The last General Assembly that was held before the christmas break was attended by almost 600 students, one of the biggest attendances for years for such an event. The biggest question concerning those participating was the merging of some sabbatical officers’ positions such as the women’s officer and the LGBT+ officer. The atmosphere was intense and emotional for most students, many were angry and there was a clear difference between the two positions; one side supporting that some Sabbatical officers must be made redundant, the other side supporting that this would be undemocratic and unrepresentative of UCLU’s philosophy as a Student Body.
However the main question, the root of the problem, wasn’t properly addressed: why does the UCLU need to make cuts? What has caused the financial problems that the Student Union is facing? The answer to this question is that the Student Union, like UCL itself, is getting hit by the global crisis of capitalism that has affected the economy of the UK. The result has been privatisation of university buildings and the hiking of rents both for individuals and institutions based in London. Should the Student Union have to pay for this crisis by sacrificing its democratic structure? Unless we actively and consciously fight against the capitalist system, which is in its death throes trying to drag everyday people and students into misery, the hole in the budget will be filled by austerity-like measures.
It is important to consider why is it that positions such as the women’s officer are being singled out. There were some hateful comments made against the Women’s Officer during the general assembly, many students objecting to this position’s existence. We, as marxists, are in full support of such a position in the student body since, as mentioned in the meeting, the question of gender inequality is still very much present in our society and women’s oppression should be taken seriously by UCLU.
However, we are completely opposed to the idea that only women can vote for the women’s officer, excluding men from such important issues. Many men fight against women’s oppression. Men have an objective interest in fighting inequality. Not letting them vote means that their opinion is not taken into account. By making it a problem that only Women have to deal with, it encourages the prejudice that it is only women that have to put thought and time into the question of inequality on campus. Most men care about what Women around them are faced with, and forcing them to not have a political stance on the matter is completely counterproductive. The UCLU is basically saying ‘Let women do their thing, it’s none of your business’. Therefore, we find this tactic paradoxically sexist. There are Student Bodies in other Universities (eg London Met) that all students, men and women, can vote on the women’s officer.
It’s no accident that this kind of problems arises now, during one of the deepest crises of capitalism. The UCLU must deal with the most pressing problems that students are faced with: high rents, tuitions fees, lifelong commitment to pay back their student debt, increase in food and drinks’s prices, no spaces in the library due to the selling-off of UCL buildings. The Students’ Officers are at their best trying without efficiency. At worst they are ignorant to these questions. The Student Union could be a very influential body, expressing the opinions of almost 30,000 students living in London. They can achieve a lot by mobilising their students, linking up with workers and fighting against the system that is forcing its structure to collapse and its students to live a life of stress and misery.
If the UCLU doesn’t fight back we should be expecting many more GAs where nothing is resolved. If the UCLU doesn’t make itself relevant and represent its students, many more proposals might appear that seek to abolish its democratic representatives.
by Nina Christou, UCLU Marxist Society