The great t-shirt offensive

Two weeks ago on November 4, the same day that millions of Americans came out to elect the first African-American President, a smaller, but equally resolute group of students at Warwick staged a protest against the continued presence of the arms trade on our campus, and in our careers fairs.

I continue to find my sense of moral outrage piquing when companies who produce weapons, military vehicles, and components for both of the aforementioned are allowed on to campus. It’s bad enough when the military vans pull up outside the Arts Centre, trying to hook young people into signing up for their uniformed turpitude, but the majority of the arms companies are not in the business of ‘national security’ at all. They make weapons designed to kill, and then have the venal arrogance to push the spurious agenda that they’re somehow a boon to the national economy. When each job in the arms industry in this country carries a £13,000 government subsidy, you know the tax-payer isn’t exactly benefiting.

In total, eighteen arms dealers came to the engineering careers fair. They were in fitting company; myriad investment banks also dotted the Panorama room, furtively leaning on crutches and pretending that despite prevailing circumstances they were actually hiring graduates this year. Those arms companies attending included BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Thales, QinetiQ, and MBDA. The fact I haven’t mentioned the other thirteen in the list is not a form of implicit absolution.

Talks between Weapons out of Warwick and the Careers Service have occasionally been productive, yet there is a fundamental difference in our mindsets which tends to result in protests. It is the stated aim of the Careers Service to provide students with a full range of career opportunities for students. To their credit is the sheer number of careers fairs at Warwick. Alas, part of this dedication to a full array of opportunities means that companies that many consider unethical are invited to come to campus. Investment bankers may be the world’s new favourite people to hate, but the arms trade falls laughably short of being considered an ethical company. And herein lies the problem. Weapons out of Warwick would like to achieve what it says on the tin: remove arms dealers from campus.

The first issue is that these companies do not provide a full and clear account of the activities they engage in. When you advertise your company as dealing in ‘innovation’ and ‘aerospace’ there isn’t much for the brain to work with. The purpose of the November protest was to provide some of the factual information left blank by the arms dealers.

Synchronising taking our tops off to reveal white ‘Weapons out of Warwick’ t-shirts with details of the companies dealings all over them, we proceeded to stand next to our chosen arms dealers, talking to passers by and generally offering the information to those interested. Security removed us within fifteen minutes. Apparently the wrong dress code amounts to a form of protest. I’d better not go up to the investment bankers wearing my shirt emblazoned with the words: ‘tá gráin agam ar Thatcher fós’. Look it up later…

Whilst the protest got some attention, especially the sombre ‘die-in’ that followed the great T-shirt offensive, one can’t help but feel it’s an uphill struggle. The admirable aim of the careers service to provide a breadth of opportunity creates problems over issues of morality, and when the careers service’s own advice on ethical careers includes companies like British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, and Rolls-Royce (part of the arms industry) on its green list (i.e. as ethical companies) you begin to question whether people truly understand the word’s connotations.

There will be more protests to come. Whatever our Students’ Union President’s feelings on the matter of ideological campaigns, Warwick’s students have both power and diversity in the multitude of campaigns in which we engage.

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