With its suburban small-town campus, York’s not got much rep for political activism – the previous union president even went so far as to describe the student body as ‘quite conservative’. Us in the Student Socialist Society are pretty keen on changing this record and have made a good go of doing so in the three years we’ve been around.
Last year our campaign to get the union to open a not-for-profit letting agency gathered over 800 petition signatures and went on to win a referendum. This change will see YUSU organise a student alternative to the current avaricious bunch of profit-driven providers, reducing letting costs while also going some way to guaranteeing basic housing standards, as well as the promotion of responsible landlords.
We’ve been a fixture on every recent campus picket line, organising in support of the universities’ staff in their struggle against the (very well-paid) management’s programme of wage cuts and exploitative zero-hour contracts. The university thinks it can avoid scrutiny by moving low-paid staff over to its secretive for-profit subsidiaries and then worsening wages and conditions, a strategy we aim to publicise and shame this year. Over the summer we also ran a survey to gather details on the way many academic departments see fit to take advantage of their postgrad teaching staff with shoddy pay rates and ‘missing’ job contracts.
Asides from campus-specific issues, our political agitation often goes a bit beyond Heslington. When the Lib Dems came to York in March 2014 we climbed the city walls to unfurl a banner opposite their conference’s entrance. Also in attendance was our charming hand-made Nick Clegg effigy. And later on in the year we were the only student group to organise a stall at York Pride, in solidarity with LGBTQ opposition to the mass of cuts falling on services vital to queer people.
For two consecutive years society members have been elected to the National Union of Students’ annual conference, each pushing for the NUS to reject the austerity of the establishment parties, in particular the not-so-gradual conversion of our public universities into corporatised debt factories: the consequences of which York is all too familiar with.
Finally, as a group we balance activism with education – our weekly meetings begin with a society member presenting a subject for discussion. The important purpose of this is to develop our collective awareness of topics ranging from contemporary social issues to the political theories behind them all. This is in stark contrast to societies based on affiliation to the establishment political parties, who are quite happy to treat their members as little more than fodder for the party leadership’s election campaigning.
You can find this collection of rowdy leftists at our meetings each Tuesday in Derwent College – check Facebook for the room – and inevitably also in the pub after.