Last year’s SURHUL President, Daniel Lemberger Cooper, has been the Vice President of the University of London Union (ULU) since he was elected in February. And since ULU’s President-elect Sean Rillo Raczka resigned in July, he has also been the Acting President.
I took the opportunity to interview him in Crosslands (where else?) during a recent visit to Egham. We discussed his time here, his thoughts on SURHUL, what ULU is doing, and the big plans he has for it.
T: How are you finding being back in Egham?
D: It’s great to be back. It’s quite strange. I remember the months leading up to leaving, I was really wanting to leave. I find Egham quite claustrophobic. The day I was leaving, my dad was supposed to come get me in the morning, but because of the Olympics he was delayed until the evening. I was here on my own, just walking around, and then…*suddenly miming crying* ‘I don’t want to leave!!’
It’s nice to come back. I’m going to meet the student officers and a bunch of other people.
T: Have you missed it in the couple of months you’ve been away?
D: I left in late June, so I’ve been doing a lot of new stuff, and I’ve enjoyed that. I mean, obviously from a personal perspective I care a great deal about how the Left and the activists are doing here, because I worked very hard to build it, and last year was very successful.
Also, I feel like last year the Founder was out to get me.
T: *laughs* I think they had a soft spot for you, but they wanted to go for a Private Eye angle. A lot of satire…
D: Oh I like the satire! It was other things that…I mean, obviously it’s inevitable when you’re in that position, doing the things that I do, it’s inevitably going to cause controversy and argument, which I like; I want to debate people. There was some hilarious stuff last year. But it was pretty poor journalism, if anything.
T: We published your tweets, I remember.
D: *laughs* Which is hilarious. I mean, they were all taken out of context…and…I wanted to use that account so I could make political points, not just to say I’m at a committee that no-one knows about. I put a motion forward about Israel/Palestine, and I think they actually gave me a fair hearing on that. I mean there’s a lot of eejits in the union who are unable to muster any creative thought so couldn’t engage with it, but I think they looked at it and tried to understand.
T: Yeah, I think the interesting part of the Union is that it needs be a platform for statements, but also for its own policy, and it’s hard sometimes to draw the line. I mean, we can’t really do anything here at Royal Holloway about Israel and Palestine apart from talk about it.
D: No, that’s true, but I think about the 1980s, when there was apartheid in South Africa, and the student movement in Britain was very strong then. They put money together to send it over, and there was quite a real interest in what was going on. I think the reason apartheid ended is because black workers organised and they fought and they struggled, but I think British students had a role to play. But I think that’s an argument we’ve won now; I feel like the Union is a political organisation, and its primary function is to defend and fight for student rights.
T: On that note, I’d like to ask you about the new Sabbatical Officers and Execs. How do you feel they’re doing? Do you have any advice for them?
D: Yeah, yeah. I oversaw their elections, I led and ran their inductions to the Union, I trained them for a month, introduced them to all the staff here, the staff at the Union, and told them how it all functioned really. I worked most closely with Doug (Doug German, President).
Doug – it’s no secret – is very different to me, his priorities are not the same as mine. My priorities are probably more reflected in what Jamie’s doing (Jamie Green, VPComCam).
I think Jamie’s doing some excellent work around building the Defend Education Campaign, around organising students in their workplace, and with the Living Wage campaign. I think from what I’ve seen the Student Activities department is working very well, and I think the same with most departments.
I’m here today partly because I’m trying to put together an agreement document that sets out all of the joint areas across London college student unions that work, what they expect from ULU, and the kind of things that they want from ULU.
T: Well, you were saying that people aren’t really aware of ULU, or even what it is. Would you like to explain what it is in real terms, and why people at Royal Holloway in particular should get involved?
D: ULU is the University of London Union. It brings together a federation of student unions around London – around 19 different colleges – to fight for student rights. I think it holds lots of possibilities for RHUL students. I’m quite conscious of the fact that because we’re quite geographically far out, and because of a general lull in the work that’s been expected of ULU on local campuses, it might not feel that way, but it has the power to bring London colleges together to campaign for common policy positions – on something like housing – so we can probably effect some change.
Secondly, ULU has a ton of clubs and societies, so if students have a particular passion – cultural, religious, sporting – you can get to meet students at LSE or UCL, work with them, develop that passion, or even set stuff up with students from across London. And centrally we’ve got lots of services: we’ve got a gym, we’ve got bars, we’ve got restaurants, we’ve got lots of rooms, and all of those are at the services of Royal Holloway students.
T: Would you agree, though, that it’s quite difficult to really be involved with ULU when you’re out here in Egham?
D: Well yeah, in the sense that you can’t come to the building easily. I see it being more of our responsibility to come onto campus. So just for example, we’re supporting the liberation campaign and there’s been lots of work here around Black History Month. We should be here supporting that, and positively be contributing to that sort of work.
The time constraint makes it difficult to get to Malet Street, so I think it’s our responsibility to come here.
T: So what have you been up to personally since you’ve been Vice President of ULU?
D: Firstly, the main work I’ve been doing is going to meet local unions and rebuild and revive ULU on local campuses: that’s having discussions with officers, finding out what they want, and building a professional, effective relationship.
Secondly, we’ve been running a big housing campaign that calls for decent affordable housing for students, but also for people in London. We’re lobbying the Greater London Authority, which is kind of the government in London about that.
Third, we’re running a big education and public services campaign. We’ve got a situation where there’s a radical transformation of education taking place. We’re holding cross-London assemblies, we’re bringing together students from across London to democratically decide about where the campaign’s going.
And I’m quite keen on the opening of the ULU membership structure. It’s currently only for University of London students. I think that campaign work doesn’t just include students, and there is actually a need for a London-wide union. I’m making the argument to local student unions that we need to include the likes of South Bank and London Met.
T: So…even if they’re not part of the University of London, they can be part of the University of London Union?
D: Yeah. First off we’re convincing people about why it should happen. The way we bring them in is involving them in our campaign work. We had a London demos meeting this week, and Westminster, London Met, Southbank, and Greenwich [none of which are U of L colleges] all had representation there, and getting them involved in campaign work is our first port of call. The second one is we need to pass policy within our democratic structures to make it happen.
And yeah, I guess we’d have to think through the name change, but for me that’s quite a small issue.
T: I wasn’t even aware that that was in the works.
D: Well, for instance: at London Met they had the possibility that 3,000 of their students were going to be deported (see The Founder Volume 7 Issue 2). ULU were heavily involved in stopping that, and are involved in a continuing campaign to defend the international students. And that happened even without the [proposed] structures. Those students need that kind of representation, and they need that kind of support from other types of unions.
T: Thanks very much Dan. And is there anything else you’d like to tell the readers of the Founder?
D: Yeah, I wrote some more stuff down…none of which I’ve actually said!
I think people should view ULU as a tool for meeting London students, for working with London students, for fighting with London students, and for partying with London students! We’re there to put on marches and to bring students into the campaign, but also to fight for your rights at work. Come and get involved! We’re keen to have a presence here, and I’m going to be coming down as often as I can.