Edd Bauer, recently reinstated Vice President of Education, Birmingham Guild of Students, spoke to Solidarity.
I was released from prison on 26 September [Edd was arrested for doing a banner drop at Lib-Dem conference] and immediately went to the Guild of Students (Students Union), but found that I had been suspended from my office.
The following morning the President and the CEO (general manager) of the Guild gave me a letter banning me from the Guild premises for the remainder of the investigation surrounding my suspension.
We had a meeting and started doing lecture shout-outs and campaigning around campus.
The university sent me a letter demanding that I leave campus, which I decided to ignore. They tried to ban me again after I took part in an occupation on campus.
We decided not to focus too much on my suspension, because we didn’t want the campaign to collapse in on itself and become about defending ourselves, rather than important like fees and cuts.
We picked back up on my suspension when the investigation started dragging on with no explanation as to why.
The Guild had forced through a new disciplinary policy, without a vote, via a Trustee Board meeting, a week before I was suspended. This allowed them to drag out the hearing. The panel investigating me was one senior Guild staff manager and one sabbatical officer who was close to the President.
That panel had no time-limit on how long it could take in investigating me. After a month they convened another body, with five members, majority non-students, and of whom only one was elected! It took until 21 December for this body to make a decision.
I feel that the decision to reinstate me was held off so that I would miss the final Guild Council of term and would not be able to return until January. It has been pretty politically expedient for the right wing of Guild Council to not have me around this term.
I offered to resign if a vote of no confidence in me was held in a general meeting or council meeting.
In the face of that, the Guild started to look very undemocratic. Our campaign included organising a call-in to block the Guild’s phone line. Liverpool Guild of Students changed the name of a meeting room in which a meeting of the Aldwych Group [the SUs of the top “Russell Group” universities] was happening to the “Edd Bauer Room”. Liverpool, Edinburgh and Bristol University Student Unions threatened to boycott the Birmingham Guild. There was an Early Day Motion, supported by, amongst others, a Lib Dem MP whom I had last met when occupying his offices! Along with all that came the implicit threat of what students would do if I were sacked, for example occupy the Guild.
The issue is a challenge to the whole idea of student democracy as we know it.
People have a lot of trust in institutions like the Guild; they think it acts in our best interests. Only by articulating the problems with the way that the Guild and other SUs run will we challenge this. If we show that the Guild is undemocratic, silencing activists and so on, that will have a big effect. In 1968, a large part of what the protests were about was democracy in universities.
The democracy we had both in our universities and our unions is now being lost, and we can respond to this in a similar manner to how we acted in 1968.