Covering motions 17 to 35 inclusive
Debated on Monday 11 July 2016 at Unite Policy Conference, Brighton
Unite forms part of the broad labour movement, both in Britain and Ireland, and internationally. The core values of that movement have always included working for world peace and disarmament, “beating swords into ploughshares”. As the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme this month reminds us, ordinary working people have always borne the cost, human and material, of wars and of the arms race.
Unite is however a trade union, and as such the first claim on its priorities is always the protection and advancement of its members interests at work. This includes of course the preservation of our members’ jobs in a fast-changing and unstable economic environment, and the protection of the communities in which they live. Unite does not and never will advocate or support any course of public policy which will put at risk those jobs or communities. This is part of the basic promise of trade unions to its members, and it applies to all Unite members without exception or discrimination, including those employed in the defence manufacturing sector.
Both these principles inform our position on the issue of the decision to order a successor to the Vanguard submarines for the Trident nuclear weapons system, shortly to be determined by the UK parliament. This presents particularly sharp difficulties for Unite, and Labour more generally, in significant part because of the failure of successive governments of both parties to grapple with the issue of defence diversification in the post-Cold War world. It is only our members in the sector who have devoted significant time and energy to promote diversification initiatives.
We condemn the last Labour government for having wound up the Defence Diversification Agency, and the subsequent Tory or Tory-led administrations for their inertia on the issue. This has already meant thousands of skilled jobs have disappeared across the sector, a situation exacerbated by the government’s failure to prioritise placing orders with British manufacturers (as opposed to American), as highlighted in Unite’s submission to the Labour Party review on nuclear weapons. Unite will continue to “defend our spend” and press for the UK’s defence budget to be spent in domestic factories sustaining jobs at home.
We welcome the Labour party Defence Review as a vital and serious contribution to UK defence strategy and, in particular, the renewed focus Jeremy Corbyn has placed on defence diversification, in the context of the priority he rightly places on world disarmament. Whatever decision is taken on Trident, defence diversification must be an urgent priority for the next Labour government and Unite will campaign to ensure that it is. Nevertheless, it is a fact that defence diversification is not going to be taken seriously by the present government, and we cannot ask our members in the affected industries to buy a pig in a poke. The possibility of new jobs of similar quality tomorrow will not support workers and their families and communities today.
Unite recognises the strength of arguments against Trident from a financial point of view, and from the perspective of an assessment of the actual contemporary threats to British security, such as terrorism. We also of course accept the compelling moral argument against the use of nuclear weapons which needs little elaboration as well as the UK’s commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But neither is there a moral case for a trade union accepting the obliteration of thousands of its members’ jobs and the communities in which they live being turned into ghost towns. The consequences would reverberate throughout the manufacturing sector across the country.
For Unite to support such a proposal would also inevitably divide our union at a time when its unity and strength has never been more important in both the industrial and political fields. Conference recognises that such unity cannot be overstated as it will deliver for all our members in each of our sectors, and any fracturing of that unity will be deeply detrimental.
Unite remains opposed in principle to the possession or deployment of nuclear weapons (including Trident) but our first duty remains to our members. Therefore until there is a government in office ready, willing and able to give cast-iron guarantees on the security of the skilled work and all the employment involved, our priority must be to defend and secure our members’ employment. Unite commits to campaigning to secure a serious government approach to defence diversification, enabling Britain to play its part in nuclear disarmament and urges the Labour party to give the highest priority to this aspect in its considerations.