|Volume 53 Number 16, June 3, 2023
Report of Newcastle Stop the War Conference
On Saturday, May 20, Newcastle Stop the War held a conference to discuss the vital importance of involving workers and their trade unions in building the movement in Britain against war and for peace. The conference was organised by Newcastle Stop the War and supported by Newcastle Trade Union Council, the NEU Northern Region and South Tyneside Trade Union Council.
The conference began with a session on Russia, NATO and the Proxy War in Ukraine. Introduced by the Vice Chair of Newcastle Stop the Wear Pam Wortley, this was the longest session of the conference. Andrew Murray, Vice President of Stop the War, spoke at length and said that it is important to focus on the aim for the peace movement, as disinformation causes people to lose their bearings, but nevertheless want to unite against Britain and NATO escalating the conflict in Ukraine. He underscored that the aim of Stop the War now was to demand that the British government and the opposition support a ceasefire and negotiations to end the war with "security for all, security arrangements that don't just depend on the expansion of NATO, because if security is not for everyone, it is not for anyone". He said that this was the stand of the majority of countries in the world and especially China and the global south including Iran and Saudi Arabia. "Only in British politics," he concluded, "is a ceasefire a dirty word. We have to challenge that and say that the dirty word is actually nuclear annihilation. Now is the time to be pushing for peace and demanding that the British government stop its reckless escalation of this war. Its reckless promotion of continuing the conflict and get on the side of peace." The discussion continued on and around these important issues for the working class and trade union movement till lunch time.
In the first afternoon session Graham Kirkwood chaired and introduced the session on The Lucas Plan and the Alternative to Arms Spending. Martin Levy, President of the Newcastle Trades Union Council, spoke on the Lucas plan. He said that in 1976 the Lucas Aerospace Combine Shop Stewards produced an alternative corporate plan. The division employed 18,000 as the company was announcing huge job losses. 150 product ideas came up from the workforce from medical equipment to alternative energy technologies, including energy conservation, showing that the workers were ahead of the times, Martin emphasised. This movement quickly spread to northern shipbuilding and war industries, which at that time were in decline. Martin concluded that there "needs to be a new drive for general and comprehensive disarmament, beginning with the elimination of nuclear weapons" and rejection of imperialism and NATO, and a just transition for all workers in carbon and defence industries that involves the workers in making these decisions. Adding to the talk of Martin, Roger Nettleship, Chair of Newcastle Stop the War and Vice President of South Tyneside Trade Union Council, spoke on Britain today as the wars workshop of the world. He outlined how the armaments industry was now the largest manufacturing industry in Britain - not for defence but for arming the wars of the world, including the government's continued escalation of the war in Ukraine. He pointed out that the government safeguards the war industry by owning "golden shares", whilst they have no concern for the car industry or the thousands of jobs in other industries, and especially no concern for public services. He concluded by saying that only the working class and people can save the day and that the Lucas plan was that kind of inspiration today for a political economy that is anti-war and pro-social, and he looked forward to the two Trades Councils working towards this goal. In the discussion that followed, climate change was also highlighted as one of the consequences of the war industries and wars themselves.
The final session, The Bloody Legacy of the "War on Terror", was chaired by Roger Nettleship. Alex Snowdon spoke on behalf of the National Education Union (NEU) Northern Region. He highlighted issues which are important for everyone in the trade union movement, pointing out that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan following the invasions and occupations of those countries. He said that far from ending "terrorism" the aggression has led to civil wars in these countries and the refugee crisis. It is this which has been the legacy of the bloody "War on Terror". Alex drew attention to the opposition to those wars, which has created a strong body of anti-war public opinion and has built the movement and influenced public debate. He pointed out that people are now highly sceptical about interventions by US/UK and their allies and a sea change in the trade unions can also be seen. Today, he said, we need to articulate the arguments of the anti-war movement and open up the space even if the motions opposing NATO, opposing increased arms spending, etc., are not always successful. We need to expose the link, he said, between the cost of living crisis, which includes cutting school budgets, and the spending on arms and wars.
Also speaking in this session were Syed Ullah of Newcastle Stop the War, and Stop the War officer Shadia Edwards-Dashti.
In summing up the conference, the Chair thanked the speakers and those that had attended, and the planning committee that had organised the event. He said that it was very important that the conference had itemised and taken a stand on the questions and the discussion that needed to be taken up in the trade union movement. The work for the conference had reached out to all circles in the trade union movement, and that will have an impact as well. The conference was brought to a successful conclusion with proposals on how to carry the work forward.
For the full report and links to audio files to the speeches of Andrew Murray, Vice President Stop the War, Martin Levy, President of Newcastle Trade Union Council, Roger Nettleship, Vice President South Tyneside Trade Union Council, Alex Snowdon, President of the NEU Northern Region, Syed Ullah, from Afghanistan and Newcastle Stop the War, and Shadia Edwards-Dashti, Officer of Stop the War, see http://www.northeaststopwar.org.uk/reportsindex.html