Nathaniel Germain, who studies nanobiology at the Erasmus MC, is one of the five pioneers behind Studenten Unie Rotterdam, or STUUR Rotterdam (the Rotterdam Student Union). “We’re currently working on founding the union. We’re becoming an incorporated association, writing our articles of association and getting registered with the Chamber of Commerce’s Trade Register,” said Germain.
Germain has been involved with the #nietmijnschuld (#notmyfault) campaign established by FNV Young & United and the National Student Union (LSVb) for a while. This campaign constitutes a protest against the student loan system that replaced the original student grants a few years ago.
In addition to founding the union and arranging all the paperwork, the five members have begun fighting for their cause, as well. “We’ve already visited GroenLinks, PvdA and the SP. It makes sense to contact leftist parties, because they tend to get really happy when they hear the word ‘union’,” says Germain, chuckling. “But we definitely want to talk to other parties, as well, to make sure we’ll be heard in the municipal council. We’re also trying to determine where to find our members. Who do we want to join us, and where do we find such people?”
Why did you join the union?
“I started thinking about joining one when student loans were introduced. Young people are increasingly less certain to find jobs, and on top of that we were hit by a climate crisis and a pandemic. I want to serve students’ best interests in all these regards. If you’re a member of a union, you can make yourself heard.”
How will students in Rotterdam benefit from having a union?
“Students face a lot of challenges, and they have very little say in the matter. In Rotterdam, students are spread across different institutions, meaning there is not one single school board with which you can air your grievances. At present, students don’t really have a point of contact. We’re trying to address that, too. Yes, there is the Rotterdam Chamber of Societies, but that only represent a particular group of students (traditional student societies – ed.). We promote all students’ interests, regardless of whether they attend an mbo college, a university or a university of applied sciences. The Union seeks to build a bridge between ‘the powers that be’ and students. The powers that be, to me, are the municipal council and the university’s executive board, but also landlords. We seek to make sure that students are really heard. Take the coronavirus restrictions, for instance – students’ interests were not exactly prioritised there.”
Was the foundation of this union initiated by the National Student Union or by Rotterdam-based students?
“Both, to some extent. I got involved via #nietmijnschuld, but my fellow initiator Marijn Prins contacted the LSVb of his own accord, because he was wondering how to found a union. In other words, there were several people who hit on the same idea at the same time. The idea is for us to join LSVb’s federation.”
Two years ago, the National Student Union LSVb also tried to found a union in Rotterdam. At the time it didn’t work out. Does it resonate with students more now?
“Two years ago, students’ lives were completely different. Nowadays many more people are having difficulty finding a place to live, and there’s the virus, too. Students really want to see some changes, is what I hear around me. I can tell that they’re much more interested now.”
Why do you think there was no union in Rotterdam up until now?
“I have no idea. I was really surprised when I found out there wasn’t one. This is very much a working-class city, so you’d think it would have a union. But no!”
You previously mentioned the leftist parties GroenLinks, PvdA and the SP. Would your union also welcome, say, students who vote for the conservative liberals of VVD?
“If any VVD voters wish to join the union, I certainly won’t turn them down! Fair is fair, I’m a bit of a leftie myself. At the same time, the #nietmijnschuld campaign attracted CDA voters, too. Not all topics that affect students’ lives have a leftist or rightist slant. Sometimes we all agree on an issue and fight for something from both sides.”
If you want to learn more about the new student union, you can find the newly-to-be-founded STUUR Rotterdam at their stall in the on-campus market during Eureka Week.