Bad news this week as TUC Congress narrowly voted to overturn its progressive defence diversification strategy and back increased military spending. CND was active at the Congress to put the case for ‘Wages not Weapons’. CND Vice-Chair Sophie Bolt was part of the CND delegation and shares the report below. If you are active in a trade union and want to help CND build its presence there, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find a trade union affiliation motion here.
“Despite a close vote with passionate speeches against, TUC yesterday overturned its progressive 2017 policy on the diversification of defence jobs.
The motion, backed by the GMB, Prison Officers Association, Prospect and supported by Unite and teaching unions NASUWT and NAHT, rightly argued that ‘rebuilding a modern, high-tech, manufacturing sector’ will ‘restore and redistribute wealth to ensure a more equal society for all workers’. Yet its conclusion was to base a strategy to rebuild manufacturing solely on increased defence spending and procurement.
Such a strategy – as pursued by successive governments – has resulted in an acceleration of the arms race, in which British-made weapons are killing hundreds of thousands of civilians – including children – across the globe. Such a strategy supports the dangerous expansion of nuclear weapons, including the upgrading of Trident, Britain’s fleet of nuclear submarines and increasing Britain’s nuclear warheads.
It has also failed to rebuild communities devastated by years of under-investment and public sector cuts.
Because such a strategy takes much needed investment away from jobs-rich areas of manufacturing – particularly the renewable energy sector – and undermines the TUC’s just transition policy, calling for ‘adequate state intervention, investment and support to protect jobs, incomes, skills and communities’ which was passed at the same conference.
Tory governments continue to prioritise defence spending at the expense of the vast majority of the population – who are suffering from the cost of living crisis, with cuts to wages, jobs and benefits, and now sky-rocketing food, energy bills and mortgages. This move by both the Labour leadership and the TUC to back increased defence spending is also out of step with public opinion, with polls showing people prioritise greater investment in the NHS and social care.
All these arguments were passionately articulated in speeches by Jon Reddiford, from the National Education Union, Rob Witherspoon from the Communications Workers Union, Martin Cavanagh from the public sector union, PCS, Jamie Newell representing the Fire Brigades Union, as well as Fliss Premru from the TSSA, representing sections of railway and underground staff.
An initial vote on the motion – by a show of hands – indicated a slim majority against the motion. Yet this was quickly disregarded by the chair in favour of a card vote, which calculates votes on the basis of the number of members each trade union delegation represents. This vote saw the motion carried 255600 in favour with 246900 against. In trade union terms, 87,000 votes is a narrow margin. (NASUWT for instance, has 300,000 members.)
Joining PCS, NEU, FBU, CWU, TSSA in voting against the motion was the RMT, Education in Scotland, Unison, ASLEF and Equity.
Defence, especially around nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, creates a tiny fraction of the jobs compared to the level of the ‘investment’. Our report ‘Trident and jobs’ showed that £205 billion to upgrade Trident provides jobs for just 11,500 civilian workers. Pound for pound, nuclear power creates less jobs than renewables. According to the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources increasing renewable electricity can stimulate a long-term employment impact six times higher than such an increase in nuclear electricity.
CND will continue to work with all those trade unions and trade union members who support the diversification of the defence industry. This is not some abstract goal. Diversification is already happening. During the start of the pandemic several arms companies – including a number involved in nuclear weapons production – joined a consortium of British companies that made ventilators. This included workers at the Barrow shipyard, where BAe systems are building the nuclear-armed Dreadnought submarines.
Defence diversification is absolutely essential if we are to create secure, sustainable employment and investment for communities devastated by years of under-investment and public sector cuts. It is in the interests of working people across the world that Britain creates jobs that are for social good and help us tackle the real threats we face from climate crisis not jobs that drag the world into further arms races with the threat of nuclear annihilation.”