Wednesday, 29 April 2009

A Call To Arms.... (Conversion)

The bright Labour loyalist Hopi has started a discussion about what the polls mean - and, lo, some antediluvian lefty has hijacked it to suggest getting rid of Trident. Which, actually, even Hopi admits might be popular at the moment but he cautions that,
" cutting a programme that will create tangible manufacturing jobs amongst skilled manual workers strikes me as one of the less likely spending cuts to appeal to the public, right now..."
Duncan joins in. As an ex-Treasury man he is particularly sensitive to the apparent success of 'our' aerospace and defense industries, though he seem ultimately willing to sacrifice them if it protects other, more sensitive public service programmes.

I think this might be the moment to advertise this CAAT pamphlet, which tells us:

  • Since the early 1980s, UK arms-related employment declined from 740,000 to 315,000 by 2006.
  • The arms trade is characterised by an intense supply-side dynamic to sell high-technology weapons into areas of regional tension like the Middle East and there are widespread allegations of corruption and bribery around these contracts, such as the Al Yamamah deal between BAE and Saudi Arabia to supply Typhoon/Eurofighter.
  • The UK has accepted a subsidiary role to the US in the latter's broader strategy of global military force projection not least because it seeks to retain access to leading edge military technologies, including nuclear weapons. But the cost of this subservience is continued multi-billion pound expenditure on a range of sophisticated equipment that offers no contribution to the country's real security needs;
  • The decline in arms employment has left only a handful of local economies with a residual dependency on military R&D and production, including Preston, Barrow-in- Furness, Yeovil, Brough and Glasgow. These reflect the pattern of regional concentration in the North West, South West and South East, although the latter is not as significant as it was.
  • Overall, because arms-related employment constitutes such a small proportion of national employment, the adjustment from a further restructuring based on deep cuts to military expenditure, is a minor one. Only in these small pockets of local dependency would further assistance be required to help diversify the local economies.
  • Central government has a vital role to play in developing a radical, political economy of arms conversion and common security. By moving away from military force projection and arms sale promotion, the UK could carry out deep cuts in domestic procurement including the cancellation of Trident and other major offensive weapons platforms, as well as adopting comprehensive controls on arms exports, including the suspension of weapons exports to the Middle East. The substantial savings in military expenditure could help to fund a major arms conversion programme.
  • The emphasis would be on environmental challenges, including a multi-billion pound public investment in renewable energy, particularly offshore wind and wave power, that would substantially cut the UK's carbon emissions and reduce dependency on imported oil, gas and uranium supplies. These new industries will also generate more jobs than those lost from the restructuring of the arms industry. In this way, the UK would be taking a leading role in establishing a new form of international security framework based on disarmament and sustainable economic development.
So this is not just a programme of austerity or cuts - it's also about reshaping our economy for a workable and sustainable future, a future which offers us greater security. Trident is part of it, of course, but its only the most visible and most obviously wasteful part. We need a new 'national business plan' which cuts us free from the stupidities and dangers of running the sort of economy which has so spectacularly hit the buffers recently, and which actually addresses our real place in the world. As I've noted before, the bit of Whitehall given over to promoting arms sales has doubled its staff. Something is deeply wrong here.

P.S.Those of a tidy mind might want to tie this together with the CAAT campaign to get local authority pension funds to disinvest from arms companies.

P.P.S. For those comrades tut-tutting at my unwillingness to put all this in Marxoid language about the inherently destructive, amoral nature of capital and the drive to imperialism I'll work on a translation for you lot later on. I just thought I'd talk to some folk outside the lefty laager first. But, yes, any successful 'swords into ploughshares' strategy has to rely on the deep and sustained involvement of the workforce in the transformation of the industry - we need an updated Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards Plan. In fact we need scores of them.


  1. heyup Charlie

    I'm naturally drawn to your comment about getting pension funds to disinvest from defence stocks.

    I can understand the appeal, but I don't actually think it would achieve much for a few reasons. For one, the limited studies there are on disinvestment suggest that unless undertaken by a large number of investors there won't be much impact on the company. I'd be surprised if all the UK local govt schemes between them own more than a couple of percent of, say, BAE. So disinvesting wouldn't put much financial pressure on the company.

    Secondly, someone is going to buy the shares that the schemes sell, and by definition they won't be as concerned about the ethics of defence stocks as the sellers. So the % of stroppy shareholders will fall, and there will be less pressure on the company.

    I can see the point of disinvesting if it stems from a desire to not make money from the defence industry, but as a strategy to influence those companies I think it's flawed.

  2. Tom,
    CAAT address the issue of engagement here and suggest a list of questions for councillors to pose to their fund managers, including 'is there a point at which fund managers would decide to disinvest?'.

    Here they provide a seemingly comprehensive list of local authority pension fund investment in arms firms as at 2006 - it appears to total around £723m, so it certainly can't be a huge percentage of total share ownership of these companies collectively, although I wouldn't rule out it being significant in a few cases.

    But the real point is the demonstration effect - withdrawal of public pension funding from these firms and the re-investment of this money in socially useful activities would send a powerful message.

  3. "We need a new 'national business plan' which cuts us free from the stupidities and dangers of running the sort of economy which has so spectacularly hit the buffers recently, and which actually addresses our real place in the world. As I've noted before, the bit of Whitehall given over to promoting arms sales has doubled its staff. Something is deeply wrong here."

    I agree with you of course, Charlie, but there is such a big job to cleanse the Augean Stables of this kind of thing first

    Meanwhile, a proposition for you (apologies if you have already stated this as your position): your "new national business plan" is the Green New Deal or it is nothing. Rather than start from a blank piece of paper, better to edit and constructively criticise and help improve the Green New Deal proposal that is already out there, and is the only show in town.

    I don't know if I believe that (I have read up hardly anything about the Green New Deal), but if you think there might be something in it, I'll make an investment in starting to read up and discussing it.

  4. Strategist,
    I've only read the New Economics Foundation pamphlet, to be found here doesn't appear to deal with Trident or arms conversion at all.

    Which isn't, of course, to say that the rest of it's proposals around shifting to a low carbon economy, generating counter-cyclical employment and regulating international finance shouldn't be supported.

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