Why UCLU Needs More Liberation Sabbs, Not Fewer – A Reply to Gabriel Gavin

By David Dahlborn, UCL Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies

After shutting down debate at the last UCLU General Assembly when his side failed to win a political argument, Gabriel Gavin wrote an article for Pi to justify himself, in which he covers up his lack of arguments by throwing playground insults at me and others. Ahead of the next session of the General Assembly I’d like to take the opportunity to respond, and present my case for why UCLU should remain a campaigning organisation that stands up for students’ needs.

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David outside the UCL Student Residences Office.

Very soon, UCL management will once again increase the rent in their halls of residence by at least five percent. This rent hike will place yet another heavy burden upon students already hard-pressed to make ends meet. As a socialist who wants justice, equality and cooperation to replace exploitation, division and coercion, I find this disgusting and I will fight against it.

Why do I, as an unpaid activist and union representative, devote my evenings, lunch breaks and weekends to organising assemblies, build protests and write to UCL managers? Because, unlike the Gabriel Gavins and the Samuel Inkersoles of the world, I’ve decided to do the work actually required to concretely improve standards and conditions for students here at UCL.

Increasing rent is a political decision made by UCL bosses, who dictate how hard halls residents should be squeezed for cash. This decision will also force working class students to take on more debt and stress while in halls, if they’re lucky enough to afford university in London at all. For the past five years, UCL has consistently increased the rent far beyond the rate of inflation. The consequences of this will be felt in the pockets of students, in our mental health and among those excluded from UCL altogether simply because they weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouths.

Affordable Accommodation, Accessible Education - A banner from the UCL Camden RENTS Campaign.
“Affordable Accommodation, Accessible Education” – A banner from the UCL Camden RENTS Campaign.

Fortunately, we have the means to help us change this – a political, representative and campaigning students’ union. Through collective action we can challenge UCL management, and UCLU is the best tool we students possess to channel our demands and focus our collective bargaining power on bring down the rent. I would be the first person to admit that UCLU has its flaws (don’t we all?), but I also stress that it’s activists like me who’re the ones taking actual steps to make it better and more representative.

There is a tendency among certain careerists, and right-wing demagogues and sabbatical officers to criticise the work that my friends, colleagues and comrades on the left are doing to improve the conditions of students at UCL. These would-be union-wreckers, clearly, either do not understand what a union is for, or are happy to see the counted attempts by the university bosses’ to exploit and oppress us but raising rent or ignoring campus racism and sexism.

The case for why this position is wrong has been made explained eloquently elsewhere. Therefore, I’m not surprised that there is also a tendency among these critics to find themselves incapable of intellectually justify their arguments. Much like a children deprived of attention by an adult, these right-wingers reverted to ignoring rational arguments, shouting loudly and spreading lies and insults. Suffice to say, none of their time has been spent on getting UCL to reduce the rent. To the contrary, efforts made by Gavin and Inkersole to axe the Education and Campaigns Officer, Women’s Officer and BME Students’ Officer would – if successful – have severely decimated the ability of UCLU to stand up for our needs.

"Free Education - Tax the Rich", the slogan at the demonstration for free education 19 November 2014.
“Free Education – Tax the Rich”, the slogan at the demonstration for free education 19 November 2014.

My actions, as a socialist activist, will, in the meantime, have an actual impact on the lives and conditions of current and future UCL students. At the same time as right-wing self-publicists portray themselves as some sort of ‘voice of the masses’, while doing nothing but attack our efforts to organise ourselves as a student body, I and other activists have been organising a focused and assertive campaign to challenge the university bosses’ rent hikes. I’ve pressed UCL to financially compensate students who experienced hot water cut in halls. I’ve forced UCL to acknowledge the important of disability access in student accommodation. And, while right-wingers have happily accepted £9,000 tuitions fees, I’ve helped build a grassroots national campaign for free education. I’ve done this by engaging with students, by talking to literally hundreds of people and by representing their views and opinions. This term, I will step up the campaign against rent exploitation until UCL students have won a genuine improvement. None of these efforts to improve our material conditions would be possible without a UCLU that can be relied upon to take action for its members.

This is precisely why we need a political, campaigning students’ union that puts the material needs of its members ahead of the careers and egos the right-wingers who want to cut it. This is why we need more liberation officers, not fewer. As UCL becomes increasingly like an authoritarian government this necessity becomes ever more pressing. As UCL bulldozes our student theatre, wreaks havoc for sports clubs by timetabling lectures on Wednesday afternoons and charges us rent far above our maintenance loans, the stakes couldn’t be higher. If we don’t take a stand against the bosses they will make UCL exclusive to the children of the wealthy and irreversibly damage student civil society. UCLU and I will continue to fight the rent increases and stand on the side of everybody who wants university to be available for everybody regardless of their background. I hope you will join me in this.

– Now, I’m off to write to UCL Accommodation!

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Fighting for Liberation Officers – the UCLU General Assembly 20th January

On January 20 we will be back in Logan Hall debating what Sabbatical Officer roles should represent you next year.

Members of UCL Defend Education have put forward Proposal 5, which proposes four full-time Liberation officers, including a new LGBT+ and Disabled Students’ Officer, whilst maintaining post-graduate, activities and education support. Read the full motion here and the full details for the meeting on our event page here.

This is also an action in opposition to a proposal that would have UCLU reduce its total number of full-time officers to 7, without adding any officers to fight for the rights of liberation groups.

A photo from the last General Assembly, December 2014. Join the January Assembly to help vote for more liberation officers at UCLU!
A photo from the last General Assembly, December 2014. Join the January Assembly to help vote for more liberation officers at UCLU!

All you need to vote is your UCLU ID, so don’t forget it and don’t miss out on having your say! Registration opens earlier at 5.30pm and there are fewer motions, so is expected to be a relatively short assembly.

If it passes, our proposal will add a full-time LGBT+ Officer and a full-time Disabled students’ Officer – a progressive step that will once again put UCLU on the leading edge in terms of representational student unions. It will ensure that UCLU continues to operate as representative, campaigning and inherently political organisations that can improve conditions for students at UCL.

At at time when Disabled Students' Allowance is being cut, it is more important to have a full-time Disable Students' Officer now than ever!
At at time when Disabled Students’ Allowance is being cut, it is more important to have a full-time Disable Students’ Officer now than ever!

Having four Sabbatical Officers that work specifically on liberation issues is the next logical step in the policy of liberation that was initiated at UCLU by the creation of the full-time Women’s officer and BME students officer two years ago. With four liberaion sabbs UCLU can meet the needs of its members students in a more comprehensive way than before, and provide a role model for union around the country

This proposal is backed by UCLU Unicef Society, Fossil Free UCL, UCLU Green Party Society, UCLU Vegetarian Society and UCLU Socialist Society. If you wish to offer your societies support for this motion please let us know.

This General Assembly will also be voting on a resolution to strengthen UCLU’s stance against UCL’s rent hikes – so that’s yet another reason to join the assembly!

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