In the past couple of weeks I am sure you have read about several allegations made against the Union: It is not representative; it disregards students’ opinions; it is too political; it campaigns too much. I am not writing this piece to ignore these allegations, but precisely because I want to acknowledge them, even though I believe that they, unfortunately, depict a very incomplete image of the union.�
The Students’ Union is a large organisation; it employs over 30 members of staff in different areas and it runs two bars, three shops and a nightclub on campus. USSU provides entertainments, advice, sports, activities, facilities, support, representation, information, and many more things that go far beyond campaigning and politics. Having said that though, USSU is a union, and it correctly and rightfully also engages in political issues that are of importance to students.
I find the argument made by some that the Union should be ‘less political’ very difficult to follow. Yes, there have been presidential candidates that have been standing on ‘fun’ as a platform, however it has been clear through the results of the elections that the candidates with a rather more political agenda received the largest share of the vote. In my opinion, having a non-political outlook of the Union means ignoring a lot of issues that students face these days, from debts, to fees, to ID cards for international students, just to name a few. What makes a union unique and indispensable is precisely the fact that it can stand up strongly and freely for students also when it comes to political issues. Anyway, whoever said that political precludes fun?
I am also not convinced by the argument that the AGM is unrepresentative because it called for a referendum on whether or not the Union should stay affiliated to the NUS. With the information received though talks given by sabbaticals and the national secretary of the NUS, Richard ‘Bubble’ Budden, the AGM decided that all the students on this campus should have to right to vote on whether or not they want USSU to be affiliated to NUS as an organisation. In my opinion, direct democracy such as referenda are actually a positive way of allowing students to speak their mind, and since USSU’s affiliation to the NUS is important, I don’t see any harm in getting students’ opinion on it.
Having said that, what I do believe is that USSU needs to find better ways of presenting itself and communicating to students so that every student on this campus feels empowered to make a contribution to their Unions’ agenda. This is certainly something that sabbatical officers this year have been trying to improve, though creating new forums such as the badger online, officer blogs, facebook groups, organising outreach stalls and reviewing the Unions engagement strategy.
All six union sabbatical officers are going to be out in Library Square for a question and answer session/ informal chat on Monday of week 10, from 1 till 2. Why not come along?