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The Spike [or Victoria University College Review 1954]


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It may ask too much from Victoria's cloistered intelligences if we request them to consider the Students' Association as an "association of workers"— nevertheless, students are workers and we do have our union, one which corresponds to the Public Service Association or the N.Z. Educational Institute. This novel view requires an orientation in the student's outlook, and particularly in that of the Executive in policy and in demands. Given that V.U.C.S.A. is a. union, it is logical that the nature of our work affects the nature of our union's activities. Special characteristics of a student's job are irregular workday; the morning and evening peak periods, with which facilities must cope; the absence of employer-employee friction, resulting in the lack of a direct outlet for "industrial frustration"; and a lack of co-operation with the Association of University Teachers, caused by the peculiar industrial position of the staff.

The view that the Students Association is a union is demonstrated by the activities it carries out which are common to all industrial unions. A normal union functions socially—this is the sphere in which the last two Executives have had greatest success. Dances, processions, extravaganzas, capping celebrations, filled the Executive with a glow of satisfaction which blinded them to the untouched field of betterment of studying conditions. Normally, too, a union issues statements of policy: this the Students' Association effects through the Public Relations Officer, a progressive step inadequately developed; Congress, whose announcements usually receive an unsympathetic hearing from official organizations because they issue from a section only of the students; the Executive whose reluctance to express opinion aborts most policy motions on external affairs; and most importantly, from Annual General Meetings. These are the most fruitful source of policy statements, but still the Association has not profited from similar announcements by kindred bodies such as the P.S.A. and the N.Z.E.I. The horrible example of 1948 still looms high on the political horizon, sterilizing at inception most policy statements on external matters and many on matters directly connected with the College.

A union endeavours to obtain concessions for its members. This aspect of union activities has slowly come into belated prominence since 1952 with the stationery scheme and the now-aborted text-book service. The Executive still does not provide concessions for Association members at Association-controlled functions, and in many respects has become a financial parasite upon students as the University of New Zealand became. A union provides services for its members. The cafeteria and the information services (such as Spike, Salient, Cappicade, and the S.C.M. Handbook) are basic utilities. Organization of clubs is centralized under Executive control. The major aspect of union activities is the one in which V.U.C.S.A. is failing: it is the improvement of working conditions. (We are workers, remember.) N.Z.U.S.A., conducts a limited campaign on the national level. The Association itself is unable to do much because of the fluid nature of its membership and the unusual conditions under which it works. It is therefore the Executive's task to endeavour to improve our working conditions.

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To view the Students' Association as a union requires the setting aside of certain prejudices. Such a view is unpopular for such reasons as the socialistic overtones of the whole idea; the very word "union"; the Student Labour Federation's idealistic and largely (with certain reservations) futile attempts at student betterment; and, importantly, the passive sloth of student apathy, perhaps because an effort to do something is always an effort, or perhaps the attitudes of "it's none of our business" and "what can we do?" conspire to reduce all activity stimulated by original thinking.

The implications of this view involve certain obvious constructive steps—though they are not obvious to those who simply refuse to agree with our basic premise that V.U.C.S.A. is an association of workers. The major implication is that it requires a constructive and therefore planned policy, itself requiring direct policy announcements by each incoming Executive—these would be virtually "working plans". Subjects which deserve consideration would be accommodation, the library, teaching and lecturing, prerequisites, lectures and lecture hours. Who will deny that the Association should have a hand in improving the standard of these aspects of our working conditions. Such a policy would of necessity have to be sustained and vigorous, and to ensure this (however much each Executive depreciates decentralization) a permanent committee should be formed. A closer liaison with the Association of University Teachers would help both it and the Students' Association very much.

Now, this editorial, judging by four years' connection with student affairs, will be very unpopular—that is, presuming it is read. We may attempt to itemize the various conditions which will contribute to its unpopularity and then leave this whole problem to the every-day student who is not afraid to call himself a "unionist" and strive for better working conditions. This editorial, categorically speaking, will be unpopular because of indolence, prejudice, apathy, lack of imagination, lack of intelligence, and finally, lack of guts.

T. H. Hill