Free Speech in Action31 May 2013
The past week has seen a vitriolic attack, led by the campus Liberal Club, against the Student Union and its right to free speech. I’m a Left Action Councillor involved in moving the anti-Thatcher motion that sparked this attack, and would like to make two brief points.
Firstly, the anti-Thatcher motion is consistent with the Union’s proud history of taking a progressive stance on controversial issues both on and off campus. Aggressive and determined opposition to the War in Vietnam is one instance of this, as was opposition to South African apartheid when the entire Australian political establishment still backed apartheid to the hilt. This tradition of democracy and free speech, which by its very nature is often controversial, is something students should take pride in and defend. Threats of ‘punishment’ and ‘discipline’ from certain students are currently undermining the ability of elected representatives to freely and democratically debate political motions in line with their obligation to both the student body and the Union’s constitution.
Secondly, opposition to Margaret Thatcher is something that should be second nature for any union. The motion outlined some of her crimes: she supported and was close friends with Chilean dictator Pinochet, who led a military coup and is infamous for having herded oppositionists into sports stadiums to massacre them in their thousands. She supported the white supremacist regime in South Africa, and attacked the imprisoned Nelson Mandela, who she considered a ‘terrorist’. At home, Thatcher violently attacked unions, destroying them wherever possible, and her economic policies saw a massive rise in unemployment, an unprecedented transfer of wealth from poor to rich, and the destruction of domestic industry-horrors that ordinary British people still suffer from today. People don’t hate Thatcher because of a mere ‘difference of opinion’, but because she destroyed lives and happily stood by her past actions right up to the moment she died.
The Student Union has a right to free speech, and it exercised this right to free speech, and it exercised this right appropriately in passing the anti-Thatcher motion, thereby standing with the countless, and often forgotten, victims of Thatcher’s rule.