Starbucks debate at the GM

At the Guild General Meeting on 8th November, one of the most hotly contested motions was put forward to prevent the Guild from looking into or agreeing to open a Starbucks in the Guild Building. Here, Kieran Ford, who proposed the motion explains why it’s not all over and Edd Cullen responds…

“We may have lost the battle, but we’ll win the war”

KIERAN FORD makes the case for the ban

WE lost the vote. By five votes. In a room of over two hundred people, what is clear in the first instance is that there is no clear mandate from the student body that a Starbucks would be popular. If the Guild President’s mystical predictions of financial stability for the Guild are to come true,  it needs to be popular to be successful.

I remain confident that we will not have a Starbucks in our Guild in the years to come. I remain confident of this for two reasons. One, I believe that there is enough opposition to it to make such a controversial proposition untenable. Two, I believe that it is such a foolish idea that those who remain faithful to a Starbucks-fuelled future can be turned around.

Starbucks would be extraordinarily dangerous for our union. We are a political union – something on which I disagree with other members of the Guild Executive about. I believe we are political, not in the sense that we propose a particular party line, but we are political in the sense that we fight for students. We fight for students in numerous ways. A lot of it does not look like fighting, but it is. And that fighting is political. We stand up for students when they need to appeal to their departments over unfair decisions, when they need counselling support, or when they want to protest on a national scale and need facilitating to do so. We stand up for students. Or at least that’s what we should do.

Instead, much of the Guild Exec seems focused on transforming the Guild into a service provider. This is dangerous. Very dangerous. In the current climate where students are being asked to pay thousands of pounds for their education because it is a ‘decent transaction’ in that we ‘profit’ later because we are essentially ‘buying our education’, to transform the building that should be fighting against this wave of consumerism which is turning us into a consumerist haven is antithetical to the term ‘union of students.’

Ben articulated in the General Meeting in early November that having a Starbucks could improve the way that students engage with the Guild. This could not be further from the truth. Students walk into the union now and see a shop, a hairdressers, cake sales, DVD sales, baguette sales, booze on sale, union tickets on sale, a job centre and nothing else. Rarely does anyone make it to the back of the building where the fighting, not the buying happens. To add to the consumerism a Starbucks (of all the consumerist images to choose from…) would seal the deal. Students would come to the union, spend money and leave.

But students are better than that. 48.7% of the GM stood up and said they are better than that. I believe that more than that outside of the GM are also better than that. We need to fight now. We need to fight to save our ability as a union to fight. We have not lost the fight, the fight has simply become more crucial. Let’s not lose sight of what it means to be a student.


I don’t care much either way, but don’t try to ban us from having Starbucks”

For the opposition, EDD CULLEN

THERE was a general meeting in the Union on the 7th of November to discuss whether we should allow a Starbucks in our Union. ‘‘OUR UNION? A STARBUCKS?’’ would have been the reaction I’d had if I’d have been as opinionated and involved as I apparently should have been. From what I gathered from that meeting though, we’re more concerned as to who chairs the meetings and whether the notes for it had been translated into Welsh or not. I accept this is a core part of Guild policy, and University policy at that, but for a meeting which was geared towards the Starbucks debate, the bickering that ensued over that trumped anything seen from either side of the coffee counter.

I’m going to go wildly out there and say I’m for a Starbucks, simply because I have been forced to choose a side. Sure, I could have abstained from the vote, but to not vote in what could have been a truly one sided affair would have been ridiculous. The majority of students who went to the GM in light of the Starbucks issue were inevitably against it; nobody marches on Parliament to say “yes, I agree with what you’re doing” so why march up to the Union to say “sure… Starbucks is fine” when you could be in Harry’s buying your third Gaa? Before anybody shouts “hypocrite”, I had to be there, but only because the rest of my Society committee couldn’t go for a completely legitimate reason, or were already halfway through their third Gaa.

And so it comes to the arguments. For: It’s Starbucks! They make good Coffee. Against: It’s Starbucks! They kill Ethiopian farmers. …Okay, granted, the against is looking good here, or as good as taking advantage of coffee farmers to the tune of $358.5b a quarter can be. Thankfully, as I find myself backed into this corner filled with dying coffee farmers bodies googling ‘Starbucks net profit’, I find more evidence in favour of Starbucks than against it, and the classic notion of Starbucks being all about the brand and not about the land in which its most precious commodity grows is nothing more than the bull fertiliser that’s used to grow it. The facts are these: Starbucks is the world’s largest purchaser of fair-trade coffee, and has increased the amount of fair-trade coffee being sold worldwide by 18%.

The criticisms of its lack of recycling and abuse of water I found are unfounded since 2009, where it held its hands up, admitted wrongdoing and implemented efficient, working programmes for both issues. The final reason against Starbucks I found, that “McDonalds coffee tastes better anyway”, was written directly above a link to an article published by the same author entitled “15 reasons not to go to McDonalds”. Well done hippies, you’ve done it again.

Don’t get me wrong. Starbucks do take liberties. They set up stores in towns and cities and buy out land around it, simply so another coffee chain can’t set up shop. They still don’t serve only fair-trade coffee and apparently their workforce is one of the unhappiest around.

Sadly, after trawling through all these completely valid points, I’m still not completely in favour of one or the other. I think it’s just that I’m against us campaigning against it. I don’t mind people campaigning against it, I like that people still have the fight in them for this sort of thing but if I worked in Starbucks and hated it, I’d just wait until the end of my work day, have a Gaa and take it out on my friends like everybody else, but when our campaigner stated that he’d be calling for a boycott of Coca-Cola and Pepsi in the Union as well, I was amazed. There’s only so much you can ask of students. Tell us we’ll have to carry on drinking average Wicked Coffee from a machine that breaks down more than Cheryl Cole in an old VW Beetle and we can just about handle it, but take away real coke and I’m literally boycotting everything you ever do, even if you fix that machine yourself.