidarity and Unity in Struggle
- Against Repression: in Defense of Free Speech, Academic Freedom, and the Right to Protest
- National and International Solidarity
Why do we need a student union?
To Fight for the Right of All Students to a Free Quality Public Education
The basic mandate of our student union should be to defend the right of all students to an affordable, accessible, fully funded education that is both public and high quality.
Today, we are facing unprecedented attacks on the structure of public education in this country. Our schools are being privatized and resegregated. Every facet of our academic experience is under attack: from rising costs and skyrocketing student debt to restructuring of the school functions with the elimination of critical student services and programs and the imposition of two-tier educational structures, from decreasing access for academically under-represented communities and the undocumented to targeting Ethnic Studies and Gender and Womens’ Studies Depts for harsh cuts.
While neo-liberalism is pushing its privatization plans for public university systems all over the world, in other countries students are mobilizing through their student unions to defend their rights and are managing to hold off attacks.
Here in California, we see urgently the need to build a broad and united organizational structure that corresponds to the gravity of the attacks we are facing. We see clearly that we cannot defeat these cuts without the organized strength of the entire education sector, especially its student component. We need a student union to coordinate and develop the student movement on a statewide scale. We have “student governments” and “associations” that govern us, the students, but we do not need a “government” to keep us quiet and in line; we want a powerful and democratic union that fights for our present education and our future, and that is independent of all governments!
Even though our first goal is to stop the fee hikes, cuts to classes, layoffs, lack of access for undocumented students and increase the public funding for education, in the long run, we should be fighting for an education system that is free and open to all. This is the only way to honor the human right to education!
At the same time, we are fighting to ensure that our education system is democratic and just in its governance structure, social role, and academic content. This means our student union should put forward a transformative vision for education that is directly linked to the needs of the community, especially the working class, and not corporations, US imperialist interests, or the military. It should fight to open up access to the schools and universities in a broader sense, bringing the cultural and intellectual life of the education system into the community. And it should fight to change the relationship of our schools and universities to the communities they exist in.
Beyond this, the student union should investigate and mobilize around student problems in a broader sense – including housing and tenants rights, the need for affordable, guaranteed childcare, the position of youth in the workforce and unemployment, the inadequate access to health care and psychological support, the lack of collective access to culture and the consequences of its privatization for society, the high costs of public transportation and food, attacks on our future working conditions, criminalization and imprisonment, and student debt.
To Fight for Democratic Governance of the Schools by Students, Staff and Faculty
Our project for the Student Union should not be to build another organization to govern students in the way that our current student government does. Rather, we should strive to build a democratic organization through which students can make decisions about the future of our schools and universities and about our own education at every level – from the departments and dorms to the governing bodies of the entire education system.
We should fight to replace the Regents, Boards of Trustees, and Boards of Education with a real system of Shared Governance in which those who use and run the universities and schools – students, staff, and faculty – are the ones who govern.
We should build democratic bodies for decision-making like General Assemblies where students can develop their self-organization and capacity to run the education systems and society. We should support processes of self-organization of other sectors of the campus community, including faculty and staff, and seek constantly to build common spaces where we unite all campus sectors to develop self-governance together.
To Unite and Fight for All Sectors of Public Education across California
In order to effectively resist the attacks on public education in California, we need to build an organization uniting us across different educational sectors and geographic regions to fight for our public education system as a whole. We must reject all efforts to divide us and pit us against each other.
This means uniting around demands that encompass the problems every sector is facing on a statewide level and fighting back together. We should choose collective campaigns, struggles, and proposals for education at our statewide and regional Congresses that orient and give life to this cross-sector unity.
Our unity must also extend to all sectors of the campus community – so staff and faculty as well – because it is our collective labor that makes the campus function. As a student union, we should try to build meaningful solidarity with other sectors.
To Fight Against Oppression in The Movement, in Society, and Everywhere
Our Student Union should be a force to unite all students in defense of the interests and demands of the most oppressed sectors of the student body, including students of color, student parents, veterans, undocumented students, students with disabilities and the LGBTQIA community. This means fighting for full access to education for all students regardless of citizenship status, race, or sexual or gender identity.
It also means fighting against all manifestations of sexism, racism, xenophobia, homo- or trans-phobia within our classrooms, schools, bodies of struggle, and movement to create spaces that are safe, affirming and welcoming for all students. We should recognize that this will not be an easy fight and prepare to take it up in a serious and constant way, with a policy of zero tolerance for oppressive behaviors within the movement.
Beyond this, it means that our Student Union must develop a conscious plan to ensure the participation and leadership of oppressed communities and to educate and politicize the rest of the student body about the fight against oppression through committees, campaigns, literature, working groups, etc. devoted to this work.
What are our organizing principles?
Our Student Union should be organized on the basis of the broadest possible participation of students. Its structure should be open, democratic, member-run, transparent, and participatory. It should represent the interests of and fight to involve all students, not just the most active ones.
It should be organized from the bottom up, with base bodies in the departments, colleges, and dorms. The highest decision-making bodies should be the student General Assemblies and the Regional and Statewide Congresses. Our organization will require statewide coordinating bodies beyond the Statewide Congresses, but should reject the hierarchical structure of Presidents, Vice Presidents, etc. and should have frequent rotation of positions to prevent bureaucratization. In addition, all positions and chosen representatives should be revocable at any time.
All students, from all political tendencies, should have the right to participate, form caucuses to fight for their views, present proposals and run in elections within the student union. However, the student union should remain organizationally and functionally independent of any party or organization.
An active and constant fight against all forms of oppression must be central to the work of creating this participatory democracy. We need to seriously assess the deep roots of oppressive behaviors and attitudes within the student body and lead a fight within the union to challenge students consciousness about oppression and win them to be fighters against oppression both within the movement and within society. The union should also have conscious policies to develop the participation and voice of oppressed communities within the movement and the union.
Orientation Towards Mobilization and Mass Direct Action
Our Student Union should be explicitly political and oriented towards struggle. It should strive to educate, organize, empower, and mobilize all students in order to mount an effective fight-back. In defending our interests, our union should rely primarily on our own power as students – a power we express through our own democratic self-organization, mobilization, and mass, militant direct action, as the recent mobilizations of the student unions in Puerto Rico, Chile or Quebec have shown us in the past two years. It should use a diversity of tactics but orient towards mass, militant struggle over institutional or legalistic approaches like the courts or the bourgeois elections.
We must protect and maintain the political independence of our student union from campus administrations and the State. This means not only total independence at the level of our program and action but also in our finances. The student movement must rely financially on the students themselves, and not on the ones we are fighting against.
The student union must actively create this political independence through producing its own media, culture, reviews publicizing our struggles, etc. to develop this independence among the entire student body and society. It should take public positions on all political questions affecting us today as students and in the future as members of society more broadly.
Student and Worker Solidarity and Unity in Struggle
As a Student Union, we should build real solidarity with campus workers and unions against our common enemies and support efforts of these sectors to self-organize and fight back. Faculty and staff working conditions are our learning conditions. We must defend campus workers by winning over students to support and fight for their demands and mobilize students against attacks on workers anywhere. As an organization, we should give our full support to all struggles of campus workers in order to assure that they win.
We should also call on education workers and labor unions to recognize our student union, support student demands, and actively mobilize in our defense. We need to start building the structures for a faculty, staff and student run school system today.
In addition, our student union should build a student movement that defends the interests of the working class in society more broadly. The attacks we are facing as students are part of a larger project of attacks on the working class as a whole. We should stand with the entire working class in saying: “We, students and workers, will not pay the price for the economic crisis! Make the bosses pay!”
Against Repression: In Defense of Free Speech, Academic Freedom, and the Right to Protest
The Student Union should take a stand against all forms of repression from the administration, government or police. It should organize and fund legal support for students and mobilize broad campaigns in their defense, as well as keep all students informed of and mobilize resistance to new repressive measures or ongoing cases. We want to build a campus environment and a society where there is a real right of free speech and of free assembly to discuss and organize around the issues that affect us.
This is why we should take up seriously the fight to get cops, immigration officers, ROTC and military recruiters off campuses, to deal with repression and to lead campaigns for broader freedoms of speech and protest in our society. This fight must foremost be one of education of the students and the campus community and of mass action to defeat the police and militarist projects being pushed on our school campuses.
National and International Solidarity
The plans of privatization, austerity measures, resegregation, and dismantling of public education we are combating are not just being carried out at the statewide level. Across the country, education is under attack. These attacks are being enacted by the Obama administration at a national level through the gutting of state budgets for education and social services in order to fund the bail-outs and wars and through Federal policies of privatization and charter schools, high stakes testing and union-busting like Race To The Top and No Child Left Behind. For this reason, we should try to build connections with students across the country by supporting their demands and calling for united actions. Further, we should seek to expand our student union beyond California.
On an international scale, the neo-liberal model of education that exists in the United States, Chile, and Japan and which we are fighting against is at the same time being pushed across the world. In the European Union, this project is embodied in Plan Bologna. In the Global South, it is being pushed through institutions of US imperialism like the World Bank and IMF. But everywhere it is facing resistance. And everywhere that there is resistance, we have allies in struggle. Our Student Union should have a plan to build connections with student unions across the world to share our experiences and unite our fights.