366 Views

Should there be a more radical approach to SU politics?

Yes

Johnbosco Nwogbo


There is a need now, more than at any other time, for the kind of radicalism and ambitiousness the Red Slate promises to bring to the SU. Over the last few years, the Student Union has become, in all but name, an arm of the managerial structure of Sussex University PLC. In many cases, it has been reduced to little more than the arm of management that tries to justify management’s decisions to students. A clean and radical break is needed from this failed model.  

Don’t get me wrong, hot drinks in the library and an online Book Market are good things. But nobody who’s interested in seriously dealing with the underlying barriers to educational attainment students from working-class, poor, and previously disadvantaged backgrounds come up against every day, believes either of these “achievements” represents earth-shattering progress. We ought to be asking ourselves why students want to sell their books. Is it simply because they want to declutter their shelves? Or is it more likely that they are forced to do so because of the rising costs of acquiring an education, and need the extra cash?  

The marketisation of the British university system began apace in 2013, but the sheer crudeness of its effects on real human lives have seldom been clearer than they are today, with attacks on students (in the form of increased fees, higher housing costs, decrepit living conditions in university housing, the erosion of assistance programs for poorer students, etc.) and workers’ rights (the casualisation of Tutors and non-academic staff, and pensions cuts). The current approach – negotiating with management – can, at best, only slow the pace of marketisation, whereas what is needed is an SU that will actively try to roll it back.  

Nobody is going to stem the tide of marketisation by talking with management. Management seems to have a financial interest in marketisation. Comparable managerial jobs in the strictly public sector pay much less. For example, a recent Guardian report found that “university Vice Chancellors are paid much better than their public sector peers”. It is this incentive structure that may explain (even if only partly) Adam Tickell’s radical change of tune, from writing, in 1995, “capitalism is the enemy, but neoliberalism seems to me to be worse than social democracy. Perhaps we should…attempt to slay the neoliberal beast,” to saying in an interview in 2018, “The younger me may have taken part in the [UCU] strikes, I don’t know about the current me”. I cannot, for the life of me, tell what changed! What I can tell, though, is that this is not the tenor of a man who will deliver the changes needed without concerted, radical pressure from below.

It is no surprise then that the current SU has failed to prevent the demolition of one of the cheapest student residences on campus by “negotiating” with management. Their negotiations have only produced “wins” meant to make marketisation more palatable.

To be sure, the SU should sometimes talk with management, about how best to achieve certain things. The SU cannot solve issues with student assessments on its own, for example. But this should not amount to liaising with management about what can or will be allowed to be done. As representatives of the primary stakeholders in a university system, the SU should always consciously try to put itself in a position to wrestle management, if need be, in order to obtain changes which they believe to be advantageous to students.

To conclude, I have sensed a certain wariness toward the ambitiousness and radicalism of the Red Slate. To be sure, as far as I can tell, this wariness is from a tiny cohort of Tory students. What this wariness exposes, though, is a “poverty of imagination” on the part of those involved. Often masquerading as a desire for “seriousness”, “realism” and/or “competence”, this wariness is underpinned by an unwillingness or inability (a) to set sights higher than most believe possible; (b) to upend the existing oppressive system (perhaps because it is not oppressive to one personally), or; (c) to commit the required effort to crafting new, creative ways to solve deep-seated problems. As I see it, Red Slate candidates are the most serious, realistic and competent of all on offer. Something we have had in abundance in this election are hefty promises, but only the Red Slate seems to understand what it will take to achieve even a smidgen of real change.  

 

No

Edward Bains


There are calls from some candidates in this year’s exec elections for the students’ union to adopt a more radical approach to student politics, particularly those on the ‘Red Slate’ grouping of left-wing candidates. One of the Red Slate’s headline policies is a totally-feasible-and-not-completely-nonsensical plan to establish an entire bus network (provided free to students, of course).

Candidate for USSU president on the Red Slate, Duncan Michie, was this week arguing for a policy of absolute non-cooperation and direct confrontation with university management, rubbishing the incrementalism of previous years. He appears to lack any understanding of the most basic function of the SU, promising that he will not represent students who disagree with him, and remarks in an almost authoritarian fashion that democracy is about the ‘majority having their will’.

Putting aside these worrying statements, is there any value to this so-called ‘radicalism’? I’ll start with the tactics. ‘Starting a fight with management’ might sound feisty and heroic when there is so much antipathy towards university management at present, but it will achieve the precise opposite of what he’s hoping. Whatever the disagreements with management, refusing to engage with them except to issue demands will result in exactly none of those demands being met. ‘Endless meetings’, as Red Slate describe them, are for better or worse the main way change is achieved in student politics (or indeed, any politics), and if people can’t hack that then maybe these positions aren’t for them. There is of course a place for protests and student activism (some of the successes by ACORN regarding tenant disputes are testament to this) but this can only go so far. Disrupting management and the running of the university will inevitably lead to disruption to students and make Sussex a worse place to live and to study.

And then of course there’s a second question: do we need radical policies, alongside radical tactics? People can crow all they want about the vaguely defined forces of ‘marketisation’ and ‘neoliberalism’ ruining higher education, but higher education has been doing fairly well by most measures. More working class people (indeed more people generally) are going to university than ever before. Many ‘radical’ policies, such as abolishing tuition fees , as student unions and candidates like the Red Slate continually argue in favour of, are actually pretty conservative. It’s also difficult to make a convincing argument for abolishing your primary source of funding, while at the same time advocating spending enormous sums on other policies (like free buses).

I think many students would much rather their student unions stick to their core mission – that is, being a union, for students, instead of being a glorified campaigning society for the politics of the students who run them. Dropping the endorsement of the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) campaign would be a great start. I for one agree that Israel’s foreign policy can be pretty bad (almost as bad as some of its neighbours). But I’m not sure what this dispute over a patch of land the size of Hertfordshire several thousand miles away has to do with Sussex’s student union. Or, for that matter, any student union in the UK.

For certain, there are some good policies within the platforms advanced by candidates like the Red Slate. Ideas like providing drug testing kits or improved mental health services are great and perfectly achievable. No one could argue with campaigning against rogue landlords and rent rises – although when complaining about the higher rent in the new East Slope, it would be more honest to mention that other accommodation is being lowered in price to compensate for this. When students cast their votes in this years’ SU election, they would be wise to vote for candidates who prioritise improving the lives of students, rather than making empty promises and picking pointless fights.

 

Vote below!

 

Get the best viral stories straight into your inbox!

Don't worry, we don't spam

Leave a Reply

Join the Badger Team

Apply today!

Latest Posts

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate
Campus News
732 views1
Campus News
732 views1

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate

Jordan Wright - April 27, 2018

Student society Liberate the Debate’s most recent event was cancelled over a lack of compliance with the Students' Union's (USSU) requirement for a neutral chair - a…

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series
Arts
173 views
Arts
173 views

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - June 17, 2018

Pictured: Zac Black At Proud Cabaret audiences were spellbound as if at night at the circus, yet this was not like Angela Carter’s magical realist novel; Verve…

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review
Arts
187 views
Arts
187 views

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review

Florence Dutton - June 11, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Last Monday at 8pm at Brighton’s The Old Market, I sat myself down in my theatre seat eagerly awaiting…

Fleabag preview
Arts
181 views
Arts
181 views

Fleabag preview

Florence Dutton - June 2, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Following the mass success of the Bafta award-winning BBC Series, DryWrite and Soho Theatre are about to hit the…

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome
Arts
224 views
Arts
224 views

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome

Georgia Grace - June 1, 2018

Having completed my final semester of university with modules on punk history and queer arts, it was fitting that I rounded off my end-of-assessment celebrations by attending…

Arts
229 views

The Tempest review

Georgia Grace - May 30, 2018

As the sun begins to set over Hove Green, tinnies of Red Stripe are cracked open, tartan blankets are strewn, and families tuck into their picnic hampers.…

A Glass Half Empty review
Arts
219 views
Arts
219 views

A Glass Half Empty review

Georgia Grace - May 27, 2018

For those of us coming to the end of another year of university study, the prospect of careers, marriages and babies may seem a long way off.…

DollyWould at The Old Market review
Arts
211 views
Arts
211 views

DollyWould at The Old Market review

Alex Hutson - May 27, 2018

Sh!t Theatre’s DollyWould is a hilarious, thoughtful and experimental performance piece. The award winning show has the Sh!t Theatre duo integrating comedy, storytelling, personal experience and music.…

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex
Campus News
337 views
Campus News
337 views

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex

Billie-Jean Johnson - May 26, 2018

The Sussex branch of the University and College Union (UCU) has launched a petition calling for Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell to end the 'hostile environment' at Sussex. The…

Arts
173 views

Shakespeare in the sun – The Tempest preview

Georgia Grace - May 24, 2018

In a world of dystopian King Lears and female Hamlets, Shakespeare’s classics are constantly being reimagined for the modern day. There’s something oddly refreshing then about the…

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
472 views
Arts
472 views

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 23, 2018

What a phenomenal contrast these two films present when watched side-by-side. In essence, together they are capable of tracing inner and outer metamorphoses of their subjects. The…

Dollywould at The Old Market preview
Arts
215 views
Arts
215 views

Dollywould at The Old Market preview

Alex Hutson - May 22, 2018

From the 22nd May - 25th May 2018 DollyWould will be showing at The Old Market. An exciting new show, presented by Sh!t Theatre, who won the…

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu
Artist Focus
313 views
Artist Focus
313 views

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - May 16, 2018

Last week artist Fedilou made her debut exhibition in the downstairs space of Morelli Zorelli, a quaint vegan Italian restaurant in Hove, featuring a collection of intimate…

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley
Interview
220 views
Interview
220 views

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley

Nikolaos Manesis - May 15, 2018

Ron Chrisley is a Reader in Philosophy, on the faculty of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, and is the director of COGS (Centre for Cognitive Science).…

Adam review
Arts
298 views
Arts
298 views

Adam review

Ketan Jha - May 13, 2018

If you have been a stranger to the stage this spring and decide to see one contemporary show, let it be Adam. This reviewer went in entirely…

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
337 views
Arts
337 views

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 13, 2018

In celebration of iconic Brighton local, legendary alt-rock musician (and episodic actor) Nick Cave, TOM’s Film Club are hosting a double-bill screening of his films at The…

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review
Arts
376 views
Arts
376 views

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review

Georgia Grace - May 11, 2018

Meta-theatricality and interactivity are becoming all the more vogue in contemporary theatre, and in a world where the arts are becoming increasingly open and democratised, I find…

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks
Artist Focus
272 views
Artist Focus
272 views

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks

Alex Leissle - May 9, 2018

  [gallery type="slideshow" ids="35385,35386,35387,35388,35389,35390,35391,35392,35393,35394,35395,35396,35397,35398,35399,35400,35401,35402,35403,35404,35405,35406,35407,35408,35409,35410,35411"]

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival
Books
284 views
Books
284 views

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival

William Singh - May 9, 2018

Afua Hirsch’s 2018 book - part memoir, part polemic - provokes mixed feelings. So too did her discussion of the topic at this year’s Brighton Festival. Don’t…

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality
Science
369 views
Science
369 views

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality

Luke Richards - May 8, 2018

Bioweapons exist, while ethnic-bioweapons are whispered conspiracies. Pandemics can fairly hazardous to human life, the 1918 Flu Pandemic killed 20-50 million people. A man made pandemic could…

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced
News
340 views
News
340 views

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced

Jessica Hubbard - May 4, 2018

Students have voted to support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, reject Prevent and adopt new Gender Equality policies. Results for the Students' Union referenda were…