Arms Conversion

The impetus for the Lucas Plan came from the Lucas Aerospace workers who faced losing their jobs, and wanting to produce socially useful products rather than weapons. During the 1980s final phase of the Cold War, the Plan was extremely influential in the disarmament movement, since it showed that, with political will and support, disarmament did not have to mean thousands of workers losing their jobs.

However, theirs has not been the only initiative seeking alternative employment for arms industry workers. Other proposals have come from trade unions, local authorities and academics, while peace campaigners have consistently given their strong backing to them. Some have looked at the issue on a plant by plant basis, while others have investigated the situation on a regional or economy-wide basis.

Today, many people trying to justify Trident renewal, spending on “vanity projects” such as aircraft carriers which even the military question, or arms exports to some of the world’s most repressive regimes, fall back on the argument that they are necessary because of the jobs they support. However, the real choice is not between weapons production and the dole, it is between Government support for arms companies and projects, such as renewable energy, that meet real needs.

What has been lacking over the forty years from the Lucas Plan to the present is a Government willing to move its disproportionate support from the arms industry to another industry even when, as with renewables, the move would bring long-term benefits both in terms of sustaining highly skilled workers and more generally.

Rising up the agenda

The Trident debate, as well as Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s backing during his 2015 election campaign, have put arms conversion firmly back on the political agenda.

Academic Steve Schofield, who has worked on the issue for many years, has looked again in “Defence Diversification or Arms Conversion? Why Labour needs a programme for nuclear and conventional disarmament“.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade’s “Arms to Renewables” report, October 2014, considered the benefits that would arise from a switch of support from one industry to the other, while its 2015 case study “Arms industry in the Clyde and renewable energy options” examined one arms dependent area in greater depth.

The Unite trade union, with its dual commitment to world peace and disarmament and to the protection of its members’ jobs published “Defence Diversification Revisited” in March 2016. This looks at the history of “defence diversification” in the UK and elsewhere. At its July policy conference Unite committed itself to campaigning for a serious government approach to “defence diversification”, condemning the failure of successive governments to grapple with the issue after the Cold War.

Molly Scott Cato MEP’s report “Devonport: Trident alternatives” is an overview of green employment potential.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s “Trident and Jobs” report June 2016, looked at alternative work in the submarine building area of Barrow, engine manufacturing in Derby and the nuclear warhead centres in Berkshire.

The Nuclear Information Service’s report in the same month, “AWE: Britain’s Nuclear Weapons Factory: Past, Present and possibilities for the future” also looks at alternative work for the employees at the Berkshire sites.

Also in June 2016, the Nuclear Free Local Authorities expressed their backing for a Shadow Defence Diversification Agency so that plans will be ready when a supportive Government takes office.