Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/427/5007
Universities and the arms trade
Campaign ends Exeter's 'unethical investment'
A SOCIALIST Students member at Exeter University, JIM THOMPSON, recently started a campaign against the University's investment in the arms trade. Already angered by the recent closure of the Chemistry and Music departments, students were further disillusioned to learn that their place of learning was financing the arms industry!
Exeter Students Union then took up the campaign and arranged a meeting with the University's Executive. Shortly afterwards, the University released a press statement agreeing to meet with their financial advisers and to end investment in arms-producing companies.
Jim Thompson reports: "Now Exeter Socialist Students have held another meeting to re-launch the campaign. Although they were defeated by the student campaign in November, the university authorities have still not sold off all their shares.
"We also discovered that Exeter University Staff Pension Benefits scheme was investing in companies which were involved in arms production and trading.
"At our meeting, Tim Street from Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) outlined how Britain's arms industry had flourished under New Labour, with Tony Blair acting like a glorified travelling salesperson.
"The meeting ended on a high note, when the Vice-President of the Guild (our student union) said that after further discussions and under pressure from campaigns such as ours, the university were in the process of selling all the BAE and Rolls Royce Shares.
"However the battle is not yet won. We want the pension scheme to invest 'ethically' straight away. Secondly our campaign must hold the universities' new moves for 'ethical investment' to account - students and staff should have a say where their fees and pensions are being invested."
A deadly, profit-driven trade
RECENTLY STUDENTS across Britain have been outraged to hear that their universities and colleges have been funding the arms trade. Universities such as Cambridge, Liverpool and Leeds are investing in companies such as BAE Systems and Rolls Royce that produce weapons used in the imperialist invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.
Although such companies may also produce products which are not used in conflict, the universities are well aware what they are investing in. BAE is Britain's largest arms manufacturer and the company is currently being investigated over claims that it funded Chile's former military dictator and mass-murderer, Augusto Pinochet.
Many students were surprised by this discovery. However the Socialist Party and Socialist Students have been pointing out that the creeping privatisation of universities would inevitably lead to such 'unethical investment'.
The government has been implementing a policy which means universities are no different to businesses, with shareholders and full-scale private investment. The outcome of this is a lower quality of services and a rise in the price of university, not just in fees, but also in accommodation, canteen, library and IT services.
Private businesses have been invited into the universities to provide "sponsorship" which gives unelected, unseen shareholders a deadly grasp over education.
As part of this commercialisation of education, university bureaucrats have invested in companies to make even more money, and university staff and students will not see a penny of it. This investment is done purely on profitability grounds with no thought of 'ethically investing'.
While the arms trade may be a new investment to the universities, it is an old and thriving business, and a trade based purely on the business of killing and repression. Capitalist governments may offer excuses, saying that these arms are used to protect freedom and democracy, but in fact they are being used by the British government in the imperialist invasion of Iraq.
BAE produces the American Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the British Challenger II tank, while Rolls-Royce produces engines and power systems for the Eurofighter and the Harrier jump-jet fighter, all of which have been used in Iraq for repressing the population and stealing oil by the barrel-load.
These companies also sell arms to such repressive regimes as Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey. Britain is the world's second biggest weapons dealer and the New Labour government spends millions of pounds a year subsidising the weapons companies.
When Blair, Brown and Co. say they don't have enough money to provide adequate pensions, better education facilities or for the NHS, they are showing their true, ruthless capitalist colours.
New Labour exposed
The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) group recently uncovered the fact that since New Labour came to power, Britain has supplied the Indonesian regime with £323 million worth of military material, that's 83% of all Indonesia's weapon imports.
Britain has long been an arms supplier to Indonesian governments, especially supporting the regime of former military dictator General Suharto. British-built weapons were responsible for the mass killings and repressions of thousands in East Timor, Ache and West Papua.
This is not an isolated case. Britain's arms trade thrives on war and fighting, selling weapons to countries engaged in serious conflict such as Angola, Colombia, Russia and Sierra Leone. The arms trade frequently sells to both Pakistan and India, helping to build tension in the region with no thought of the consequences for the masses in the sub-continent.
Campaigns against "unethical" companies may present some kind of step forward but, in the long run, they provide no real alternative for the world-wide poor and working class. Under capitalism, all trade is unethical, because it relies upon the exploitation of workers' labour, labour which is used to line the pockets of the rich, while the workers are only paid a small fraction of the company's profits.
We must unite with others who call for the end of the arms trade, but this must be backed up by the demand for a socialist world that can replace capitalism. The arms trade is the foulest, most grotesque form of capitalism - these companies will sell their weapons to anyone as long as they get a 'fair price', i.e. make big profits.
In a world which is run precisely for such profits and not for the people's needs, the arms trade companies gain most at the expense of people's lives.
The companies, and the fat cats who control them, prove that capitalism cannot be transformed or made a nicer system. As long as capitalism remains, the working class and poor throughout the world will be exploited, and the arms trade is just one of the many ways the capitalist class exploits us.
Many people argue that Britain's arms industry produces a wealth of jobs for British workers. But in a socialist society those valuable skills that workers possess - together with the advanced machinery in the factories - would be put to use ethically.
We don't want to see thousands of workers losing their jobs, so while the arms industry must be stopped, the factories should be democratically run by the workers and put to use by manufacturing socially useful goods, which could be used to help the world's working class and poor, instead of exploiting and oppressing on a massive scale.
The arms trade will not end until the world sees the end of capitalism. Only under a society which is planned, and run for the good of the oppressed layers of the world, can global industry be put to decent, ethical use. Being anti-arms trade isn't enough. A socialist alternative is essential if we are going end this disgusting profit-driven trade.
Global military expenditure is now nearly $1 trillion every year. It is the largest item of government spending in the world.
George Bush recently asked the US Congress for a record $439.3 billion (£252 billion) for the military in general - for years US imperialism has spent more on the military than all its enemies combined.
As world trade globalises, so does the trade in arms. In order to make up for lack of domestic sales, newer markets must be created.
USA, Russia, France and Britain are the biggest arms traders in the world.
In 1997 alone, half of all US aid was related to military aid/trade.
In modern conflicts over 80% of all casualties have been civilian. 90% of these were caused by small arms.
In The Socialist 16 February 2006: