Tom Greenwood and Beth Smith reflect upon an excellent year of student campaigning, and outline the ways in which students and staff can get involved in the year ahead.
Arms companies need universities and they need university students. Universities produce the skilled graduates that the industry requires and undertake research necessary for technological developments. Some universities even invest money in the arms industry, often without the knowledge or approval of their students or staff.
This year, students all over the UK have taken action to show arms companies that they are not welcome at their universities. By kicking arms companies off our campuses, we have the power to hit them where it hurts!
At the London Graduate Fair in Autumn 2011, activists peacefully protested the BAE Systems stall. We were there to raise awareness about the devastation caused by BAE products across the world and to protest the invitation of this company by the London Graduate Fair, something they did not appreciate as they proceeded to throw us out of the building!
In Bristol, student activists protested the invitation of Barclays Capital, a leading investor in the arms trade, to their careers fair by staging a ‘die-in’ at their stall. And students set up their own miniature ‘arms fair’ outside Durham’s Spring careers event to provide information about the work of the arms companies present. Protests have also been seen in Warwick, Nottingham, Lancaster and other universities.
At this month’s BAE Systems AGM, CAAT supporters challenged board members about the damaging nature of their work; producing the tools of repression in places like Bahrain and wasting valuable skills on an industry that only has negative effects on society. Interestingly enough, the Chair of BAE Systems sought to defend the organisation by highlighting its ‘support’ for the education system in the UK, despite this ‘support’ being self-interested!
Taking the campaign forward
If you’re a student or member of staff at a university, then now’s the time to get involved! Careers fairs are often early on in the academic year (around October time), so it’s important to hit the ground running after the summer holidays!
Visit the CAAT Universities website to find out if there’s a group at your university. If not, just gather a few friends, pull together some props and fancy dress, and head down to your university careers fair to tell arms companies they’re not welcome on your campus. We can help you to find out which companies are arms companies and to research their practices. We have a very useful guide to disrupting arms company recruitment on campuses which contains loads of creative ideas for protesting at careers fairs and our news page has lots of examples of past student actions to inspire you!
If you’re an engineer or a physicist, fed up with only being presented arms companies as career options, then check out Scientists for Global Responsibility. They are a fantastic organisation and on their website they have a list of ethical employers.
If you’re interested in whether your university invests in arms companies, then you can put in a Freedom of Information request to find out. Find out how, and read our template letters, on the CAAT Universities website. A number of universities, including SOAS and St Andrews, have had successful divestment campaigns.
For information about your university and the arms trade, or for help with campaigning, please get in touch. We look forward to hearing from you!