You may ask, “What does YUSU do for you?” The vast majority of students – the ones who don’t go to Liberation and Welfare assemblies and committee meetings – might answer that YUSU’s main objective is to give us a space for societies and a place to drink. However, behind all of this is a democratic student-run Union which should hold the University accountable and bring student interests to the forefront of the minds of those fuddy-duddies at the top of our university.
Granted, we aren’t as much of a political space as other universities around the country, but we do still push for issues, even small ones like Café Barista and the Health Science Grants. Our Union is here to represent us and help us with any issues that we have with the University, and no matter how well it does this and how much we engage, it is important for it to at least have the potential to serve this function, should we need it.
Management at the University of London, as any of you who are into student politics will be aware, have recently decided to take away all democratic power from the University of London Student’s Union and turn it into a Student Support Service, meaning that it will only function as a space for drinking and societies, effectively taking autonomy away from students. If they have any problems, they will have to take it up with the University Management themselves, and they will not have anyone to specifically represent them.
I think that it would be awful if this set a trend across the UK. Here at York, we probably wouldn’t see that as such a horrific thing, as our Union isn’t very openly active (sorry Sabbs) and we don’t have massive high-profile campus-wide protests or any real political unity.
However, battles are fought and won behind the scenes; in our Liberation and Welfare groups motions are being taken to the NUS every year and our Sabbs are working with, and sometimes against, the University to secure funding and rights for students in separate departments.
If we have a problem, there is at least somewhere to go, and someone to talk to. We have a public face in the form of our President and if we really want to start a protest or a political movement we can at least try and have some opportunity to get it off the ground. This is a personal cause for me, as I am currently working on changing something to do with welfare at the University, and if after meetings with Management they still haven’t listened to the cause or made an effort to change their ways, I will try to get the Union to back me and put pressure on the University. This is what they are for and if they had this power taken away from them, I would be left floundering and alone.
Even flicking through the last issue of York Vision, you can see that this power holds true. Workers at the York Sport Union who had their pay cut without warning and their zero hours contracts used against them went directly to Kallum Taylor, who is taking their issue up with the University. He is trained, he knows what he’s doing and finally he holds more clout with the University than single students alone do. Without his help, they could have been left to deal with this alone, and it is doubtful if they could have got the University to listen to them.
Health Science students approached their Union because they are being let down when it comes to funding, and our President took the issue not just to the University but to the NHS and will probably be able to sort their issues out.
At the end of the day, our Sabbs are trained, they are being paid to deal with our issues and they are not pursuing studies so they have the time to have endless bureaucratic meetings with the University. We don’t have these things when we stand alone as students, so I’d argue that we really do need democratic representation – someone to get our voices heard by people who don’t want to hear us.
If ULU, one of the most politically active Unions in the country, closes it will be more than a great shame; it will be catastrophic for London students.
It may give other Universities ideas and we may see a spate of Unions shutting down all over the country. This is not something that we can be apathetic about. This is something we have to fight against! However much you may hate them for being career politicians, our Sabbs work for us, and with us.
Whilst a popular topic of conversation among student may be slating YUSU, we can’t afford to get rid of it.
We need someone to stand up for us when we need it most. Even if you personally don’t ever need representation, there are those amongst us who definitely do, and we need to protect this right and get angry with anyone who tries to take it away