The Virtue Of Student Unionism

Union in its early life was a crucial pillar of economy, form especially by worker class to protect and further their interests in a world where labours were extremely exploited. Hitherto, because and through exploitation, the working class has so little voice and were usually ignored by the higher authority, mostly due to the fact that they expressed their voices separately. Found itself facing some hindrances and the threat of persecutions, the unionist favoured the way of political activism to push their agenda forward. They started to make a home in the political sphere; first and foremostly through the establishment of the Labour Party in 1906.

The unionist did not venture into politics empty-handed, they brought with them the idea of unionism. Societies started to organized themselves into civil organizations and unions to uphold not only their agendas and interests but also to provide the mechanism of check and balance towards the central administration. The strength of the platforms provided by unions is so strong that all levels of society tend to create one – including the students.

Writing within the context of modern-day universities in Malaysia, most of the students in public universities are yet to unionized. Only a few had established the Students’ Union and brought the students’ voices into the meetings with the university’s administrations. Being the most stakeholders, in term of numbers and membership inside the university, students’ voices are still being sidelined during the decision-making process, although this group is the one who would be profoundly and foremostly affected.

Sure, one could say that there exist student societies and representatives but they are, at most, still not being included in the university’s decision-making process. Student societies are established to only further students’ participation within communities and not to put forward any concerns regarding any issues faced by the students. Students through the idea and philosophy of unionism are more effective in facilitating and promote any concerns that would rather greatly affect, or even disturb, the students’ interests.

Yet, in all its goodness, glory and great-intended purposes, the union itself is still just another level of higher authority. They might be the check and balance mechanism for the university’s administrations, but who would be theirs? Bear in mind that they are the ones that are responsible for the interests and concerns of tens of thousands of students as the members of the union.

I am not saying that the union itself would shirk from its purposes to represent the students, nor am I have any problems with its modern-day workings and philosophy. It is the interior politics within the union itself that I have – and as a part of the union, are allowed to have – a legitimate concern with.

Students’ Union is also known as the student government and, of course, the existence of politics would not be alien to it. I believe that no matter who is at the helm of the union, they would perform their duties as they were obligated to. But politics always comes at the expense of morality and virtue. What would that make of students, as the educated community inside the greater society, if they are not true to their virtue while playing the games of campus politics?

As to not make my piece just mumbling kitchen swill for hogs, I will define what kind of virtue is being neglected while the political game is in motion. While shouting the – rather old and common – rhetoric of taking care of the students’ interest and welfare; and while staying true to its purposes (as stated beforehand), the ones who are inside the union might have sacrilegious thoughts of pursuing any ideas foreign to the philosophy of union, or even education.

It is an open secret that national politics and ideologies have a great influence on students inside the university. Student representative bodies sometimes are seen as a path to spread the ideas of any national political party in university. Some students also seem to hold the same view and use their bodies to further their ideas. As common and as acceptable as it is, I would disagree with this idea.

The philosophy of unionism should be upheld with the virtue of pursuing the students’ interests, and only within that philosophical sphere that the union should operate. Students’ union – or any union for that matter – should never become a tool for alien views to make home and infect the members. The profanity of this move could altogether affect how the union operates; not in term of how it fulfils its obligations but the inner virtue of the union.

One could disagree with my opinion, but one should not altogether dismiss my view about the problem (or at least, a problem to me) that plagues the student government. Students inside the union have the rights, as the citizens of this state, to have a political preference but as the representatives of the union, they should leave their political agenda outside the doorstep of the union.

Aliff Naif Mohd Fizam is the Head Operation of VIRTUE IIUM and a reader of SOLIDARITAS.