Attempts by the arms giant BAE Systems to recruit graduates to their business were met by a series of forceful but peaceful protests at a major careers fair in central London yesterday afternoon (19 October).
Around fifteen protesters were forcibly removed from the Guardian London Graduate Fair after drawing attention to BAE's record of arming regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. They said that visitors to the event had been given only BAE's side of the story.
Recent weeks have seen a series of protests at careers fairs over the presence of arms companies, although this is one of the largest events so far to come in for criticism.
Abi Haque of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said that she was encouraged to see how many students and graduates at the fair were receptive to CAAT's message.
The campaigners included students, graduates, CAAT supporters, Quakers and Christian peace activists.
One group lay down in front of the BAE stand, while some handed out leaflets and others stood up in a presentation given by BAE staff and calmly made statements about the company's business. The activists emphasise that all their actions were strictly nonviolent.
Security guards were accused of heavy-handedness after immediately swooping on the protest in front of the BAE stand and grabbing hold of the demonstrators. Christian activist Anna Clark was dragged away by her arms, while at least one other protester was pulled by the feet.
Police and security staff also took hold of the campaigners who had interrupted the presentation and led them out of the building. The activists reported that the police had behaved far more reasonably and calmly than the security guards.
“BAE has no place in educational arenas, unless they are willing to tell the truth about what they are and how they operate,” said Sarah, a student at King's College London.
Hilary Aked, who interrupted the presentation, told Ekklesia that she was motivated by her recent work in Palestine. She pointed out that BAE sell weapons parts to Israeli forces.
“I can see for myself the effects of Israeli military actions, having just returned from Palestine,” she explained, “They're using expensive military equipment to violently suppress peaceful protests”.
Several campaigners reported that this was their first experience of direct action, but they felt sufficiently strongly about the issue to take this step. Hannah Brock, a Quaker, explained, “I was glad to do something public in support of a campaign that makes people contemplate who they give their skills to”.
Kathleen Bright of London told Ekklesia, “It was my first time doing this kind of action and it made me want to do it again”.
She said that she was “shocked” by the immediately aggressive reaction of the security staff, but had felt supported by the care the campaigners demonstrated for each other.
The Guardian newspaper is now under pressure not to allow arms companies to attend future careers fairs. Ironically, the Guardian's own investigative journalism has played a major role in highlighting the most controversial aspects of BAE's work.
BAE has faced recent allegations of corruption in five continents and has been accused of exercising undue influence within the UK government. Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook wrote in his diaries that BAE's chairman had “the key to the garden door at Number Ten”.