UK workers blockade factories accused of sending arms to Israel

UK workers blockade factories accused of sending arms to Israel
Trade unionists in the UK are blockading weapons factories accused of alleged arms sales to Israel amid the devastating Gaza war.
4 min read
20 March, 2024
Hundreds of trade unionists blockaded GE Aviation Systems in Cheltenham to disrupt the flow of arms to Israel [Workers for a Free Palestine]

Hundreds of trade unionists and workers have shut down arms factories in England and Scotland accused of supplying the Israeli military with essential components or weapons.

The action's stated aim is to disrupt the flow of arms to Israel as it prepares for a ground invasion of Rafah and to urge the UK government to support an immediate and permanent ceasefire, the workers' groups said.

It follows the Canadian government's announcement on Tuesday that it will halt future arms sales to Israel, having already reduced its weapons shipments to Israel to non-lethal equipment, such as radios, following the 7 October Hamas attacks.

Israel's war on Gaza has killed around 32,000 Palestinians, the vast majority women and children, while a blockade has led to deaths by starvation.

Workers, including teachers and artists who are members of trade unions, are shutting down GE Aviation Systems in Cheltenham and Leonardo UK in Edinburgh – factories that produce components for F-35 fighter jets, the world's most advanced fighter jet.

A Leonardo spokesperson told The New Arab: "This morning a group of protestors assembled outside the Edinburgh site. The safety and wellbeing of our employees, contractors, and neighbours is our first priority. Police were in attendance. Leonardo UK complies fully with all the UK Government's export control protocols, the legal obligations and the processes in place to operate those protocols."

When asked whether the company provides components for the F-35 used by the Israeli air force, Leonardo UK told The New Arab they supply "F35 components to our customer in the United States".

GE Aviation did not respond to a request for comment by The New Arab by the time of publication.

"Israel is on the brink of invading the very area they told the people of Gaza it was safe for them to flee to. Such atrocities could not take place without the political and military support of governments like Britain," says Zad, a housing support worker and union member taking part in the blockade in Cheltenham.

"We're demanding our government follows in Canada's footsteps by immediately halting arms supplies to Israel before it launches this offensive in Rafah using British-made bombs," Zad added, highlighting that the workers are taking action themselves to stop the flow of arms to Israel before an assault on Rafah.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) found that 15 percent of the components of every F-35 that Israel uses in its war on Gaza is made by firms within the British arms industry, which is estimated to have brought in at least £336 million since 2016.

Cam, a resident taking part in the Edinburgh blockade, said: "We can't allow arms being used to massacre Palestinians to be supplied in our name and funded by our taxes, and as local residents we don't want murder being manufactured on our doorstep. It makes us feel complicit."

"We don't blame the workers at these sites. We blame the bosses who decide to sell these components to Israel so they can be used in an ongoing genocide."

These blockades are part of plans for a month of disruptive direct action, answering a call by Palestinian unionists for workers worldwide to help stop their governments' complicity in war crimes being committed by Israel.

Campaigners in the UK have called on the government to end its complicity in the war on Gaza.

London is considering restricting some arms exports to Israel, believing Israel could breach international humanitarian law if it were to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge.

The campaigners note the criteria is the same obligation as that of the Netherlands, where a Dutch court in February ordered a halt to parts for F-35 fighter jets Israel is using in Gaza.

The UK government's arms export criteria include halting exports where there is a "clear risk" that such weapons might be used to violate international humanitarian law.