Warwick’s Students’ Union has been politically active both on a national scale and in the organisation of its activities and physical presence on campus. Here, eight interviewees describe their political activities as students.
Ivor Gaber was a student of History and Politics in 1967 and remembers the politically-motivated beginnings of the Union. “My social life was football, the Anti-racism Society, politics, the Socialist Society, and the Students’ Union. We eventually made demands for a staff and student building, we wanted it formalised, because Rootes Hall was administered by the University and there were aspects of it we were very unhappy with.”
Phil Woodruff recalls the reasoning behind the attempts to get a Students’ Union. ”Well, I guess it was the idea that the students should have a building of their own that they run themselves and that’s for the whole university.”
Heather Humphries was a postgraduate student of Maths from 1974-77. “I remember walking onto the main site and being asked to join the big sit-ins about housing charges and rent increases and explaining that I didn’t live in university housing and being assured I’d still be welcome. But being a postgraduate, you were isolated a bit. As now, postgraduates were expected to supervise undergraduates and so you did get to talk to them and hear what they were doing, so you were aware of the politics going on. And Germaine Greer was here and people like that.”
Karen Fill describes the Union of 1975 as “beery and intense”. “Not long before I came there had been the protests, sit ins [mentioned above]. Several of the postgrads [at the time] had been involved, and there was still a lingering air of dissent and revolutions. There were some very serious discussions about the ways of the world. I went to a lot of the debates.”
Stella Fletcher remembers her political contributions at Warwick. “I voted each year in the Students’ Union elections and it was rather clear each year who you were supposed to vote for. There were groups who stood as a group or committee, called a slate, with X as president, Y as treasurer and Z as secretary. And there was always a sensible group, not politically aligned and you were supposed to vote for them. The people you would not vote for were the loony right.”
Stephen Lake studied Politics at Warwick from 1988 to 1992. “All the engagement with politics happened through the Union, not through the course. We drove five and a half hours up to Glasgow for an anti-poll tax demo, there was a vociferous Socialist Worker Party who went up and got stuck in, but I think we were lucky not to be where it all kicked off. We went up to Trafalgar Square when there was the Poll Tax riot in 1990. Campus politics was very interesting, the Students’ Union was very Labour-dominated. In the Union, bars were named after South African activists, “Harvey’s” was named after Harvey Milk, so it was very political and the heart of campus had a very political flavour, which just seems to have vanished.”
Flo Swann ran for Events officer on the Band Soc exec committee. “I hadn’t been involved with student politics at all before, and I came a bit of a cropper. As well as doing this ridiculous hustings where we dressed up and played Adam Ant songs, they would also ask you political questions. I remember someone asking ‘How do you feel about the IRA?’ I said, ‘I think people feel very different about it, one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s guerrilla terrorist’. And I stand by that. And I got hissed of stage! And all the Socialist Workers crowded round me and patted my back, but I didn’t know who any of them were! That was quite scary and I think people really hated me for that.”
Current Sociology PhD student Sophie Rees is involved in student activism at Warwick and was President of the Anti-Sexism Society in her second year. “In first year I produced a production of the Vagina Monologues which was really awesome, I’d never been involved in anything like that before. We raised money for a local rape-crisis centre and an international organisation helping victims of sexual violence. I’ve been to some Warwick Anti-Racism society events too. I also wrote for Warwick Dissident, an old left-wing politics ‘zine, which stopped production, but then some students brought it back. I think the profile and consciousness of feminism in general in Britain is being raised…and in the Union, some of the Sabbs [Sabatical Officers] really do care about these issues.”
Listen to May's accompanying podcast here for more details of Warwick's student activities, societies and politics, and stay tuned for next month’s instalment on VIPs on campus.
Click here to listen to the full interviews featured in the blog (and podcast). Browse the page by searching for a particular participant in the search bar, or scrolling through the alphabetical list.