Campaigning at Aston University, photo by Socialist Students
The students union, or 'guild' as it now calls itself, at Aston University faced attacks on its, already limited, democratic structures last week. The executive committee of the guild, with just a few days notice, decided to call its annual general meeting to push through a new constitution for the union.
The new constitution would effectively turn the union into a charity, going in the same direction as the National Union of Students, to which Aston is not affiliated. There would be a 'Board of Trustees' which, as a decision-making body, would have the power to overrule decisions by the other bodies of the union, such as the democratically elected executive or the student-led guild council.
Only four out of the 12 trustees on the board would be students currently at the university or democratically elected by students. The remaining positions would be filled from outside the union, including representatives of the university itself and people from businesses.
Initially the new constitution was to be voted on at the annual general meeting. This would be completely undemocratic, as students had been given very little notice of the meeting or of the fact that a new constitution was being proposed. Not only this but, because it had not yet been published, students would not even be allowed to read the new constitution before voting on it! This actually made the proposed vote unconstitutional.
But after negotiations with Socialist Students activists as well as a part-time union officer on the left, the new documents were published before the meeting. The proposed new constitution was presented and discussed at the meeting, but there was no vote to decide on it. This will follow with a referendum in the next term.
Stopping the new constitution from being undemocratically forced through was a real victory for Socialist Students and the left at Aston. It is now down to us to build a campaign as widely as possible across the university to stop the new constitution and further attacks on democracy in the students union.
For most students it is currently an irrelevant issue, but this is precisely why we need to reclaim our unions so that they are run democratically and fight in the interests of students. This is more important than ever with universities making savage cuts and tuition fees set to rise.