Grand Coalition Sweeps UMSU28 February 2015
Martin Ditmann spoke to a range of sources from groups, who agreed to go on the record, but anonymously.
A broad coalition of the Labor Left, More Activities!, Labor Right and Grassroots Left groupings has won the UMSU elections, in an unprecedented result.
The coalition and its partners, running as Stand Up!, More Activities! and Activate, swept every office and the vast majority of seats on the UMSU Students’ Council, in the biggest and broadest landslide in UMSU history.
Current UMSU Activities Officer James Baker from the More Activities! grouping running on the Stand Up! ticket will be the 2016 UMSU President.
Student union elections are dominated by big political groups.
The Labor Left grouping, known nationally as National Labor Students (NLS) and locally as the ALP Club, have dominated both the National Union of Students (NUS) and UMSU over the last few years.
More Activities!, an independent coalition of various clubs and volunteering groups, has emerged from relative obscurity to hold a large part in the union.
Melbourne’s Labor Right group, known locally as the Labor Club, is to connected the Centre Unity or ShortCon sub-faction of Labor. The group is not connected to the national Labor Right student group (Student Unity), which dominates NUS alongside NLS. Student Unity formerly had a large presence on campus, but has since had its campus branch implode.
Activate, a grouping of autonomous and grassroots collectives, has some connection to the National Grassroots Left grouping.
At the last elections, a coalition of the Labor Left and Grassroots Left (running as Stand Up! and Activate) faced off against a complex alignment of More Activities!, Centre Unity, Student Unity and Socialist Alternative (running as More Activities!, ignite, and Left Action respectively).
The 2014 election saw Labor Left and Grassroots Left sweep most positions, except President. That ballot saw Rachel Withers from More Activities! become the student union’s first independent President in a long time.
The 2015 election season kicked off when the Grassroots Left picked current Students’ Councillor Pat Dollard and Disabilities Officer Susannah Gordon as their “communicators” with other factions. This was followed by More Activities! selecting Rachel Withers and current Clubs & Societies Officer Stephen Smith as their negotiators (a similar role).
Labor Right picked Labor Club President Stephen Mitas and Treasurer Joshua Rose as their negotiators. Labor Left picked current UMSU General Secretary Hana Dalton, Wom*n’s Officer Allie Ballantyne and Queer Officer Lloyd Rouse.
The negotiations saw More Activities!, Labor Right and Grassroots Left band together as a bloc, agreeing to either run together as a trio or in a grand coalition with Labor Left.
The trio approached Labor Left as a bloc, offering Labor Left the General Secretary, Education (Public), Welfare and Queer offices, with More Activities! picking up President, Clubs & Societies, Activities and MUSUL Board, Labor Right picking up Education (Academic) and half of Environment, and Grassroots Left picking up Wom*n’s, Disabilities, Creative Arts and half of Environment.
Crucially, the deal would give Labor Left all NUS positions on the main ticket, which they coveted.
Negotiations saw several tweaks to the deal offered – Wom*n’s and Queer were swapped between Labor Left and Grassroots Left, More Activities! agreed to allow Labor Left to pre-select the NUS delegate running on the More Activities! ticket, and an agreement was made to increase the amount of affiliation fees given to NUS (which Labor Left sought).
Additionally, the deal now was struck to give the UMSU President and General Secretary candidates “equal standing” in attending meetings and leading UMSU.
Even with the changes, the Labor Left caucus narrowly voted down the proposed deal after heated debate, with the lack of the presidency as the large sticking point. Labor Left instead agreed to look at alternate groupings, seeking support from independents and Socialist Alternative.
The decision would soon be reversed. Labor Left were told that if the two did not sign together, the trio would offer Socialist Alternative the Education (Public), Queer and NUS spots in their coalition, leaving Labor Left with no significant coalition partners.
Labor Left reversed their decision and signed the deal, sealing the “Platinum Square” deal to form one of the broadest coalitions in Melbourne electoral history. Labor Left and Labor Right would run together on the Stand Up! ticket, backed by the More Activities! and Activate tickets.
The election period itself, largely a foregone conclusion, was a relatively quiet affair, marked by very low voter turnout.
Perhaps the most notable event of the election was the Socialist Alternative printing scandal. Socialist Alternative, running as Left Focus, were found to have used the UMSU VCA Student Department photocopier to print their election materials. This resulted in a campaign ban, and at time of printing, penalties against them were being considered.
The grand coalition won by a landslide, with the Left Focus ticket coming a far distant second for the Presidential ballot, followed by informal votes and then the Create (Liberal Club-backed) ticket and the Universal (Student Unity) ticket.
On Students’ Council, More Activities! and Labor Right will have five seats each, Labor Left four seats, Grassroots Left two seats – with one seat each for Socialist Alternative, the Liberals, Independent Media (a Media Collective ticket) and the Biggest Blackest Ticket (an Indigenous Collective ticket).
How the union will fare in the future, and the relationship between the different groupings, remains to be seen.
Martin Ditmann has campaigned for the last three years with Independent Media, the grouping formed out of the Farrago writers, artists and broadcasters collective, which successfully contested the Media Office and a Students’ Council seat. He is a former Independent Media ticket registrar; Indie Media backed the grand coalition in these elections.