Monday, 1 October 2012

Dilettante Campaigns: The USI doesn't amplify our voice, it drowns us out.

I'm new to the phenomenon of being able to blog on Facebook, but the Yes campaign in Trinity College's referendum on disaffiliation from the Union of Students in Ireland asked me to contribute a short article laying out why I was voting Yes to disaffiliation. You can read it here, or I've reproduced it below.

The USI doesn't amplify our voice, it drowns it out

One of the key planks of the argument advanced by those who want to maintain Trinity’s affiliation to the Union of Students in Ireland is the notion that it provides us with national representation. The ‘Vote No’ section of the USI website reads:

“Through membership of USI, your students can ensure that their voice is heard on a national level with direct access to the Minister, Department of Education, Government and the Oireachtas.”

This does sound appealing, and supports one of their key lines that Trinity on its own is simply too small to effectively represent her students on the national stage. Yet giving that sentence a second thought reveals that it is predicated on a falsehood: that the USI currently represents Trinity students to any of those institutions.

There is a world of difference between the USI operating in our name, and actually representing our views. This referendum has been sought precisely because the USI is not representing Trinity students. The majority of Trinity students do not support a free education campaign, yet that is the course of action the USI has taken. We do not endorse occupations and other faux-radical tactics, yet still the USI deploys them.

This is a fundamental problem with being a perennial minority in an organisation that, via a democratic internal structure, has to represent the views of the majority of its members. The USI can point out that the views of Trinity students are in a minority nationally and that it is pursuing the policy preferences of the majority of Irish students as a whole.

But this doesn’t change the fact that our views are not represented. We are drowned out or, to stretch the ‘voice’ analogy, shouted down by the rest of the membership. Our participation in the USI does not mean that Trinity’s views are placed on the national stage. 

Thus the views that the USI takes to the Minister, Department of Education and so on are not our own at all. Rather than being represented, our numbers and prestigious institution are instead pressed into the service of promoting views with which we disagree.

USI membership is not a fundamental part of the student condition. It is an organisation that offers services in exchange for a substantial membership subscription, and members have every right to expect concrete benefits to justify continuing that membership.

First and foremost amongst those services is national representation, which for the reasons outlined above Trinity does not receive. If nobody can hear our voice through the USI megaphone, what reason is there to keep using it? Without the representation we’re entitled to expect, ‘solidarity’ is just another word for doing what we’re told.

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