Some student unions are political, others less so but put on great clubnights and events. Well we know the latter is a no-go since we don’t even have a union bar anymore, but what about their politics?
Pierre fills us in…
Last week we had the (chorate) Student Union AGM and I presented my barrage of 12 motions. Normally this is how Student Union politics should work, students submit motions, they get voted on, which then determines Student Union policy. Except that I was the only person to submit and speak to my motions, and only ~20 people turned up to the reconvened AGM (many of the people we elected to the SU didn’t even bother to attend).
This is problematic, and it shows that the Student Union has an ‘outreach problem’. Other than announcing it on their facebook wall two days before it happened there was nothing. There was supposed to be an email going out to all students reminding them that the AGM was taking place last week. No such email was sent. Staff at the SU have been contacted via email regarding their complete failure to inform students of this one oppurtunity for democratic input but have failed to reply – somewhat of a trend in this university is to simply ignore any trouble maker who has the gall to hold them to account… (post on the Occupy Brookes movement as a whole to follow…)
Now, we could just put this down to general incompetence, but I want to argue that the Students Union actively manufactures apathy among the student body by refusing to politicise them.
When we organised for the November 9th protest there were excuses deployed for why the Student Union wouldn’t officially endorse it. This is hardly surprising given that our current president, Paul Mason, is a self-confessed Conservative, UKIP supporter, and believes that we should “work with the government” and should not “continue to keep going out on demonstrations”. In the AGM he actually condemned all the student demonstrations that took place in London against tuition fees (which includes many Brookes students) in the run up to the white paper, stating that they should have been studying rather than protesting, and he voted against the proposed motion of fighting fees and of supporting the rights of students to protest.
By taking a professed ‘apolitical’ stance the SU actually just rolls over to accept the status-quo, in doing so it implicitly supports the dominant ideology and the dominant discourse. Taken further the SU is hostile to any form of student political engagement.
At the first Student Council meeting I attended I was told that the SU ‘doesn’t do motions’, and that if I wanted something done I’d just have to talk to one of the sabbatical officers and see what they said. As explained above, when the elected officers disagree there’s not much we can do. Motions and formal democratic processes allow us to keep the union to account.
I introduced a motion on solidarity with the University and College Union when they take action over pensions. Well, 8 days later the lecturers went on strike, I was on the picket lines and the Student Union were nowhere to be seen. This tells us a lot about our union, but far less about students.
Students are not inherently apathetic. In just a few hours 100s of students signed the petition to scrap fee waivers, and we actually had to stop because we ran out of paper, having ourselves underestimated the level of support (incidentally, we do need more signatures and anyone who could help us with petitioning would be much appreciated!).
When you actually talk to students you will see that they do care, some protest, some sign petitions, some start campaign-based societies of which Brookes has many, some support movements from the sidelines by donating time, skills, food, drink, contacts, solidarity, and as Occupy Brookes has shown, some even camp out in the rain for three and a half weeks (and still going).
Despite all the criticisms in this post the Student Union is actually a really strong force for change and in the right hands can be used to effectively mobilise students. Sure, we can organise grassroots campaigns, but the SU has a headquarters and paid staff and a relatively massive budget, all of which is out of our grasp as a self-organised group of students.
If the SU had the motivation to act, here are two fairly moderate suggestions to get it started:
- When students in other countries are persecuted, it should speak out on their behalf. When students in the UK are persecuted, again, it should speak up.
- Take an active role in events like International Students Day, International Womens Day, or May Day.
We are all members of our SU and we all pay their salaries. We are told our SU is there to “represent, support, and inspire” us – they need to make good on their promise.