Warwick Students’ Union General Meeting took place on Tuesday 29 November, and saw over 300 students turn up to express their views on a number of proposed motions.
The meeting, which ended around 11pm when quorum (the number of people in attendance for the meeting to be valid – 201) was lost, saw policies debated resulting in continuing the boycott of Bacardi, banning BAE Systems from the Union, and supporting Occupy Warwick.
The emergency motion, brought by Matthew McNeany and David Reed, proposed that Warwick SU should support the Occupy Warwick movement. Since Wednesday 23 November, a group of students have been occupying space between Coventry House and Costcutter in protest against cuts to higher education and higher fees.
“The Union should be supporting the right of the camp to exist,” McNeany stated.
Sam Tracy and Albert Johnson argued that the movement should not be condoned. Whilst they believe that the Union should support democratic protests, they do not believe that they should support this movement because it is on University ground. They were also sceptical that the protest would achieve anything.
Students supporting it criticised government policies that had led to drops to University applications and argued that higher education was a public service not a private good.
There was also opposition from the floor, with several students disapproving of one of the motion items to support the alternative white paper, contributed to vy a range of academics. They argued that the student body should not vote to approve a document that not everyone had read. The motion then went to vote, and was carried by the students.
The next topics discussed were the two opposing motions to Bring Back Bacardi and to affirm the Bacardi boycott dictated by Policy 722. Dave Ramsey and Binita Mehta, argued in favour of Bring Back Bacardi, stating that the decision had taken away student choice, by making a decision on their behalf. The sources used in the Boycott Bacardi policy were thrown into question, and they highlighted the sponsorship money that Bacardi had provided to the Summer Party.
Opposing the motion, Dominic Curran and Aidan Hocking argued that the Bacardi boycott actually had very little effect on students, and that the moral aspect was more important. The majority voted against Bring Back Bacardi which meant the boycott was affirmed. This result was followed by many leaving the room, but the number present still remained above quorum.
The BAE motion was debated next, with those in favour proposing to ban BAE systems from sponsoring societies, sports clubs and Union activities. For the motion were Jack Gould and Jonny Sherwood, who referenced BAE’s alleged “dodgy dealings”, including their supply of weapons to the Saudi military and police.
The opposition, James McIntyre and George Whitworth, argued that BAE systems stopped sales following reports of misuses of their products, and Whitworth also pointed out that “anyone who votes for this policy is voting against the referendum last spring”, which allowed clubs and societies to choose their own sponsors without SU interference.
A procedural motion to take the motion to a referendum was voted down. Proposed amendments to the motion were also opposed by the majority. Sherwood stated that the motion was just about BAE, so was a middle ground between the SU allowing or banning everything. Whitworth accused the motion of being undemocratic. The motion went to the vote and was carried.
The motion for the establishment of a postgraduate association was brought to an immediate vote and passed with no resistance. The motion proposing to support the strikes on Wednesday 30 November by the Trade Union Congress was also quickly carried.
The meeting then moved onto the motion of Warwick SU Against Tuition Fees. There was little debate on this motion, which was voted on and carried quickly. James Entwhistle, who chaired the General Meeting and is also chair of Union Council, stated afterwards that “it’s something we’ve always talked about… the majority of the room were tired of it.”
The meeting regained some energy with the debate over the No Platform motion, which proposed to ban racist and fascist speakers from the SU. Leo Boe defined it as “about defending the right to be free from fear.” Societies Officer, Matt Rogers, opposed the motion, stating that whilst racist and facist speakers were obviously wrong, he thought it was important for the student body to challenge these opinions rather than ignore them. He also referenced a spring referendum which had previously voted against this idea.
Support for the motion included ideas about campus being a safe space for all students, which could be threatened by the presence of these speakers. The opposition embraced the idea of free speech and universities being an important forum for debate. A procedural motion passed by a narrow margin to take the motion to a vote, which failed to carry with 70 for and 89 against.
Chris Luck, said that “whilst I find it personally frustrating that we do discuss the same issues year on year, I don’t think it’s right to stop that… Student [opinions] can change. If these are the issues that students are most passionate about, it’s right that we discuss them.”
The Enhancing Education Quality motion was carried quickly, mostly unopposed, although the motion was amended to request a minimum of twelve contact hours instead of ten.
Before the next motion, the meeting became on quorate, so no one else could leave without the meeting ending, and a procedural motion to end the meeting was voted down. The Democratic Union of Students motion was debated next, proposing a democratic rival to the NUS, to put pressure on them to perform better. The opposition questioned the lack of ideas associated with the proposed Union and stated that it was actually less democratic. The motion failed to carry after little debate.
The final motion, Increasing Freedom in Union Elections, was not discussed due to the number of people in the room falling below quorum, and ending the meeting. This was debated yesterday at Union Council.
Luck said “It was the first quorate General Meeting for quite some time. It’s the first time that we’ve live broadcast it. It was fantastic to see so many students engaged.”
SU President Leo Boe noted: “For me, democracy and democratic expression is more than just voting, it is about discussion with students, and allowing them to contribute not only to the discussion but to policies as well.”