England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Protests shut down arms manufacturers linked with Israeli war machine

As the massacre in Gaza resumed on 1 December after a brief ‘pause’, the Israeli state has drastically ramped up its brutal invasion in the South of the Gaza Strip. The estimated death toll has reached a chilling record of over 16,000. 

By Tom Costello and Matt Hirst

Protests around the world have continued. A new campaign has been launched, Workers for a Free Palestine (WFP), which aims at building trade union action to disrupt the war machine. After calls for workers to shut down arms factories across the UK, over 1,000 people on 7 December staged blockades, with the participation and full support of Socialist Alternative. For that day, BAE Systems sites in Lancashire and Glasgow, Eaton Mission Systems in Bournemouth, and L3Harris in Brighton were closed by strong, determined demonstrations. Elsewhere in other towns and cities, local protests staged similar protests to disrupt the arms manufacturers. 

The launch of WFP represents a major step forward for the Palestine solidarity movement. What the likes of Sunak, Starmer and the warmongering establishment fear even more than mass demonstrations in the streets is mass working-class action in the workplaces. If workers on the railways, on the docks and ultimately the arms factories are organised and prepared to strike to stop the making and moving of weapons, this would have a major impact on imperialism’s ability to rain destruction on the Palestinian people.

Unions must now act

Many of the most powerful union actions were themselves inspired by the call from Palestinian trade unions in October to “end all complicity, stop arming Israel”. WFP now has a big opportunity to press the unions in Britain to follow suit and fully take up this call. Unite and GMB, who represent many workers who work in arms production, must in particular take a strong, clear stance in opposition to the blood-soaked arms industry. Motions of solidarity with WFP, which commit to no handling of Israeli weapons, then need to be turned into action where workers in industry and transport follow the example of workers in Italy, Spain, South Africa, Belgium and elsewhere, and refuse to make or move weaponry for Israel. 

Workers in these sectors, if given a lead from the union tops as they should, or more likely led by activists from below as the union officialdom continues to fail to act, could be some of the most essential allies in the anti-war movement. Working class people in Britain have far more in common with the millions of Palestinian people than they do with the bosses, who make obscene levels of profit in times of war, profiting directly from the death of many thousands. Beginning to build support for WFP and to get its demands taken up by the workers’ movement could likewise mean organising regular campaign stalls and leafleting sessions outside all workplaces linked with the Israeli war machine.

Protecting jobs, shutting down the war machine

Selective action by workers to prevent the further arming of the Israeli state is the immediate next step in the anti-war movement. As Socialist Alternative have argued since October, workers internationally have the power to halt the war machine by refusing to do the work which makes it move. Such action also points to how the working class can build a better future, where our jobs are not reliant on an industry designed for the mass slaughter of working people in other countries. 

The argument of some union leaders is that if companies like Elbit and BAE stop producing weapons, workers will lose their jobs. At its most shameful, unions such as GMB have even raised the disgraceful call for the government to increase arms spending on this basis!

At the same time, many workers in the communities surrounding these factories will have genuine concerns about what shutting down production would mean for local employment. Many of these sites provide the sole source of real local employment to many. But socialists say it is not a simple binary choice between the arms companies and unemployment for workers. There is an alternative, but only if our movement fights for it! 

Were, for instance, the unions to demand BAE Systems and Elbit be nationalised, under democratic workers control, without compensation for the millionaires, this would lay the basis for a plan to meet the needs of people and the planet. With a retraining scheme in place guaranteeing well-paid, unionised jobs, the existing skills of workers and technology could be used for genuinely useful purposes.

This kind of massive transformation was put forward by Lucas Aerospace in the 1970s, who, when faced with redundancies and cuts, created the Lucas Plan, which were ideas to create products that were highly innovative, energy saving, and involved green technology. This kind of plan is absolutely necessary given the climate crisis we have begun to live through, and can help stop the lives of thousands of not just Palestinian lives, but the thousands of lives that are being killed around the world every day by rockets and bombs used by imperialist powers in their quest for more profit at the cost of working class lives.

History of workers’ action against war

Though often buried, the working class in Britain has a rich history of international solidarity in the face of war. A shining example from history would include the engineers in East Kilbride, who, seeing the horrors of General Pinochet’s right-wing dictatorship , refused to repair Chilean Air Force parts from 1974-1978. This particular boycott was immortalised in the documentary Nae Pasaran, and is a must watch for those who want to see how workers around the world can play their role in ending war and devastation.

It is only through mass, international action that will see an end to the brutal assault on Gaza. In International Socialist Alternative, we are organisisng globally – including in Israel and in Palestine – for a socialist future of peace and liberation, for the Palestinian people and all the working and oppressed people of the world. Join us! 

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