Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is one of the unions affiliated to CND. Its General Secretary Mark Serwotka writes for CND.
The moral imperative to rid our country of weapons of mass destruction coexists with the ethical necessity of protecting our planet, growing a sustainable economy and spreading more equally the proceeds of that growth.
Sadly the debate around Trident is too often debased, and we are offered the through-the-looking-glass scenario that the ‘extremist’ is the leader who says he could never push the nuclear button. Against this background, it has been disappointing to see some in the unions dismissing out of hand the prospects for diversification.
There is an unarguable need for major investment in socially productive industries and infrastructure, not to mention the as yet uncertain hi-tech demands of a future economy. Workforces, and their unions, are best placed to identify how their skills and the technology they use can be adapted for more useful and ethical purposes.
Essential features of our economy are currently suffering: more than 1.2 million households languish on local authority housing waiting lists, while homebuilding consistently falls woefully short; we lag behind other countries on renewable energy; and the sick joke that is our privatised rail network makes British Rail seem a model of efficiency and popularity.
This is not just about money, it’s about a strategic government committing to development and improvement, harnessing the expertise of skilled workforces. Take renewables – the future will not just require us to generate more green energy, but also use it to power new technologies such as smart appliances in our homes, greener ways of heating and powering buildings, and cleaner forms of private and public transport.
Some areas of the country that rely heavily on Trident, such as Barrow in Cumbria and Devonport in the south west, also suffer from higher than average unemployment. It is essential that the transition from maintenance of nuclear weapons not only protects livelihoods and skills, but improves them. We must never repeat the deliberate de-industrialisation policies of the Tories in the 1980s and our union will never support any policy that leads to our members, or those of other unions, losing their jobs.
Decommissioning these weapons will take years. During the Labour leadership election campaign, Jeremy Corbyn pledged a government he led in 2020 would immediately start to plan with communities, workforces, unions and businesses to diversify work as part of a new industrial strategy, backed by a national investment bank to direct funding for manufacturing, infrastructure, science and engineering.
This kind of approach is crucial, but will be impossible if name-calling continues to drive our public debate. We need to be mature, thoughtful and collaborative – watchwords of the union movement – to create a safe, sustainable and peaceful future for the next generation and the ones to come.