Several societies took part in a protest outside Garden Court on Wednesday, in response to the presence of 11 arms companies at the IT, Science and Engineering Career’s Fair. The protest was peaceful and well attended, although students who campaigned inside the fair were eventually removed by University security and the police.
The demonstration was planned and executed jointly by Socialist Students, Green Action and Amnesty International. A spokesperson told the Wessex Scene,
“We’re here to let students know the reality about these companies. They are very good at making themselves look like legitimate businesses, but we’re here to make sure students understand what they’re really about before they sign up to work for them.”
Inside the fair, demonstrators targetted the stalls of BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and AWE (Atomic Weapons Establishment). In the morning, demonstrators leafletted in front of the companies’ stalls, engaging students in conversation about the arms trade. One of these students said,
“BAE are notorious for selling military equipment to over 100 countries worldwide, many of whom are listed in the Foreign Office’s human rights report as major causes for concern. Lockheed Martin are well known for being one of the largest military companies in the world and AWE produce and maintain nuclear weapons. Basically, all these companies profit from war and armed conflict, that’s why they’re being targetted.”
However, following complaints from the companies, two police officers entered the fair and forced the demonstrators to leave. When they argued that they were only exercising their right to freedom of speech, the police responded that the companies had “paid a lot of money to be here”. After this point, students found leafletting or campaigning inside the fair were removed by University security.
The picket on the grass outside Garden Court however was maintained until the fair finished at 3:30. The response from students towards the demonstrators was fairly positive, with many deciding to avoid the arms companies listed on the flyers.
Demonstrators focused on the high number of arms sales made by UK companies to areas of recent major conflict. They also attacked government subsidies for the arms industry, estimated to be in the region of £750 million per year, and the effect of selling arms to poverty stricken countries, who have much more pressing social needs.
SUSU officially opposed the presence of arms companies at the careers fair, in accordance with Union Policy A7.2. This policy is likely to be debated at Union Council on Monday 25th October. They sent a letter to the University complaining about the presence of the companies which can be viewed here along with the University’s response.
To read more about the University’s relationship with BAE Systems click here.