The agenda for last Friday’s OUSU council meeting, where a vote to
boycott Coca-Cola was passed by an overwhelming majority, contains two
points of significant interest. The first is a quotation from a
spokesperson representing the workers at Coke’s Colombian factory: “We
ask Coca-Cola to stop killing, and you to stop drinking Coke.” These
striking words are accompanied by a list of statistics detailing Coke’s
alleged role in a string of deaths, imprisonments and threats.The
second is the proposed reason for OUSU’s involvement with these issues:
“The case of Coke is of particular importance to us because students –
by their membership of NUS and hence democratic control over the
purchasing of many large venues – are in a uniquely powerful position
to respond.”Whether or not we support the motion – and the
implication of it being passed by such a majority is that we do – we
must consider how genuine its importance to us is. Is our purchasing
power a genuinely good reason to involve ourselves in such a dispute?
There are surely other unions throughout the country with the same
commercial force. Yet student unions are unique in their involvement in
matters unrelated to the primary concerns of their members.The
question of what OUSU is has, since its inception, not been
successfully answered. Indeed, the end of term reports of last year’s
Executive Officers show that the same uncertainty exists inside the
organization as in the minds of many students: whether OUSU should
exist primarily to support or to represent its members.The role
of any student union is in many ways subject to the same uncertainty.
Significant pieces of legislation complicate the matter: John Major’s
1994 Education Act puts a burden on these institutions of having to
represent not only their members but the student community in general.
The NUS acts as an unwieldy umbrella organization for the overambitious
goal of representing students throughout the nation.But OUSU’s
position is unique. Cherwell has reported on and off for nearly forty
years the imminent arrival of an ever-elusive central student venue.
John Blake, last year’s OUSU President, makes explicit statements in
his end of term report which call for the sale of OUSU’s two most
Oxford-facing ventures, the Oxford Student and Zoo, to private
companies. There is a perennial schism in the two OUSUs: one a
representative campaigning force, the other a semi-commercial
publishing and Entz body.Perhaps the problem is that we are
already so well catered for by our JCRs, political groups, college
officials, orchestras and so on. Perhaps the problem is that despite
this there are no other effective outlets for global political views to
be heard. Perhaps there is no problem at all.At present, OUSU’s
role is a source of confusion for many students. Occasional anger and
distrust must stem from such a situation, but this does not tackle any
of the problems. What many perceive as OUSU’s isolation, whether
self-perpetuated or external can be of little benefit to the student
body at large. An increase in interest by students in a body which is,
after all, there to protect their interests could hardly be a bad
thing. Whether positive or negative, some input from the rest of us
would at least be a start.ARCHIVE: 2nd week MT 2005