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Workers, trade unionists mobilise to block arms supply sites in the UK

Pro-Palestine protestors and trade unions staged May Day demonstration outside the UK Department of Business and Trade, which is responsible for issuing arms export licences to Israel. Activists said they wanted to show solidarity with civil servants inside the department who have refused to work or deal with Israeli licences due to concerns over the arms' use in the genocide in Gaza.

May 1, 2024 at 1:36 pm

Workers and trade unionists shut down major UK sites involved in arms supplies to Israel this morning in response to a call to mobilise from Palestinian trade unions for workers to take action.

United under the banner “Workers for a Free Palestine” (WFFP), over 1,000 staffers and trade unionists blockaded the UK Department for Business and Trade in London and three BAE Systems’ arms factories in Wales, Scotland and North-West England to mark International Workers’ Day.

Today marks the 208th day of Israel’s ongoing bombing campaign in Gaza, which has seen over 35,000 Palestinians killed. The British Government has not implemented an arms embargo on Israel, in contrast to actions taken by its allies, including Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, Spain and Belgium. In response, British workers are engaging in direct action by initiating their own embargo against arms supplies to Israel.

A trade unionist and organiser for WFFP taking part in the London blockade, Tania, said: “If arms company bosses and Britain’s political elite won’t impose an arms embargo, we, the workers, will enforce it from below.”

In our most disruptive action yet, a wave of People’s Arms Embargoes is sweeping across England, Scotland and Wales on May Day, as workers and trade unionists shut down arms factories and a government which enables this genocide profiteering and makes the UK directly complicit in these crimes against humanity.

The blockade at the Department for Business and Trade was organised in support of civil servants who have urged the government to “cease work immediately” on arms export licences to Israel, citing concerns that the administration is complicit in war crimes being committed in Gaza. Their union, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), is considering legal measures to protect its members from being compelled to engage in unlawful acts.

The establishment of these “People’s Arms Embargoes” across the UK coincides with a recent decision by a High Court judge to allow a legal challenge against UK arms exports to Israel to proceed, with a hearing scheduled for later this year.

READ: UK suspends legal assessments on Israel’s compliance with international law

This surge of activism also comes in the wake of a letter signed by 600 lawyers, academics,and retired senior judges, including former Supreme Court justices, which cautions that the UK government’s ongoing arms sales to Israel may violate international law, referencing the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s finding that Israel’s actions in Gaza could constitute genocide.

“When Israel massacres entire families and razes cities to the ground, companies like Elbit Systems, BAE, Leonardo, Thales and Raytheon make vast profits. When we see hospitals turned into mass graves of over 300 people and many of those killed having been stripped of their clothes and had their hands and feet tied, the knowledge that British-made weapons which enable such atrocities are being manufactured on my doorstep makes me feel complicit,” said Aisha, a community worker blockading the arms factory in the north of England.

Aisha added: “I’m taking this action because I simply can’t stomach arms to Israel’s murderous regime being supplied in our name by companies which are subsidised by our taxes – if the company bosses and the government continue to refuse to listen to us, we will keep shutting them down and impose our own arms embargoes.”

Three British aid workers were killed in early April in an Israeli drone strike, parts of which were manufactured in the UK, highlighting the significant impact of UK-made arms in the attacks on Gaza. Since 2015, the UK has authorised arms sales to Israel totalling £487 million ($608 million), a figure that excludes weapons exported under open licences. Additionally, a considerable amount of US military aid is funnelled to Israel via a British air force base in Cyprus, while British military forces have conducted surveillance flights over Gaza to assist Israel’s ongoing military offensive.

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