An Interview with Varsity about the Controversy

In what way specifically do you feel that the restructuring proposals are undemocratic?

The proposal suggests that the executive be reduced from 27 to 11. Six of
those eleven people will be sabbs. This is being sold as a means of
increasing productivity and efficiency, but in reality it’s a way of giving
a great deal of power to a small number of people. Members of the exec have
been ignored in the existing system, when they are full members of the
executive – how are they going to be listened to when they’re part of a
sub-committee? Individual officers represent the viewpoints of their
individual campaigns, and that might make the exec enormously diverse, but
it also makes us one of the most progressive student unions in the country,
especially because CUSU has previously respected the autonomoy of the
Women’s, LBGT, Black Students, International and SWD campaigns.

In terms of democracy, none of these changes have been discussed, and they
certainly haven’t come from the student body. The individuals within CUSU
who have brought these motions have not discussed them with any of the
people they are going to affect. Changes to the exec have not been
discussed with the exec and changes to the autonomous campaigns have not
been raised with those campaigns. The first I heard about the abolition of
the Women’s Sabb was wednesday morning. When this is the current reality,
how would the situation improve if the exec was reduced in size and there
was even less potential for a democratic system to work effectively? They
can argue that the chair of each sub-committee would sit on the exec, but
it would be too easy to ignore the individual committees and their members.
It gives too much power to the eleven people on the executive, and relies
on trusting them to do a good job. Given the current situation, that is a
risk we shouldn’t be willing to take.

We should be trying to decrease the distance beteween the normal student
and CUSU. Autonomous campaigns are grass roots movements and our other
campaigns officers are students themselves. If we’re going to prevent
disaffiliation we need to break down the barriers, reinforce the democratic
sytem, improve communication and make ourselves visible, not build bigger
barricades.

Are they a bad idea? Or do you just object to the way in which they have come about?

I think I’ve answered that question above. I object massively to the way
they have come about. It’s not only undemocratic, but also a monumental
waste of time. If Jennifer and Laura had asked autonomous campaigns if they
wanted to replace the Women’s Sabb with an administrator, the answer would
have been a resounding no, but that question wasn’t asked. The idea has
been discussed in the past and rejected. CUSU Council passed policy to
employ a part-time casework assistant IN ADDITION TO the Women’s Sabb. We
all agree that the campaigns need more staff support, but this is not the
way forward.

In terms of the way they’ve attacked the position of Women’s Sabb, I agree
with the women’s exec in saying that I am shocked, angry and utterly
disgusted. This is designed to appease some college unions and a sad
attempt to hide the changes they want to make behind the mudded flag of
‘progress’. There is no thought or substance behind this motion, it is
nothing but an enormous slap in the face to women’s representation and the
autonomous campaigns as a whole. It’s one step forwards and five back.

What would you like to see done now?

These motions need to be removed. CUSU has autonomous campaigns so that all
students are given a voice, which might otherwise be drowned out by the
voice of the majority. It is not in CUSU Council’s remit to make enormous
decisions about the women’s, black students, and LBGT campaigns. According
to the constitution, the motion to scrap the Women’s Sabb would need to
passed by two Women’s Councils and there is no way that the women’s
officers elected by the women of their college would ever agree with that.
Anyone who appreciates women’s representation knows that there is still a
dire need for it in Cambridge. The constitution also states that the chairs
of autonomous campaigns must be members of the exectutive, and that right
will be taken away from us.

What action will you be taking should you and Olly’s request be ignored?

I’ll get back to you on this after the exec meeting. There are various
things we could do and there is no way we’re going to take this lying down.
It’s an attack on the democracy of our student union and the
anti-democratic views of those pursuing these motions has been revealed in
the way that they’ve gone about it. This has come about because various
people are so unwilling to take onboard criticism and respond positively to
it. We need to defend our student union, our autonomous campaigns and our
progressive structures. We’ve got to the point after months of biting our
tongues that we’re willing to take whatever means necessary to do that.
You’ll need to ask Olly for further commment.

Can we also talk about the recent request from CUSU to change the way it is funded so as not to rely on JCR affiliation fees if you know anyting about it?

At the moment i don’t want to talk about this, but others might do. I’d
need to talk to Vicki and Zen before commenting on this.

I’ve copied Laura in so that she can see my response in full before it’s
cut.

Thanks very much,

Michelle Nuttall