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Britain needs peace, not war

Our government spends precious resources in two theatres of war, in Ukraine and the Middle East. The time has come to question its aims, and not to acquiesce in war talk. Our nation has many needs. Making war on Russia or arming Israel are not among them.

Along with the US, the British government continues to arm and support the Netanyahu government’s murderous assault on Gaza. And along with the US, our government continues to bomb Yemen. The Labour Party supports it on both counts.

Government support for Israel is unquestioning, whatever it might say in public. Cameron said he was “deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah”. It took him four months to overlook his government’s role and utter those weasel words – and the assault went ahead.

In Ukraine, the war is in stalemate, and people in all the NATO member countries are increasingly reluctant to keep funding it. Support is waning even in the US, which has already spent $113 billion to prop up Zelensky’s regime and its armed forces.

The current wave of NATO war talk is a back-handed acknowledgement that Ukraine cannot win. The head of the British army tells us we are all part of the “prewar generation” and that our country must be put on a “war footing”. In a recent YouGov survey British workers under 40 disagree with that view, which would have them living their lives under constant threat.

The British government – echoed, as ever, by the Labour Party – proposes to drain off another £2.5 billion of our money to the lost cause in Ukraine, on top of the £4.6 billion already spent. Both parties say there’s a shortage of money to make positive changes for Britain – yet will always spend it on war.

‘Both parties say there's a shortage of money to make positive changes for Britain - yet will always spend it on war...’

Many motions at the 2023 TUC conference declared that public services are on their knees. Workers don’t need to be told that, but we need to force the government to act for peace and not war. Without clear opposition from organised workers this warmongering will continue unabated. It seems that the TUC might have some catching up to do, though, with its defeatist stance: “the labour movement must do all it can to prevent conflict; however, that is not always possible”.

The TUC’s previous progressive defence diversification strategy was, regrettably, narrowly overturned in 2022. The strategy said that workers’ precious engineering skills at a time of shortages should be used for peace not war – while still ensuring that we could defend our country if attacked.

That shift showed a serious lack of joined up thinking – coming from unions with members in the defence industry. They should be leading the call to harness skills and resources for the benefit of British people, not looking to expand military offensive capability.

And as things stand, the government is more likely to award contracts abroad and let British firms in the defence sector be sold to US companies than it is to build British warships with British-made steel, fitted with British-made systems.

Unions must tackle the cause of the decline in engineering, advanced electronics and so on – and not look to a war economy to do so.

What should workers make of all this? For starters, they should get on with fighting for wages and conditions. Every organised trade union action is a strike against war.

When teachers demand better wages and money for schools they are demanding that our precious resources be spent on peace not on war. They are working for peace. When doctors and nurses demand better wages and money for our NHS, they are working for peace. When railway workers demand better wages and a planned, integrated, modern railway industry, they are working for peace. The more such actions, the bigger the force for peace.

Our trade union movement can strengthen the peace movement in its struggles, but the demand for peace must be wider than that – embracing all of the working class whether currently in dispute or not.

We now need to say out loud “Britain needs peace not war” until the ruling class is clear they will not be using British workers for their wars. We must not stand for it.