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Leicester protest against arms supplies to Israel
Heather Rawling, Leicester Socialist Party
Not many people in Leicester knew that Israel-based international defence electronics company UAV Tactical Systems had a factory at Meridian Business Park, Leicester, until Palestine Action Leicester (PAL) organised a rooftop protest there.
UAV is a subsidiary of Elbit Systems, an Israeli-based defence company, and Thales, a French aerospace company. It is believed that the Leicester-based factory makes and supports the operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, ie combat drones, for the Israeli government, and that these were being used to bomb Gaza.
That is not all they do. Citizen Lab has published a detailed report showing that Ethiopian dissidents and journalists in the US, UK and other countries were targeted by sophisticated commercial spyware sold and operated by Cyberbit, which, until last year, was a subsidiary of Elbit Systems.
PAL direct action protesters got inside the factory gates on 19 May, and climbed onto its roof. Their aim was to disrupt production and the operation of the drones. Police and the fire service attended. The fire appliance later withdrew.
The Fire Brigades Union said it "supports the right to protest... Union officials immediately reminded senior managers that as firefighters, we are, and remain, a proud humanitarian service and our role does not involve law enforcement. Once the safety of those involved had been confirmed, Fire Brigades Union members withdrew from the incident."
Leicestershire brigade chair, Graham Vaux, added that "the Fire Brigades Union stands in support of Palestinian solidarity and the right to protest."
However, a fire appliance did later attend the site with a station manager in attendance. The aerial ladder platform was used to enable the police to talk to the roof protesters. Two protesters have since been arrested for attempting to get water to the roof protesters
PAL has done a good job in alerting trade unionists to what is happening in Leicester. I agree with stopping military equipment going to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to repress Palestinians.
Italian dockers have already shown the way. A cargo ship loaded with high-precision rockets destined for the IDF was shipped, semi-clandestinely, to the port of Genoa in Italy. Dockworkers in Livorno, mobilised to block this arms trafficking.
However, we also have to consider the jobs of the workers in this lethal industry. I attended the protest on Wednesday and was unhappy with two large banners demanding "Shut Elbit Down", without any demand for alternative work or employment for the workers in the industry. Their support in blocking Israeli state terror is important. But defence workers may be alienated if their livelihoods are at risk.
The Lucas Aerospace (defence industry) trade union shop stewards showed the way in the 1970s when they came up with a viable plan to use their skills for the benefit of humanity and not its destruction. Nationalise the defence industry and let the working class decide what should be produced and how it should be used.
Elbit employs nearly 14,000 employees worldwide. If these workers refused to supply the Israeli government, that could make a huge difference. If dockers refused to load weapons and military equipment, that would also limit the capacity of the Israeli government to inflict damage on the Palestinian people.
So any demand to prevent arms, military equipment and technology being used by the Israeli state needs to appeal directly to the workforce. An alternative use of their skills could be advanced to protect their jobs and for the benefit of humanity. A skilful approach is needed to unite the Elbit workers and other workers in opposition to Israeli state terrorism.
- Stop the supply of arms and military equipment being used by the Israeli state to repress Palestinians
- Nationalise the defence industry under democratic workers' control and management
- Trade union control over what is produced, for the benefit of humanity
After six days, the protest has ended. The police tactic of trying to starve the protesters down had failed due to the determination of the protest and the increasing support from workers in Leicester. But, eventually, police dragged the rooftop protesters down.
The protesters showed bravery and tenacity. A more lasting solution to the Israeli state terror is needed, but this act of solidarity helped mobilise workers against the Israeli state.
- A protest has been called for Sunday 30 May at 2pm Jubilee Square, Leicester
In The Socialist 26 May 2021:
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