Trident and jobs

Last week at STUC congress, I spoke in the debate on Trident on behalf of the STUC general council, of which I am a member. Some affiliates, mainly GMB and Prospect were advocating against longstanding policy opposing Trident, citing the STUC and Scottish CND’s work on defence diversification simply will not produce adequate high skilled and high quality jobs to replace those that would become redundant if we scrapped Trident.

Here is are some key points from my response:

It is the fundamental responsibility of any trade union to defend its members’ jobs. It is the fundamental duty of the STUC to support its member unions in defending their members’ jobs. Any trade union movement losing sight of this core purpose will soon find itself in very deep trouble, and deservedly so. Trade unions are nothing if we don’t fight to defend the livelihoods of the working people we represent.
From time to time, the trade union movement cannot avoid the difficult inevitable confrontation in representing workers across all industrial sectors and seeking social justice at its heart. Not every job, therefore is defensible. Sometimes it’s necessary to demonstrate leadership; to say, unequivocally, that jobs created in one industrial sector may benefit society more than jobs created in another.

The issue of Trident replacement raises just such difficult issues. Jobs in the defence sector – particularly in the manufacturing of defence equipment and infrastructure – are of particularly high quality; the pay and terms and conditions are significantly above average. The skilled jobs sustained by defence investment, like manufacturing jobs in general, help maintain cohesive communities in a way that services simply do not. It would be unwise to denigrate the industrial impact in Scotland of Trident not being replaced.

The STUC’s opposition to nuclear weapons is principled and longstanding. We must never diminish the impact of non-replacement of Tridenton trade union members in the defence sector. Over the last nine years we have published two substantial joint reports with Scottish CND which set out a number of options for handling what will undoubtedly be a difficult transition.

However, there is much, especially in the first report that hasn’t wholly withstood the test of time: the aspiration for transferring workers to the renewables sector now looks unreasonably optimistic given that sector has, as yet, failed to deliver the manufacturing jobs widely anticipated at the time. There is also cause to be more cautious about the prospects for non-weapon functions remaining in Faslane should Trident not replaced

Motion 113 argues that “talk of defence diversification” has been “too vague”. There is, quite undeniably, some truth in this assertion. Arguments for diversification are sincere and well-motivated but have often lacked the level of detail and rigour which Trident workers might reasonably expect. And any such proposals will always be subject to some degree of uncertainty. A truly Just Transition – which would see Trident workers transfer to socially useful jobs of similar quality – will be difficult to achieve. We do no-one any favours by pretending otherwise.

Government, the only authority with the resources to make a reality of Just Transition, has lost the capacity for large and effective industrial intervention. There is currently a lack of good opportunities for those who will be made redundant – the STUC has done much to highlight the increasingly precarious nature of the labour market. It isn’t serious to pretend it will be otherwise for redundant defence workers.

Therefore, a new approach will be required: one that recognises the scale of the challenge and isn’t diverted by easy rhetoric around Just Transition; one that is led by the trade union representatives of those whose jobs are affected. There is no industrial sector currently which could absorb Trident workers in similarly skilled jobs.

Consequently, every penny – and possibly more – saved from replacing Trident will have to be reinvested in creating opportunities for defence workers. This will necessarily involve a degree of intervention not witnessed for decades; involve direct investments in emerging sectors and technologies. Let’s be clear – the market alone will not deliver any Transition let alone one that is Just.

We must drop the assumption that the renewables sector has the capacity to absorb significant numbers of highly skilled defence workers in jobs with similar skills and terms and conditions.  The notion that there might be an eaeasy transferability of skills has no credible evidence. The optimistic scenario cannot be reconciled with the glacial progress of the renewables sector to date in generating jobs – especially manufacturing jobs – and fails to acknowledge the very pressing challenges which continue to face the sector.  The level of commitment and investment required to achieve an effective and Just Transition is significantly beyond anything proposed to date.

But I would reiterate that the STUC’s opposition to nuclear weapons is principled. It simply isn’t justifiable to support spending £170bn on weapons of mass destruction at a time when schools, hospitals and care homes are under-funded. Yes, designing a credible and effective transition programme for Trident workers will be tremendously challenging but this is a challenge the Scottish trade union movement cannot and will not shirk. 

The case for the Trident Successor Programme has simply not been made. Not on the grounds of economic and employment impact. Not on the grounds of defence needs

Scotland continues to live with the consequences of the market-led industrial change of the 1970s to 1990s. The failure to better manage the decline of heavy manufacturing and the assumption that the transition to a service led economy would ultimately benefit all our citizens has left a legacy of inactivity and broken communities

It didn’t have to be this way in the past and we will not let similarly damaging industrial change occur in the future. Working closely with the defence unions, the General Council stands ready to develop a transition plan that is credible, coherent and fully costed. The workers concerned deserve no less

Spending billions on nuclear weapons is now and always has been incompatible with the aims and objectives of the Scottish trade union movement. The movement will not shirk from the responsibilities implicit in this principled opposition. Cancelling Trident and implementing a detailed programme of fair and just industrial transition will stand testament to all that is good about the Scottish trade union movement.


5 thoughts on “Trident and jobs

  1. I think this blog really addresses the issues that we need to be thinking about in the whole trident v jobs debate. I was at Labour Party conference when this was debated last year. The GMB made a number of points on behalf of their members. These points need to be addressed if there is even a chance that the GMB can be persuaded that this is the path we should follow. I don’t think I’ve read anything else that

    1. Thanks Bernard. You always provide thoughtful feedback.

      It is so important that the principles on removing Trident and nuclear weapons sit alongside meaningful commitments to defence diversification whereby the highly skilled engineers and others are given work of equivalent quality and paid accordingly. If the movement has failed to deliver confidence in those guarantees amongst defence workers, then we must redouble our efforts until we do.

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