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First bus fares and Unity Health scares show a never ending cycle at YUSU

The inefficiencies of the YUSU system has meant that the union cannot act, only react, argues Oscar Jefferson

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York Bus Fare rise
Image: Dan Sellers

"YUSU have given up almost at the moment" on negotiating with First Bus, stated then YUSU presidential candidate James Durcan during the run-up to the elections in February 2018. As I listened, I found myself agreeing. YUSU needed to push First Bus, and other private partners harder. When Durcan won the election, whilst immensely disappointed, I held out some hope that Durcan would have taken on board the messages from the election campaign and would now have more clout to get YUSU working for its members.

Six months later and this optimism has been punctured. Term hasn't even started and already there is a sense of deja vu from previous years. As seen in Nouse recently, First Bus fares have risen in cost. The "better conversation" that Durcan had promised amounted only to stating that "It is extremely disappointing that students will face an increase in bus fares" and criticizing First Bus' choice to make a "commercial decision".

YUSU is a Students' Union. It is supposed to protect its members from "commercial decisions", not be shocked when they are taken. The management of First Bus have two choices--make more money, or to 'play nice'. They now know that the worst they will face is "disappointment" from YUSU and because Durcan has tied himself to First Bus with his campaign promises, they can even enjoy a bit of free marketing. Durcan went to great pains to explain what First Bus had done well in the same Nouse piece, the defense of first bus taking up more column space than his criticism.

The problem here is obvious, First Bus is simply too expensive. Whilst feedback can be useful, in this case, the problem is well known. We can worry about tinkering with the finer details once the main problem has been addressed, cost.

The same approach to issues can also be seen in Steph Hayle's recent post about Unity Health. Like Durcan, Hayle is defending Unity Health while talking about taking feedback on board. The difference here though is that we have reached a crisis point in Unity Health. YUSU, in this case, has been forced to act. Hayle shouldn't be held accountable for a systemic problem that has plagued Unity for years. As the feedback has been there for years, but only now is being addressed because it's reached a do or die moment.

It is genuinely saddening to see these same problems being repeated over again. Having met them both, I know that Durcan and Hayle have good intentions. It's the clunkiness of the YUSU system that means people cannot act, forced to defend their commercial partners by their inability to take radical action to combat them. Once this is done, a new raft of student politicians will come, just as well-intentioned as the last, criticize their predecessors' inaction only to find themselves similarly encumbered six months later. A never-ending cycle.

A student movement is forming asking for more. In 2018, RON (Re-open nominations) finishing second was a shock. Now students know it's a genuine option in the YUSU election, with the potential to win the Presidential ballot. There is a real opportunity, either with the threat or reality of RON 2019 to shake YUSU out of its bureaucratic slumber. The signs thus far, however, are that until February at least it will be more of the same.

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give it a rest smh Posted on Tuesday 4 Sep 2018

What the f--k are you on about. These are two external companies, that the UNIVERSITY, not the STUDENTS' UNION, has chosen to work and partner with.

God I wish you'd actually won so you could've seen not everything is up to YUSU. YUSU can only lobby for students, which it actively and at least in the wellbeing and community role, forcefully does. How about complaining to the university for THEIR decisions that have f--ked the buses and the GP, for f--king once?


Anonymous Posted on Tuesday 4 Sep 2018

Dear commenter,

You are right. They are separate entities. And YUSU can only lobby them. The point I made in the article was they are not doing this to nearly the extent or efficacy that they could be.

Companies like first bus would love it if we gave it a rest, because then they could continue exploiting students without consequence.
I also share your view that I wish RON had won, wherein we would indeed have found out that everything isn't up to YUSU and we could have opened up a debate about how lobbying might be done better, rather than false promises about things outside YUSU's remit.

All the best,



commenter Posted on Friday 7 Sep 2018

I'm saying that you should hold the University accountable for allowing First Bus to monopolise transport to and from campus, as well as for not intervening with Unity Health (like, ever). This is way out of SU league, and it's great that they're trying, but Mia and Steph have both decided to take responsibility for fixing UH, far beyond the capabilities of either of them.

YUSU doesn't need a reform, it just needs better people to run for positions. And for these people to be courageous enough to actually accept the responsibility of doing a ton of hard work over a year, running for a re-election if necessary, instead of moaning and imagining something that's never going to happen (if RON had won, there would have been a by-election, as for ISA President and Volunteering Officers, and maybe someone better than Durcan would have run, but there's no guarantee).

Half a year later, you've used RON's success to post memes and whine about YUSU not working... imagine if you'd grouped together with a bunch of like-minded people from the campaign and written up an alternative, more efficient system and submitted that to YUSU and for students to see! There was always going to be a sabb team for 2018/19, these things can't change that quickly - but you've refused to make any effort to build a system before 2019 SU elections that would allow for a change in system to be considered. You opened up a conversation even without winning - if you start now, you might be able to offer something better up by 2020. But you've got to actually WORK. Right now, you're at least as inefficient as the sabbs you so readily criticise.

Conor Muller Posted on Tuesday 4 Sep 2018

You are entirely right to say that YUSU's problem are systematic. The old cycle of electing college chairs places large amounts of power in the hands of people whose main experience for the job is organising fun freshers' week piss-ups. This isn't to say that all current and previous YUSU officers are incompetent (far from it), but they tend to be people whose natural background isn't in campaigning, democracy and representation.

I think we have a huge accountability problem with YUSU: the only democracy we seem to have is officer elections in February. It is not possible to hold FTOs to account because YUSU does not hold all-member meetings apart from the spring AGM, a pointless exercise as FTOs' terms are nearly over by then and AGMs do not determine the direction of YUSU. Because our FTOs don't tend to be experienced campaigners or representatives, we really, really need a way to force them to act decisively and bravely, but they need fear only a VONC (highly unlikely in most circumstances) as there is no way for students to challenge them and hold them to account during their terms.

I voted RON for prez and regretted it (I should have voted for Hassan) because I think YUSU should be so much more than it is, not that it should be dissolved out of a hatred of all unions. We should begin by looking at regular all-member meetings where officers can be genuinely held to account and made to feel uncomfortable and policy voted on (subject to finding a way for liberation groups to be heard adequately), or maybe even a student council to which FTOs must answer. The problem will be a difficult one to solve because of quorum rules on changing constitutions etc., and as you might expect, few people care what goes on in YUSU.


Toby Posted on Tuesday 4 Sep 2018

Just commenting to clarify that the 2018 RON campaign didnt intend to 'dissolve' the students' union; rather, we intended to open a dialogue on how it can more effectively represent students' interests. Your suggestion of regular meetings might be a good place to start.