STUDENT REFERENDUM 2021

The Gown Newspaper

It has been announced by the Students’ Union at QUB that a petition has been released to hold a referendum on the proposed UCU strike action. The purpose of this referendum is to decide whether or not the QUBSU should publicly support the strike action should it take place later this year. You can sign the petition here. The question of the referendum is as follows: “The Students’ Union should support recently announced strike action by the University and College Union (UCU) staff Trade Union”.

The Students’ Union have publicly stated that it has policy which “generally supports the aims of these asks and collaborative work with Trade Unions”. They claim they will “continue to lobby the university on our own policy and prioritise finding possible mitigation to minimize the impact of industrial action on students”. If the referendum takes place, and students vote to support the strike action, the SU will give full and public support to UCU, support the cancelling of classes, lectures and teaching, attend picket lines, and have limited attendance at university meetings.

If students vote against supporting strike action, the Student Officers will not attend the picket line, and they will continue to attend university meetings as normal.

The referendum will only take place is the UCU votes to go on strike, something which is likely to happen. The referendum itself requires 1.5%+ of the student populous to sign the petition in order to be triggered. The referendum campaign is expected to begin on November 8th, meaning that if the UCU votes against strike action, then the referendum will be nullified irrespective of the results. Two groups will be selected to lead the for and against campaigns; these groups will be given access to materials, such as promotional resources, posters, and flyers, by the Students’ Union.

“The Students’ Union should support recently announced strike action by the University and College Union (UCU) staff Trade Union”

The Question set to presented to the electorate in the proposed Student Referendum 2021
QUBSU has proposed a student referendum on whether or not QUBSU should support strke action

Student Referendum 2021: A Victory for Students

Analysis by Aidan Lomas – Editor-in-Chief

The news this week about the SU’s proposed referendum reveals two things. Firstly, that QUBSU will persist in their refusal to take a stand unless there’s somewhere else to place the blame. Secondly, that QUBSU is never going to oppose the strikes; regardless of who it is they serve, and what they’re views are.

The section labelled “The Students’ Union Position”, which is referred to in the above article, clearly shows that QUBSU are desperate to not take a public position on the strike. For weeks, they have remained on the fence, and, even when proposing their own referendum, they refuse to take a side. “The Students’ Union has policy which generally supports the aims of these asks” may as well as say “We privately support the strike, but we can’t say that publicly”. Moreover, it’s nice to see that they’re following in the University’s footsteps and recognising a need to “minimize the impact of industrial action on students”. Their failure to do this beforehand, I believe, says more than I ever could or would need to.

Later on down the petition’s page, the section labelled “Impact of Students’ Union Support for Strike Action”, presents clear evidence that QUBSU is never going to oppose strike action; at least now we’re close to a proper side being take, albeit, covertly. As readers will find when they view the page for themselves, QUBSU’s policy regarding the referendum’s outcome is clear: we want to support it, but you need to tell us to so that we can wash our hands of controversy or criticism. A quick glance, and readers will see that, should the student populous vote against supporting the strikes, QUBSU will act as though the proposed strike is a non-event; however, voting in favour of the strikes will see the QUBSU come out in full Trade Unionist force. It’s ‘safe politics’ and reaffirms my belief that the SU are cowering on this issue.

In a statement released by Queen’s Radio’s the Scoop, the SU finally recognised that “students have experienced immense disruption in recent years and strike action will clearly impact on students’ life”. It is truly amazing to me that it’s taken them this long to realise it; if only there were a student newspaper which had been saying exactly that for a few weeks. Moreover, in the same article published by the Scoop on Thursday (28.10.21), the SU stated their recognition that their first point of call, when it comes to answering the question “Who do we serve?”, is students; again, this comes weeks after their original statement mentioned only staff and strikes…not students. It’s here, I believe, that the Gown Newspaper can claim a victory. In my editorials arguing against the strikes, I reaffirmed the reality that the SU’s service was to that of the students not the staff; the staff have their own Trade Union, perhaps students can be given there’s back now. Finally, after weeks upon frustrating and disappointing weeks, we can finally rejoice in knowing the SU has remembered what the “S” stands for.

So, how is this a victory for students? Because we finally have an opportunity to have our say in the matter; rather than being constantly treated as leverage, students are now being given the chance to either oppose or support strike action. I believe this could set a firm precedent for future strike action here at Queen’s University; where students are left without education and a voice, now we can demand such things simultaneously in the future. As we approach the strike ballot, and hoping that the petition receives enough support to trigger a referendum, I for one will remain steady in my objection to these strikes; I am not against staff being treated with dignity and respect in their workplace, I am against students being treated like pawns on a chessboard – albeit, pawns who have – unintentionally – paid to be played with.

The Gown Newspaper will continue to cover the proposed strike action at the end of this calendar year, and will also continue to report and comment on the referendum campaign should it go ahead.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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