Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The myth of ‘forced representation’

Another justification for compulsory membership that is regularly trotted out involves representation. Apologists argue that all students must be members of an association so that all students are represented.

This argument is flawed in many ways. It assumes that a person will automatically be represented if they’re simply forced to become a member of an organisation. This of course is wrong; would all students automatically be represented if all students were forced to join the National Party?

It also ignores the fact that students are a diverse group with a wide range of opinions. Instead of all students being represented, the views that compulsory associations promote tend to mirror the views of the people in control of the association. In most cases these people hold left wing views, and in most cases the students most obviously misrepresented are those who hold conservative, centre-right or pro-market viewpoints.

Students who support voluntary membership are also misrepresented and side-lined. To illustrate this, look at what happened to the vice-president of the Auckland Institute of Technology.

On 13 June 1994, the New Zealand Herald reported that the executive of a compulsory association sacked a fellow student politician who supported a vote on voluntary membership. The Herald said,

The executive of the Auckland Institute of Technology students’ association has sacked a vice-president who succeeded in calling a special general meeting about compulsory membership.

The association’s Akoranga campus vice-president, Miss Melanie Davis, had raised almost double the number of student signatures required to force such a meeting…

Miss Davis said last night that the executive of the association passed a vote of no confidence in her late last week after asking whether she supported its views against voluntary membership.”

The message here is simple. At its heart, support for compulsory membership means support for a system that enables associations to receive money without earning it. Compulsory associations’ fundamental objective therefore is protecting their source of unearned income. Voluntary membership means an end to unearned income; therefore voluntary membership must be opposed even if that means misrepresenting members who support voluntary membership.

Compulsory associations continually put their own financial interests above the values and opinions of some of their members.

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