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February 17, 2009

Letter to the Boar

Letter published in the Boar 10/2/09

Dear Sir,
We have become concerned this year over our Student Union President’s flagrant disregard for Union Council. Public attacks on Council in your newspaper, in which he has denounced Council as “irresponsible” and not attempting to represent students’ views, are insulting. We find his public criticism of Union policy, which he is mandated to enforce, damaging to trust in our Union’s democratic processes. Debate within Union Council and before policies are enacted is very healthy. However, demonising Union councillors for decisions made with which he disagrees, and which he is expected to uphold is only likely to undermine the Union’s ability to function.
We would also like to express our dismay that he saw fit to act as a judge in a talent contest instead of attending Union Council for the full duration. Despite his vigorous exhortations in the Boar against a ban on McDonalds advertising, he manifestly saw little value in voicing such arguments in Council.
We hope our President will, in future, attend Council for its entire duration and make his case there rather than simply in the Boar the following week.
Yours sincerely
Andrew Rosser, Union Councillor
Barnaby Pace, Union Councillor
Chris Rossdale, Union Councillor
Dave Steele, Lifelong Learning Officer
Hannah Smith, Union Councillor
Jack Ashton, Student with Disabilities Campaigns Officer
James Hilsdon, LGBTUA+ Campaigns Officer
Jess Raw, Environment Campaigns Officer
Lorna Russell, Union Councillor
Puneet Dhaliwal, Welfare Committee Chair
Sam Glace, Union Councillor
Sumaiya Khaku, Academic Representation Forum Coordinator
Sami Wannell, Executive Committee Officer
Sarah Reader, Ethics and Social Justice Campaigns Officer
Tommy Precious, Union Councillor


Union Council Voting Record

As a result of the same problems being raised year after year with not enough students being aware of Union Council and the decisions they make, I have attempted to put together my voting record. I hope that the 4th year students who I represent on council will have a look (as can anyone else who is interested) and give me any feedback they would like. Obviously I can’t agree with everyone and its simply not possible to survey and poll all the 4th years in advance of every vote, but I hope that my opinions represent those of many students. Also a system of noting voting patterns could be useful for those seeking re-election or election to an officer role.

This voting record is accurate to my knowledge, I have not included the occasional vote that I cannot remember my position on (sometimes they get quite complicated!). Feel free to comment. I have also noted when I have proposed or seconded policies (sponsored policy). This record is roughly modelled on the information you can find on your MPs at theyworkforyou.com. The votes are in chronological order. Please also apologies that I have only include the title of each motion, sometimes the title doesn’t fully explain the policy and may even be misleading (for example “Discrimination in the National Blood Service” is about campaigning against discrimination in the national blood service).

1st Council 2008-2009
Voted to take Freshers/ Induction week to referendum
Voted for Freshers accomodation
Voted against NUS reform
Voted for Opposing NUS reform
Voted against Breaking World Records
Voted against Student Fees
Voted for Sabbatical Officers Holding Positions of Responsibility in the union
Voted for Cannabis in University Halls of Residence
Voted for Union Independence
Voted for Multi Faith Working Group
Voted for Themed Weeks
Voted for Adding a 4th warwick sport member
Voted to lapse Renaming the MSAGI Campaigns Officer to LGBTUA+ Campaigns Officer
Voted to lapse Governance Reform
Voted to lapse Sponsorship for Union Counci
Voted to agree amendment to Steering Group Remit.

2nd Council 2008-2009
Voted for Adherence of Warwick NUS Delegates to Warwick Policy
Voted for GM foods
Voted for Smoke and Alcohol Free-Space in the Union
Sponsored and Voted for Academics Spying on Muslim Students
Voted against amendment 2 to RAG cloakroom
Voted for Womens Committee
Voted for Institute of Education Representative
Voted to lapse Oriental Food Outlet

3rd Council 2008-2009
Voted for Promoting Union Democracy
Sponsored and voted for Campaigning Against ID Cards
Sponsored and voted for Refusal of Oil Company Advertising and Sponsorship
Voted for Associate Membership of Societies Federation
Sponsored and voted for Condemnation of Delegates to NUS Extraordinary Conference
Voted for Ratification of the Appointment of the Board of Trustees

4th Council 2008-2009
Voted against Amendment to Policy 324 Adherence of Warwick NUS Delegates to Warwick Policy
Voted for This Union Shall Not Ban Books
Voted for Campaign Against the BNP
Voted for Specialist Food Provision
Voted for Access to the University Experience
Voted against Supporting NUS Reform and Re-engaging with NUS
Voted for Reaffirming Our Support for Liberation in NUS
Voted for Lifelong Honorary Membership for Shakeel Padamsey
Voted for Wednesday Afternoons
Voted for McDonalds
Voted for Discrimination in the National Blood Service
Voted for Sensible Drinking
Voted for Testicular Cancer
Voted for Supporting Temporarily Withdrawn Students
Asked a question to the president: What progress have you made in responding to policy mandates in writing letters and lobbying, and can you publish these actions on the website?
Stuart Thomson – I am meeting the VC in a couple of weeks and will talk about ID cards. A lot of the letters. I have not got around to writing all the letters yet.
Sami Wannell – I am working with Felix Faltin and Pidge on a policy review system, based on a traffic light system, red – outstanding, amber – ongoing, green – completed. This will be placed on the Website.
Michael Jones – I am also working with Pidge on specific sections of the website relating to particular policies that concern campaigns, what is happening for those campaigns i.e. the ID Card demonstration.

5th Council 2008-2009
Voted for Feedback on Work
Sponsored and voted for Student fees
Sponsored and voted for Amendment to Campaign Against the Arms Trade
Voted for Amendment One World Week
Voted for Ratification to the board of trustees
Asked a question to the president: What progress have you made in responding to policy mandates in writing letters for Oil Companies, Academics Spying on Students and ID cards. Also could these letters be posted on the Union website.
The president responded that he had written the Oil company letters but not the others. The executive committee officers said that they will work on putting the letters on the union website


February 02, 2009

Sit in Success

Writing about web page http://www.warwicksolidaritysitin.wordpress.com

Sit in Success
By Barnaby Pace
On the 12th of January a group of students at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) in London occupied a gallery suite. They were protesting the Israeli invasion of Gaza and the use of the gallery by the Ministry of Defence to recruit and display what the students saw as a sanitised one sided view of war. The occupation was peaceful, with the space reclaimed for teach-ins, lectures, workshops and exhibits. The SOAS occupation succeeded after two days, with the military no longer being allowed to use the room for free, or without consulting the students union in advance and the student occupation being able to use the space for further talks and exhibits for free. This action spurred students all over the country into action and inspired a movement.

In the wake of SOAS’s actions a wave of further occupations occurred. Nineteen have so far occurred at the time of writing, with occupations in SOAS, LSE, Warwick, Kings, Sussex, Oxford, Cambridge, Essex, Nottingham, Birmingham, Leeds, Queen Mary, Newcastle, Sheffield Hallam, Kingston, Salford, Bristol, Manchester Met and Bradford. The occupations and sit ins varied in their demands, in their stances on the Gaza conflict and their successes and failings, but student occupations on this scale have not occurred in decades.

I was fortunate to be involved in the Warwick Solidarity Sit In. We had our ups and downs, had moments of doubt, pain and anger but also experienced the joys of learning, reaching out and meeting beautiful new people and hoped that our actions could make a difference and change the world in some small way.

The Warwick Solidarity Sit in began on Wednesday 21st of January 2009, with a group of students walking into a lecture theatre, maybe just like they might on any other day. But these students had a plan, they saw the issues around them, a humanitarian crisis and a university not helping but being complicit in that disaster. Some students had known about the University’s links with the arms trade before; £2 million in researching military projects, promoting arms companies at careers events and refusing to exclude investing University funds in arms companies. It was known that many of the arms companies that the University was helping were selling arms to Israel among their many other clients of tarnished reputation. They saw that because of this their University was in complicit in the death, destruction and suffering they had seen in Israel and Palestine.

The students saw that there was too much variation in their opinions on the conflict to give a definitive position, but they found three defining principles that they could define their action by. Peace, Humanitarianism and the Right to Education, these basic statements informed everything that the sit in group did. The sit in was simple; stay in the room, educate people about the conflict and the issues, express our solidarity with other groups and those suffering in the middle east and try and persuade that University authorities to meet the demands. The group invited speakers, ran workshops and screened films and over time the group grew and evolved. People who had never taken part in a demonstration or a march before took an interest and came along. The Warwick Sit In gathered support, from students simply bringing packets of biscuits and their company, Student Union Sabbatical Officers giving advice, many messages of support being sent by student groups, trade unions, Political parties, academics and individuals from all over the world. The groups enjoyed support from such well known names as Tony Benn, Noam Chomsky, Vandana Shiva, Avi Shlaim and Peter Tatchell. The group put on talks from among many others, the CEO of Greenpeace International Gerd Leipold, founder of the Corner House NGO Nick Hildyard and local restaurant owner Manal Timraz. Possibly the most striking and best of all the speakers was Manal, a Palestinian refugee, former UN aid worker and somebody who has lost family in the recent Gaza conflict. It was incredibly powerful to hear her speak about the innate value of life and how we must look beyond the small differences between people but see every human being as a person with dreams, ambitions and a life to live. When you think about each individual whose life has been destroyed by war, not just the statistic, you are obligated to act to prevent any further suffering that you can.

The group worked day by day, working against accusations of being disruptive, due to the University moving lectures, against the group’s wishes, to other rooms around the campus. They worked against accusations of being aggressive, made by students who had never visited the space and taken time to visit the space where they would have been welcomed. They worked against accusations of partisanship or anti-Semitism for criticising Israel over other horrors in the world. This was probably the most painful accusation to students many of whom spend much of their time campaigning against the problems in the world, whether through anti-arms groups, anti-racism campaigns, amnesty groups and other campaigning groups. The students tackled these problems the only way that they could, by being as welcoming as possible to all, by laying out ground rules that allowed for free speech and fair discussion and prohibited any aggression, by helping students carry on their studies as free of disruption as possible and by taking all decisions using consensus methods and encouraging everybody to participate.

The sit in succeeded after nine days, after much publicity, negotiations with the university and using all the skills and resources available. The university had agreed to publish a public statement and sit down and negotiate seriously many of the demands. The group called an emergency general meeting of the Students’ Union. With only two days notice, more students attended than at any Students’ Union meeting in over a decade. Nearly four hundred students arrived, debated and celebrated the renaissance of student democracy. The sit in won the support of over 83% of students, which provided the sit in with a huge student mandate. The group is now continuing campaigning for the University to help in sending spare textbooks and computer equipment to schools and universities destroyed, to have the University support a series of high profile debates on the Israel-Palestine conflict and for the University to end its relations with arms companies that profit from the death and destruction in the world.

Despite these successes the struggle and campaign is not over, the university must still acquiesce to the demands, many students still do not know enough and there is still pain and suffering in the world and these must be worked against. Even though these aims are not yet fulfilled, the sit in campaign has succeeded in forging a movement, making new friends and in some small way helping deal with the problems in our world.


November 04, 2008

Letter to the Warwick Boar

Published in the Warwick Boar 4/11/08

Dear Editor,

“Our role is to facilitate not dictate debates, the reason being that many of our students have differing opinions. I will make no apologies for my Warwick focus…Gone are the days when we should be prioritising ideological campaigns trying to achieve world peace or trying to bring down capitalism. This year what we want is a focus on ourselves…”

I’m sure we speak for a large number of students here at Warwick in expressing our annoyance at comments made by our Students’ Union President in last weeks edition of the Boar.

Tommo’s article painted a truly dismal picture of the potential for student campaigns both on campus here at Warwick and on an international scale. To admit defeat is to be entirely ignorant of the multitude of successful student campaigns that have been led in the past and are still very much active today in pushing for social change worldwide. Take for example the student boycott of Barclays in 1986 for financially supporting the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Barclays was forced to pull out of the country after the boycott which helped lead to the destabilisation of the Apartheid regime and their eventual downfall. Other examples include the Vietnam War, Tiananmen Square and high-profile student protests in France in 2002, 2005 and last year. The issues that students are campaigning on today are no less important than they were in ’68 but we must tackle the climate of student apathy in order to make today’s campaigns as successful and wide-reaching as they were then.

Although it is undoubtedly true that a large proportion of the student population will spend their years at Warwick caring about little more than the price of a pint, is this really something that their union should be encouraging? We are encouraged to ‘get involved’ with union decision-making and we are often reminded that the Union is ‘more than just a nightclub’, yet how do Tommo’s comments promote this in any way, beyond limited internal policies on Freshers and Accommodation.
It is also true that there is a range of diverse opinions on campus, and lively debate involving all sides is hugely important, but do we want to be dictated to by the apathetic? The president of the Student’s Union has a responsibility to draw students’ attention to issues of national and international importance; they are not only there to facilitate debate but to lead it, especially where the Union democratic bodies have decided to take a stance on issues.

Students are concerned about issues outside the Warwick bubble and the Student’s Union is a body which can facilitate and act on behalf of these concerns. With 26 registered campaigning societies in the Union, support at all levels is vital, otherwise we may find that policies banning unethical companies such as ExxonMobil, Nestle and Arms Companies are gradually rolled-back to leave our Students’ Union with the bare bones of a stance on anything at all. The body of Union policy on campaigns is testament to the history of active Warwick campaigners who recognise that the Union can make a difference on issues outside the bubble.

A final point that is crucial to make here is that not all student-led campaigns will achieve their aims within a year. This may be hard for someone who is elected into a year-long term at the Union to accept but it is important to look at the big picture, the long-term. Big campaigns will take a long time but their effects will be worth the effort in the long run.

Sincerely,
Hannah Smith and Barnaby Pace


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