The Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) has spent more time in these editorial pages recently than is good for it. The union has had a tempestuous year, from the farcical handling of the results of a survey carried out by the Trinity PhD Workers’ Rights Group to potential voter fraud in its class representative elections to its members blasting the “chaos” surrounding its AGM.
Now, the GSU has tabled a motion to formally divest from Trinity College Students’ Union (TCDSU), which would supposedly make it the “sole representative body for the Graduate Students of Trinity” – although this is refuted by TCDSU.
The motion claims that TCDSU is “unable to properly advocate on the behalf of Postgraduate students” as its undergraduate members “lack the lived experience of Postgraduate students”. The elected members of the GSU, it continues, “will be most effective in voicing the concerns of the Unions members”.
The GSU has already faced serious threats to its credibility this year with the advent of Trinity PhD Workers’ Rights Group. Divesting from TCDSU is simply another incident of the GSU antagonising a group with which it would do well to work constructively. The two unions are strongest when they work together – most notably demonstrated by the Take Back Trinity protests.
Nothing good can come of this motion passing, particularly since TCDSU has since said it would continue to represent the interests of postgraduate students even if the GSU did divest. It is true that the two unions have some differing aims, but perennial issues such as accommodation, and the treatment of students in the ongoing pandemic, are certainly paramount in both the GSU and TCDSU. The GSU divesting will only weaken students’ collective lobbying voice.
While there is a case to be made that having two unions represent one group – postgraduates – is excessive, it only amplifies the failures of the GSU this year. TCDSU is a larger union with a stronger voice on common issues. If the GSU cannot effectively deal with postgraduate-specific issues such as working conditions, it certainly will not be well positioned to lobby on issues that historically TCDSU has championed.
The GSU as it currently stands is not in a position to represent its members alone, and the two unions are better off sticking together.