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A University of Manchester Students' Union banner at an anti-fees protest in 2004. We haven't heard much from them recently. Photo: daggi @Flickr

A Union of apathy and failure

The social democratic services that served our parents and grandparents so well are gradually eroding, with the imperative of profit placed over the needs of people. Our climate hangs in the balance as greenhouse gasses emissions near the point of no return.

Today’s student will leave university with on average over £40000 of debt. Right now the average Arts student is paying £70 – £100 per contact hour—something to think about next time your lecture starts 10 minutes late.

Our own lecturers are facing cuts in pay, whilst the University does backdoor deals to outsource labour at below living wage standards.

If you want to live in London after all this, but you don’t have old money—good luck spending the rest of your life paying off a £400000 mortgage on some crummy one bedroom flat in a council estate.

Make no mistake, as a student body and more broadly as a generation we have genuine political grievances. We are facing systemic pressures on our quality of life and while it may seem all fun and drinking games now, you are looking down the barrel of a life of debt; we are the first generation since 1946 set to be poorer than our parents.

Student activism used to be a force in this world. From the Vietnam War and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to South Africa’s Apartheid Regime, the student voice was heard.

Traditionally, the University of Manchester had been a hotbed for such radicalism but today, walking around campus, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any sign of political activism. Save for a smattering Socialist Workers Party leaflets, which call for some vague and half-imagined utopian revolution and the occasional cake stall for malnourished children in Africa or India, the public space is apolitical.

Now for the vast majority of us, our activism, our philanthropy and our ability to empathise only extends so far as our own interests. We don’t vote, rightly so according to Russell Brand—the apparent spokesperson for our disillusioned generation.

We are the onesie-wearing, vodka-swilling, MacBook-wielding, selfie-taking, apathetic generation of students. If we’re angry, you’ll hear about it, through an irate self-justified Facebook status or a warrior hashtag. Or maybe, just maybe, we’ll sign an e-petition. The problem isn’t ours, but we’ll pass it along to you.

Volunteer work is done overwhelmingly on advice to nourish our CVs and personal statements. You might see a picture of some of the more affluent among us digging a well in Kenya—a mild case of self-congratulating bohemianism before a sedentary and functionary life in a pinstripe suit with a white picket fence.

We stink of a generation who don’t know how to fight for ourselves.

The institutions that used to unite us are shrivelled, impotent to tackle our general political apathy, and are broadly complicit in the comprehensive privatisation of university life happening around us.

The University of Manchester Students’ Union, originally designed with the intention of representing and protecting our interests, is now loaned out to PR events for giant multi-national corporations such as Samsung or Lloyds TSB.

I’m sure Steve Biko, the legendary anti-Apartheid trade union activist, would be delighted to know that tax-dodging Starbucks was making a tidy profit under his name in Biko’s Café. In union elections last year, we got a dismal 7.5 per cent of students to vote online. Surely this speaks volumes of how much we as a student population value the institution.

However, if we look further to the National Union of Students, a key medium of student protest, then the reality gets ever more disconcerting.

An NUS Extra card now provides you with a healthy 10 per cent discount off all your favourite third world labour-intensive clothing from ASOS. It’ll get you another 10 per cent off orders from Amazon UK—no-one seems to have told the NUS that if Amazon paid its tax fairly, it would go a long way towards reducing our tuition fees from £9000 each year.

One survey conducted of almost 5500 students showed that 35 per cent don’t know what the NUS did, with only 7 per cent of students saying they thought the NUS was doing a good job.

It is easy to understand the sentiment behind these figures.

You can’t place much faith in an organisation that last month couldn’t even express solidarity with the Kurds (who are by and large Muslims) by condemning IS, for fears of islamophobia.

In the words of Amol Rajan, editor of The Independent, we the young “are being continually shafted.” Let’s be frank: as a student body, we need to get our act together.

Tags: apathy, apolitical, generation, national union of students, NUS, Politics, protest, Society, Students Union, union

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