An early recollection from my teaching days in the late 1970s was addressing an Assembly of 100+ children on the subject of ‘Swords into Ploughshares’. My teaching aids, apart from the Bible, were film slides and a publication from Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards which explained in simple terms how production for war could be transformed into production for peace; how the technology and experience of the workforce could be used to improve everybody’s lives while at the same time enhancing and broadening skills to create satisfying and secure jobs. The authors said they wanted to “inflame the imaginations of others... and demonstrate in a very practical and direct way the creative power of ordinary people”.
Sadly the Lucas plan failed, but not before it had achieved considerable support. It was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, the Financial Times described it as “one of the most radical alternative plans ever drawn up by workers for their company”, and the New Statesman claimed “The philosophical and technlogical implications... are now being discussed on average of 25 times a week in the international media”.
The idea of defence diversification is not new. The Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Company had factories from Barrow in the north to Dartford in the south of the country. This company had a post-war strategy of diversification. Researchers found that resources devoted to a wartime battle cruiser could be used to make fifty-four other products.
In 1987 the Barrow Alternative Employment Committee argued for deploying its skilled workforce on UK marine engineering opportunities rather than nuclear submarine production, with particular emphasis on offshore renewable energy, including wave and wind power systems. Like the Lucas Plan, this one was also rejected by the employer, who continued with Vickers’ military involvement in nuclear submarine manufacture.
Those who argued that this policy helped to keep jobs were wrong, with the workforce dwindling from 12,000 in 1987 to just over 3,000 in 2006. The argument that workers must choose between weapons production and the dole is a totally false one. The real choice, one that we need to make clear in all our campaigning, is between weapons production and products to meet society’s need. Britain is in dire need of housing, hospitals, schools and renewal of the whole infrastructure; science, the creative arts and culture desperately require funding. All of these could benefit from defence diversification and now there is much greater hope that all this could be achieved.
The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015, together with the possible decision this year to renew Trident, brought a new dimension to the peace and anti-nuclear campaign. Defence diversification has been brought to the fore with the Corbyn plan to redeploy the highly-skilled workforce in the nuclear weapons sector.
Welcoming the plan, Kate Hudson, CND General Secretary, said: “As the only anti-Trident leadership contender, Jeremy Corbyn is not only giving voice to the many who oppose nuclear weapons but is also setting out practical plans to transition the high-skilled workforce away from nuclear weapons production. A Britain without nuclear weapons will contribute to a more peaceful world — and a country that can build a sustainable high-skilled economy with secure, socially productive jobs.”
You will find a membership form for National CND enclosed with this newsletter. Many WDC/CND members will already be national members but by no means all, so if you are not already a national member please seriously consider joining. This year National CND has been working overtime as the final decision on Trident comes before Parliament, ensuring that all MPs are fully briefed before they take momentous decision. This level of activity obviously requires money, and maximising their membership also strengthens CND as a campaigning organisation.
If you are yourself already a National member please use the form to recruit somebody else!
Our friends and colleagues in the Merton Branch of the United Nations Association have organised a fund-raising car boot sale to take place on August 20th — St Mary’s Church Field, Arthur Road, Wimbledon Village. They are generously allowing us to have a free pitch so we need helpers please to make it happen: drivers to collect the sale goods from 43 Wilton Grove and deliver to the field by 7·30am, and sales staff to man the stall from 8am onwards. Contact 020 8543 0362 if you can volunteer your services.
Thanks to the good offices of the incumbent, the Rev. Jonathan Wilkes, Kingston Peace Council/CND is able to display an exhibition put together by Tavistock Peace Action Group entitled “The Challenging Road to Peace since World War I”.
This is an exhibition that has already toured Wales and the West Country, but it will be the first time that it has been seen in London. The TPAG initiative was financially supported by Devon Area Quakers and includes material from the Peace Pledge Union, the Imperial War Museum and the Quakers. The death and destruction of the war is soberly recorded and separate panels are devoted to recruitment, conscription, the rôle of women and conscientious objectors.
Is war a reasonable way to conduct international relations? And what action can ordinary citizens take to create a more peaceful world?
Kingston Parish Church (by the Market Place), Friday July 29th–Friday August 12th. Admission free.
(Advance notice: Rupert Gude, a founding member of TPAG who led this ambitious initiative, will be speaking in Kingston on November 9th.)
August 6th this year falls on a Saturday. The anniversary of the world’s first atomic bomb focuses our minds on the reality of nuclear weapons; death, destruction and agony delivered in the context of the final stages of a bitter war. This is what war does. Previously decent people feel themselves morally justified in treating fellow human beings with unspeakable cruelty.
Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction. Those first experimental ‘atom bombs’ released over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 destroyed whole cities, leaving their surviving populations to endure the agonies of radiation sickness. They were the product of the brilliant scientific minds engaged in the Manhattan Project, many of whom were to come to have grave misgivings about their work, but these bombs gifted immense power and status to politicians.
The then US President was ultimately responsible for the decision to bomb Hiroshima. The Soviet Union was determined not to allow the USA to remain the world’s sole nuclear nation and the British post-war Labour government rapidly ordered the UK’s own bomb (“with the bloody Union Jack on top of it”), followed much later by France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel (in secret) and latterly North Korea. We now have about 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world and the potential destructive force of one Trident submarine is more than the total of all the explosives detonated during World War II (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki).
There is no sign of politicians being willing to relinquish their status symbols. It is up to us to remind them that threatening mass annihilation is the reality behind their so-called ‘nuclear deterrence’. The individual human stories of the victims of Hiroshima help to concentrate the mind.
There will be a special Peace Table outside Wimbledon Library at 11am on the morning of August 6th. We should like as many people as possible to join us there so that we can demonstrate how to make paper cranes, give out leaflets and publicise the candle-floating ceremony on Rushmere in the evening.
We shall gather at Rushmere, Wimbledon Common (near the War Memorial) at 8·30pm on August 6th, following a tradition that we have maintained for more than 30 years. This is a beautiful ceremony of remembrance and rededication symbolised by the lighted candles which we float on the water in the Japanese tradition. There will be music and speakers but most importantly, as dusk falls, a time for quiet reflection.
The AGM of Wimbledon Disarmament Coalition/CND will be held at 43 Wilton Grove on Saturday July 16th at 4pm (in the garden if fine). All officers are prepared to stand again.
|Secretary and Newsletter Editor||Joanna Bazley|
Business will be combined with pleasure. Bring and share items to eat (and drink!) and also contributions to a bring-and-buy stall. Plants, books and bric-à-brac will be available to purchase.
In the aftermath of the EU Referendum UK politicians currently give the impression of having collectively lost their senses. The country is rudderless and the future is uncertain in the extreme. And it is in this climate that a decision about the renewal of Trident — the UK nuclear weapons system — is about to be taken. We are about to be committed to a £200 billion weapons system ensuring that the UK remains nuclear-armed into the middle of the 21st century and beyond.
There is a very real danger that the simplistic message that ‘nuclear weapons keep us safe’ will resonate even more powerfully in the present climate, but it is up to us to deliver facts rather than emotions and to challenge our politicians to examine their own critical thinking and to explain just why and how Trident should be a guarantee of safety. So join us in Westminster at the Lobby on July 13th. We hope to be able to meet with both Merton MPs, Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) and Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden). It is essential that MPs know all the arguments before they vote, so if you cannot make it to Westminster make your views known by letter or e-mail.
What are the main dangers facing this country? The National Security Risk Assessment for 2015 listed the six ‘tier one’ risks as
In each case Trident is militarily useless. The greater danger comes from the very existence of nuclear weapons, potentially the source of catastrophic accident and liable to fall into the ‘wrong’ hands in periods of global instability. It is impossible to claim that Trident is essential to UK security without suggesting that the same arguments equally apply to any other nation.
And as for ‘status’; Tony Blair, having looked at the pros and cons of renewing Trident from a military point of view, concluded “in the final analysis I thought giving it up too big a downgrading of our status as a nation” (A Journey, 2010). It apparently does not occur to our politicians that countries such as North Korea might also be hankering after special status.
Our political representatives need to be reminded of UK responsibilities on the international stage. Despite being under an obligation under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty to disarm “in good faith” and despite claiming to be all in favour of multilateral nuclear disarmament, the UK has consistently voted against nearly every initiative or proposal put forward for multilateral disarmament at the UN General Assembly.
For example, when the UN agreed in 2012 to set up an ‘Open Ended Working Group [OEWG] on Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations’ the UK voted against the setting up of the group and refused to take part in any of its deliberations. The UK boycotted all its three conferences on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons (Oslo, Mexico, Vienna) and voted against all the proposals from the Vienna conference in the UN General Assembly in October and December 2015, while 139 countries voted in favour of a resolution which called for negotiations to fill the ‘legal gap’ on nuclear weapons identified in Vienna.
Exciting ideas are coming out of the latest OEWG sessions in Geneva, considering how to move these ideas forward; a further session in August hopes to negotiate a final report with recommendations for the UN General Assembly in October. Can there really be any justification for renewing Trident if the UK is to be legally committed to getting rid of its nuclear weapons?
Sadly, very few MPs are even aware of all these positive international developments. They are consumed by the anxieties of electoral politics and the chances of holding their parliamentary seats. It has become received wisdom that an anti-Trident policy is a vote-loser. Given the success of the vehemently anti-Trident SNP in Scotland it is difficult to see the logic in this.
The Ministry of Defence Police is currently trying desperately to defend its funding levels after the size of the force was reduced by a third in 2010 to save money. Threatened with a further 15% reduction and the possible loss of the MoD police rôle in guarding Trident warheads, the Chairman of the Defence Police Federation pleads that the force is ‘highly skilled’ and better placed to deal with civilian protesters than soldiers would be. “The loss of officers will place defence assets at greater risk”! (Metro, 9 June 2016)