How much of a say do we really have in what the Union does? Whether introducing sweeping changes such as a whole new representation network (the Wellbeing Rep Network), implementing programmes like ICXP (Imperial Clubs Experience Project), tampering with election timetables (Leadership Elections 2018), or removing meat from the menus (Meat-Free Monday), the Union always acts according to the whims of those at the top. Consultation of members is seldom carried out and even consultation with Union Council members is virtually non-existent. I know this because I have sat on Council for a year and a half, and many fellow Council members agree with me when I say that we feel locked out.
Union Council is meant to be the main representative body of the Union, setting policy and determining the direction of the Union in collaboration with the sabbs (President + Deputy Presidents). However, what has Union Council actually done? I can list a few good results to come out of Council, such as introducing harsher punishments for student volunteers found guilty of sexual harassment, and when it voted to support our staff during the pensions dispute last year. Having been on the picket lines on the majority of the strike days and talking to staff, I know it made a real difference for them to hear that students back them against the university leadership.
However, the current system is an incredibly inaccessible and inefficient way to create policy. Most students don’t even realise that they can write a Council paper. Even when a paper gets to Council, the debate is often poor and gets stuck on small technicalities. People talk over each other and points are left unaddressed. Even after a motion passes this doesn’t guarantee change. If the Union doesn’t actually implement motions nothing changes! This is a pressing issue as there are numerous motions that have gotten past Council that Union has not yet implemented.
Last year I proposed a motion for a petitions system that would make it easier for students to propose motions. A watered down version of this was passed in February 2018, with an implementation date of the Autumn Term 2018. At this point in time, it has been “indefinitely delayed”. Two separate papers proposing a Social Mobility Liberation Officer were submitted last year amidst reports that Imperial was the most unequal university in England. There was a wide show of support from normal students for the motion – Council decided to instead run a consultation on it. Again, this has yet to be carried out despite it being mandated by Council. The one time lots of normal students showed up to Council, they were completely ignored.
This is the result not of the specific people running the Union, but of the structure of the Union itself. It’s why the situation stays the same every year despite different people being elected into those positions. It doesn’t matter who you vote for because the system itself is rotten. Any system that primarily empowers those at the top rather than the mass membership is a fundamentally flawed system, regardless of who is running things.
Now this isn’t an argument to not vote in the upcoming Leadership Elections – please make sure you do. The argument is that although the Union prides itself on being democratic, it thinks that democracy is simply voting in an election every now and then. Real democracy is all year round. Our voices deserve to be heard and our wishes deserve to be acted upon throughout the year, because it’s our Union. It is an organisation that is meant to represent us collectively, and it’s about time it did. In fact, talks were had in mid-2018 between last year’s Union President and volunteers about a radical change in the way the Union is run, with some very good ideas being proposed. The President at the time felt strongly that Council was inaccessible and wanted to bring about something new. However, with the meetings being advertised almost exclusively to Council members and having very low turnout, there simply wasn’t enough momentum to take it off the ground.
This is why I have proposed a motion to the next Union Council for the Union to set in motion a complete restructure of itself that prioritises democracy, transparency, and accountability. It needs to become member-led – meaning that all us students, together, are leading the way and setting policy. It needs to empower anyone who wishes to get involved and it needs to act upon what the student body wants, effectively and efficiently. However, this is too important a decision to be left solely to Council. The restructure will be developed in a group consisting of a wide range of students such as sabbs, academic and wellbeing reps, CSP committee members, and most importantly, normal students like you. Everyone should get a say in what the new Union looks like: a member-led Union brought about by a member-led process.
This is where you come in. Union Council must first set in motion this process so that we can get started on developing a new system for next year. Contact your Council Reps to ensure they vote for this, contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any ideas, and most importantly, feel free to turn up to the meeting on Tuesday, at 6:30pm in RSM G1 to talk to your representatives and to show your support!