Wednesday night, students protesting the University’s deep ties with arms companies occupied the Margaret Fell building, which contains the largest lecture theatre on campus with a capacity of 400 people.
Earlier this year, Lancaster University signed a strategic agreement with BAE Systems, Europe’s largest arms manufacturer, to share research. In 2021, Lancaster University announced that, together with Cumbria University, they would be opening a new campus for college students in Barrow-in-Furness, working closely with BAE Systems. In the same year, they announced that they would be screening out arms trade investments. Despite this, they continue to strengthen their ties with companies complicit in war crimes, funnelling students into careers with arms companies through careers fairs and graduate schemes.
BAE Systems supplies arms to Saudi Arabia, Israel and other regimes complicit in war crimes. In the last five years, BAE Systems has sold £15 billion worth of arms and services to Saudi Arabia. These weapons have been central to Saudi’s deadly attacks in the ongoing war in Yemen, which has killed thousands of people and created what the UN calls “the worst humanitarian disaster in the world”. They have also committed war crimes, such as the deliberate starvation of Yemeni people as a weapon of war. BAE Systems also works with Lockheed Martin to produce the American F-35 stealth combat aircrafts, which have been used by the Israeli military against civilians in occupied Palestine to uphold apartheid.
This occupation follows multiple actions at other universities across the UK. In October, a group of students occupied the University of Sheffield’s flagship engineering building to demand that the University cuts ties with arms companies. There have also been protests disrupting arms companies at careers fairs in the Universities of Warwick, Leeds, Nottingham and Bristol. This seemingly spontaneous national wave of action hints at growing discontent among students at their Universities’ complicity in militarisation.
The occupiers are standing in solidarity with staff and are calling on the University to actively support the demands of the University and College Union (UCU), which represents staff on campus. The UCU is currently in a national dispute over pay, conditions, student experience and job security.
Demilitarise Lancaster, the group who are claiming responsibility for this action, is a student campaign which seeks to see the end of Lancaster University’s relationships with arms companies. They are following in the footsteps of countless previous campaigns at the University for nearly two decades to dismantle these ties, yet they still remain. Therefore, the occupiers say they have been left with no choice but to take this disruptive direct action. In October, they disrupted the annual careers fair and a workshop by BAE Systems. Earlier this month they organised multiple demonstrations, public events and disrupted a talk by Forsberg, a local company which develops navigational technology for the British Army.
One of the occupiers, who wished to remain anonymous, said:
“The University is clearly aware of how immoral and unjustifiable the arms trade is, which is why they have announced they are divesting from arms companies. To then be expanding their relationships with these same companies in spite of their divestment, is completely two-faced and hypocritical. The University must sever all ties, not just investment.
Another occupier explained:
“We feel like we have no choice but to take this direct action, given the scale of the University’s complicity with war crimes. As students of the university, we have a responsibility to fight for an institution where staff and students are treated with dignity, and where our tuition fees are not used to uphold the oppressive system of violent, global imperialism. Solidarity with striking staff, and solidarity with Yemen and Palestine!”
The students demand that the University cancel all contracts and collaboration with arms companies, refuse to take any more funding from them, and terminate their attendance at careers fairs and careers talks. Furthermore, they are also calling on the University to support the UCU demands, and for University management to meet with the occupiers about how to take their demands forward.
They say that they currently have no plans to leave, and invite fellow students to join them for workshops and to engage with the campaign.