Trident: take the fight into unions and Labour

Submitted by AWL on 24 February, 2016 - 11:14 Author: Gerry Bates

On Saturday 27 February, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will be among the speakers at the demonstration calling Britain's Trident nuclear weapon system to be scrapped and not replaced.

This demonstration should be the biggest nuclear disarmament protest for many years. The Tory government will try to get a definite decision through Parliament this year to start construction of the hugely expensive Trident replacement programme. But the Labour Party now has a leader, and hundreds of thousands of new members, committed to nuclear disarmament.

The PCS civil service workers' union is calling on its members to march — noon from Marble Arch, London. The union says Trident "should be scrapped, with the money saved to be reinvested in our public services and infrastructure, generating thousands of jobs in the process. Those people currently employed to work on Trident should be given re-training and re-employment as part of this process".

Contingents will also include a "Care, not Welfare" bloc. That bloc will highlight the fact that scrapping Trident replacement would save enough money "to fully fund A&E services for 40 years, employ 150,000 new nurses, cover tuition fees for four million students or build 1.5 million affordable homes".

For years opinion polls have found that if the question mentions the cost of replacing Trident — more than £100 billion over the years, maybe as much as £170 billion — people are almost always against it. The baseline case against these nuclear weapons is that they could be used for "defence" only by killing millions of civilians, that is, by making a catastrophic war even more catastrophic. Spending so many billions on them at a time of cuts to the NHS and other vital services adds absurdity to immorality.

A big demonstration will not budge the Tory Party now. The way to stop Trident replacement is to win the Labour Party to oppose it. A Labour government could then stop it: even short of a Labour government, a solid Labour vote against Trident, which would be joined by Welsh Nationalists, Scottish Nationalists, and probably the Lib Dems, could chip off enough Trident-sceptic Tory MPs to stop it. It will be a battle to win the Labour Party.

The old bloc of right-wing Labour MPs and officials who became entrenched under Blair and Brown are stubbornly resisting the call for change which came from the rank and file with Jeremy Corbyn's landslide election as Labour leader. Many unions support nuclear disarmament, and are affiliated to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament: Unison, PCS, CWU, RMT, FBU, TSSA, ASLEF, NUT, and NUM. But the big GMB union stridently supports Trident replacement, on saving-jobs grounds, and the Unite union is equivocal for the same reason. And so far only PCS has made a strong call for members to march on 27 February.

Things will be changed only by tens of thousands of activists assiduously attending their union and Labour Party meetings, patiently arguing with and convincing the other people there, and calling MPs and union leaders to account. It's a battle which will intertwine with the general battle to transform our labour movement into a force capable of shaping a new society of peace, solidarity, and democracy.