In an incredibly poorly thought out and executed move last week, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) felt it was about time the government found out just how clever they are. Like smug children who feel they know better than their parents, USI jumped into the controversy surrounding the cost of Irish Water’s new logo and branding, with their ‘innovative’ solution: use a micro-job site on the cheap.
The official branding cost Irish Water €20,000, but for $5 (€3.70) USI had a logo designed and hefty chunk of change left over. Backed by a policy to highlight waste in public spending, USI shouted to all who would listen about how resourceful they had been. However, in being so quick to attempt to show the government up, they forgot their members.
Micro-job sites come with many issues, almost all of which would have become apparent had USI thought for a single second before proceeding. The $5 logo isn’t a unique design, it’s already in use by several businesses, and ultimately, it didn’t pose a solution to USI’s issue with the tender process for the original branding job. However the much bigger issue is the devaluation of the design industry and undercutting the worth of good design.
While only a small number of their member organisations offer design courses, the students in each of these courses are fee-paying members. It’s their worth USI undercut in a cheap attempt to get attention. It’s the value of their work that USI failed to take into consideration. And it’s the importance of their degrees that USI continued to deny, even in response to criticism from these members. An official apology was only offered after several days of excuses.
This isn’t just an embarrassing oversight; it’s one of many signs USI is out of touch with its members. Last year during the USI affiliation referendum in UCD, the main claim made by ‘Yes to USI’ campaigners was that UCD students would be “left out in the cold” and forgotten on a national level if we absented ourselves from the organisation. We voted to disaffiliate anyway, and it seems we’ve lost nothing.
USI are the sole reason the members concerned here have been “left out in the cold” and it’s not an isolated incident. Last October the Government released a budget that viciously attacked young people for financial problems we didn’t cause, and USI welcomed it with open arms.
While protecting the maintenance grant may have been the main focus of their pre-budget campaign; in their rush to loudly proclaim their ‘win’ on this issue, they completely ignored the many ways in which young people were targeted. Their celebrations left members feeling cold.
Groups such as We’re Not Leaving and Scambridge have somewhat taken the reigns from USI on many of the issues that currently matter most to students. While USI have thrown their support behind numerous campaigns run by these groups, the national union certainly isn’t leading the way.
The ‘No to USI’ camp in UCD believed last year that USI would fall to ruin without our membership, and that a new, stronger and more efficient national union would form. This hasn’t happened, but it’s not inconceivable that it’s only a matter of time until USI become completely irrelevant.
USI has failed repeatedly to capture the attention of its large and varied membership, and it’s obvious it doesn’t know who its members are. When other organisations are managing to rally students using far fewer resources, USI can’t even rely on the age-old defence of student apathy being the root cause of all problems.
This week, USI was an embarrassment to its members, and if it can’t value them at more the €3.70, it won’t be long until its members don’t see them as being worth the same. Unfortunately for USI, that’s the approximate cost per student for membership. Without its member organisations, USI is nothing but wannabe politicians, and maybe it’s time it remembers just that.