Whenever the idea of defence jobs conversion is advanced, we are told it would be far too complicated, would involve massive job losses, and is just not viable. The idea is always kicked into the long grass. But as Sam Mason from PCS says, ‘Given the choice, I’m sure most workers would rather be doing healthy and socially productive jobs’.
With Covid-19 and PPE, we now have a stunning example of what can be achieved when the political will and overwhelming public interest come into play.
From April 2020, an Airbus factory in North Wales which normally manufactures aircraft wings, instead turned to producing thousands of government-approved hospital ventilators for Covid-19 sufferers. What is not acknowledged is the huge part the 400 workers and trade union organisations have played. They are very well-organised, highly skilled and committed to making production as speedy and efficient as possible.
The Unite convenor cited in particular the role that the Health and Safety reps played, pre-empting the problems of turning the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (part of Airbus) into an adapted sterile environment for ventilator components – and solving them in advance.
“Without the union, it would have been chaos; lots of problems without any procedure to resolve them. We’ve built up a tried and tested organisation and established procedures for solving them… we’re able to to pre-empt problems and solve them in advance.” (Unite convenor, Airbus.)
CND works with many trade union groups to achieve our shared goal of scrapping nuclear weapons, and the unions are an important part of the fight against nuclear weapons and Trident replacement, and in support of defence job diversification. We now know that with the political will and with workers and unions involved, diversification is both possible and desirable.
Engineers in the industry have ethical decisions to make about the uses their expertise is put to – see this article by Prof. Roger Orpwood, who spent his career as a design engineer in the aerospace industry as well as in medical engineering and academia. He was Director of the Bath Institute of Medical engineering.