Monday, September 26, 2016

An Alternative to Trident: Peace ships from Barrow

Peace ships from Barrow
Note: Barrow is the town in the north west of England (Cumbria) where British nuclear submarines are built. This article is a contribution to the debate in the Labour Party about whether or not a Labour government should spend money to renew British nuclear submarines, now reaching the end of their useful life.

My name is Peter Doyle. I was a NUPE/ UNISON trade union organiser in the North East of England and Cumbria from 1977 until 2005.

I worked in Cumbria and Barrow from 1987 until 2005. I actively supported strike action on a number of occasions in the Barrow ship-yard and knew at the time a number of ship-yard workers and shop stewards. I was personally devastated when the Labour Party lost Barrow to the Tories in 1983, over the issue of Trident. Albert Booth, Labour MP, was a good comrade, who voted against Trident and as a result, his 8000 majority was turned into a 4500 Tory majority (on a reduced turn out). We now have a Labour MP again and it would be terrible if Labour were to lose Barrow again because of Trident.

On the whole of the West Coast of Cumbria, we have right wing Labour MPs: extremely vocal (possibly even leading the charge) against Jeremy Corbyn and the new emerging left wing movement. We have to come up with a robust socialist alternative to Trident: keeping 7500 ship builders doing what they do best- building ships.

The workforce in Barrow do not choose to build nuclear submarines that have the potential of raining death down upon millions. They choose to work. They are a highly-skilled work force, who in the past have built war ships, aircraft carriers, luxury liners, container ships and cargo ships. You name it, they can build it.

We have to offer a real and genuine alternative to Trident: an alternative which offers pride in the job, and a belief in the future. A genuine alternative to Trident could also represent a major sea change in Britain’s foreign policy. Instead of sending aircraft to bomb anything that moves; selling arms to both sides of every conflict, and at the same time declaring that we want peace, we could be the first nation in the world to proactively and explicitly bring peace to those areas that are experiencing war and natural catastrophe. We could do this through a fleet of ships that support peace and give aid in a massive way, to every war zone and every area suffering from natural catastrophe.

Prior to working in NUPE/UNISON, I worked in Swan Hunter ship builders, at the Neptune Yard, in Walker, Newcastle. The very first ship that I worked on was a Royal Navy Supply Ship. It had already been built and was being fitted out at dockside.

To say that I was impressed is an understatement. It had huge cargo capacity. It had workshops, capacity for helicopters and engineering shops etc. That image, as well as knowledge of that ship, has stayed with me for years. Because of the technical detail of this ship, it took more ship wrights, platers, draftsman, electricians, ships’ joiners, etc to plan and build, than any other ship. I saw the possibility then for an alternative to war ships in particular and also believe there is an alternative now, which provide a viable alternative to nuclear submarines.

A fleet of Peace Ships – 6 to 8 in total – could and would be regarded as a first responder in the event of natural catastrophe, and in war zones; providing help and assistance. These Peace Ships would have the ability to carry mobile hospitals and displaced persons camps. They would have on board medical laboratories with trained scientists, doctors and surgeons, nurses –  every form of medical and humanitarian assistance that could be needed.  What impact could this fleet have had in the Ebola outbreak in Africa or the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti?

Earthquake devastates Haiti

What was needed in Haiti, was urgent medical assistance: hospitals, doctors and more than that, fresh water and food. These ships would have desalination plants, food, and medical expertise and supplies and would have been an effective and rapid response to this crisis. Instead, it is still today paying the price of an ineffective response from the UN and interested parties.

In the Ebola outbreak, the Cubans got their medical teams there first, but in most of the areas there was no power, no refrigeration, no hospitals, no clean water, no untainted food. All of these barriers would disappear with this proposal, because all of the requirements would be on board.

The refugee camps in Jordan, would immediately cease being a burden to the Jordanian government. Prefabricated hospitals would be built; schools would be built; roads would be laid; electricity would be supplied via large diesel engines carried in ship’s holds and solar panels transported in the holds. A safe refuge, where families can be cared for, where children can access education would massively reduce pressures internally within Europe. Instead of talking about something, we would actually be doing something.

This fleet could be used by the UN, the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, and would be the first point of call by everyone who wants to bring aid, assistance and peace in the world.

Because of the technical nature of these ships and the size of these ships, the workforce at Barrow would have to be increased, and a programme of building would last for at least 20 years.

Maintenance, modernisation and repair would last at least another 20 years, giving the workforce a longer period of job security than they have with Trident.

The steel that would need to be procured and would be significantly greater than that required for Trident. Now unfortunately as we are out of the EU, all of that steel could be procured from within GB without having to put it out to EU competition (Stephen Kinnock eat your heart out!).

All of the material required in such ships could be fabricated and built in Britain. For example, the diesel power plants that would be needed for desalination plants and to provide electricity, could be built at the Ford Engine’s plant in Dagenham, Essex. In the process, saving steel-workers jobs (hopefully nationalised) and a boost to the British motor car industry. Helicopters, small cargo delivery ships, all would have to be built, still at a fraction of the cost of Trident.

A decision along these lines would massively assist Unite in convincing its members to vote in favour of abolishing Trident. A 40 year job guarantee would undermine right wing unions like the GMB, and would enable us as a country to proudly to declare that we are not just for peace, but we deliver peace, aid and sanctuary.

The impact of such a fleet would transform foreign relationships. Barrow would end up with a full order book, for Ships of Peace, from other nation, such as Norway and Sweden etc.

We would deal a blow to the right wing of our party; confronted with a massively credible and binary foreign policy option. Do they vote for bombs or peace?

More importantly, what would the average working Joe in Barrow think of it? Work guaranteed; something to be extremely proud of; the possibility of their children being employed as part of the civilian staff on ships saving lives.

What would the people of the West Coast of Cumbria make of it? Instead of being a dumping ground for nuclear power, their workshops in towns like Whitehaven and Workington (i.e. Copeland and Allerdale), could feel pride in working on something that’s saving lives and not potentially killing them.

The youth of the country would flock to the Party if such a policy was pursued.

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