Trade Union anti-war conference Saturday 21st January 2023
With Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan and RMT president Alex Gordon
TRADE unionists gathered at central London’s Hamilton House today for a conference on strengthening voices for peace in the labour movement.
The World at War — a Trade Union Issue has been called by the Stop the War Coalition following efforts to silence peace campaigners in the Labour Party by leader Sir Keir Starmer and a narrow vote to support increased arms spending by last autumn’s Trades Union Congress.
Speakers will include National Education Union joint general secretary Kevin Courtney, Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan, RMT president Alex Gordon, Fire Brigades Union officer Riccardo la Torre and Warren Smith of the Maritime Union of Australia — alongside long- standing champions of the peace movement such as Stop the War’s Lindsey German and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Report from conference:
THE first ever Stop the War Coalition trade union conference held at the week- end looked at how to build a bigger peace movement — and how to reverse the TUC’s decision last autumn to support increased arms spending.
Multiple unions are affiliated to Stop the War, and the organisation has significant support on the left — a 2020 survey found it was the most popular campaigning organisation among Labour members.
Labour members’ opposition to militarism was also clear in the 2021 Labour conference vote to oppose the Aukus nuclear submarine pact between Britain, the United States and Australia, which guest speaker Warren Smith of the Australian Maritime Union warned was an attempt to ratchet up tension with China and assert Anglo- Saxon military dominance of the Pacific.
But the campaign’s vice- chair Andrew Murray pointed out that Saturday’s conference was also the first national Stop the War conference that would not be addressed by a single Labour MP.
“If you remember the vast demonstration 20 years ago against the Iraq war, which Stop the War led, that demonstration had the support of nearly every major union in the country — and in many cases the union leaderships had been driven there by their members, rather than necessarily by their own willingness to confront the Labour government,” he said.
Campaign for Nuclear Dis- armament chair Kate Hudson stressed the urgency of building a stronger peace movement given the risk of nuclear escalation of the Ukraine war and pacts like Aukus raising the possibility of war with China too, a theme elaborated by China expert Jenny Clegg, who detailed British military co-operation with Japan, which like Germany is doubling its military spending and has ongoing island disputes with both China and Russia which could spark conflict.
Hudson and Stop the War convener Lindsey German rejected an argument from one attendee from the floor, who said blaming both Nato and Russia for the Ukraine war confused the question and that Russia should be seen as a victim of US imperialism.
It was important to acknowledge the “humanitarian catastrophe” unleashed by Putin’s invasion and the aggressive expansionism of Russia, while also recognising the role of Nato expansion in provoking the war, German stressed.
“We’re not about putting [arms industry workers] on the dole but we don’t have to support the products. We need to argue with confidence and not tame what we’re arguing for for fear of some mythical right- wing reaction from our members — the right-wing reaction will come from employers and the press.”
The conference vowed to organise for a bigger, stronger peace movement in 2023, to win the TUC to an anti-war policy and to mobilise for a demonstration for peace talks on Ukraine to be held in Lon- don on February 25.