In the wake of the genocidal bombardment of Palestinians in Gaza by the Israeli occupying forces and violence across historic Palestine, Palestinian trade unions issued a call to workers across the globe. They asked for a shutdown of sections of the arms industry involved in sending weapons to Israel. Inspired by previous worker struggles that prevented the shipment of arms to Chile during Augusto Pinochet’s coup and South Africa during apartheid, we have heeded the call from our comrades in Palestine.
Early yesterday morning, Workers for a Free Palestine, a network of trade unionists active in major British trade unions that formed in response to the call from Palestinian trade unionists, blockaded an arms factory run by BAE Systems in Rochester, England. A steady stream of components for military aircraft used by the Israeli occupation force in Gaza leaves the Rochester site, where BAE Systems produces interceptor systems for F35 fighter jets and components for F16 fighter jets.
We blocked all traffic to and from the site.
Workers for a Free Palestine comprises workers active in major British trade unions including Unite, Unison; GMB; the National Education Union; the British Medical Association; the University and College Union; the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union; The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union; and the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, alongside housing organizers and student activists.
We are workers who have come together to stop the flow of arms that fuel the Israeli war machine. Weapons produced in Britain’s factories and supported by British institutions enable the Israel Defense Forces to kill Palestinians every day — we believe that we in Britain have a special duty, as residents of the metropole, to actively resist the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
We also seek to reveal the extent of historical and present British complicity in settler-colonial violence.
Britain is the birthplace of the catastrophic Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration, both of which paved the way for the dispossession of Palestinians. In the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, Palestine was carved up by the Western empires.
In the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Britain laid the foundations for the mass killings, dispossession, and displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba perpetrated by British-supported Zionist militias. This colonial legacy reverberates today as Britain aids and abets a second Nakba.
In the present, Britain hosts Israeli weapons company Elbit Systems’ factories, which produce Hermes killer drones. Britain ordered these from Elbit to kill Iraqis and Afghans. These weapons, which have killed scores of Lebanese and Palestinians for almost two decades, are marketed as “combat-proven” by Elbit.
In turn, Britain’s massive weapons industry supplies Israel with the full array of killing machines: aircraft, helicopters, and drones, grenades, bombs, and missiles, as well as technology such as target acquisition, weapon control, and countermeasures. Since 2008, Britain has licensed the export of arms worth at least £560 million to Israel.
The British state continues to offer support and guarantees to the arms industry, making its taxpayers complicit in Israel’s crimes. Its aid comes in in the form of state investment in research, which serves to de-risk investment and shore up profits for weapons makers. In 2022, BAE Systems paid for less than 15 percent of its own research and development programs.
British universities are complicit, too, in this military-industrial complex. A report from 2020 found that over one hundred British universities have invested a total of £454 million in companies complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Israel drops British bombs on Gaza. We shut down the factories making those bombs, and we organize our workplaces to divest from the Israeli war machine.
Despite the fact that 76 percent of the British public supports a ceasefire, politicians are refusing to act. Rather than listen, our politicians assert their unconditional support for Israel’s deadly war machine.
Workers for a Free Palestine is inspired by our Palestinian brothers and sisters who remain steadfast in their refusal to let Israel complete the colonization of historic Palestine. We honor the over ten thousand Palestinian martyrs who have been killed in the past month, and the over ten thousand Palestinians thrown into Israeli prisons for the simple crime of existing as Palestinians.
The actions of trade unionists and activists across the globe have given us inspiration. Transport workers in Belgium, dockworkers in Barcelona, trade unionists in Melbourne, and protesters in Washington, Missouri, and California have triggered a historic movement to shut down the global infrastructure of the Israeli military complex. Our aim is to grow this movement.
We call on the British government not just to support an immediate ceasefire but to cut all military ties with Israel.
Of course, Britain is not unique in its support for the dispossession of Palestine — far from it. The United States, the European Union, and US allies in the Middle East and beyond all enable these ongoing horrors. Yet we find ourselves in Britain and therefore target British complicity. The British government led by Rishi Sunak, James Cleverly, and Suella Braverman has shown unwavering and enthusiastic support for Israel.
Sadly, this extends beyond the Conservative government into the cowardly “leadership” of Keir Starmer and David Lammy’s Labour Party, which is fully aligned with the policy objectives of the far-right Israeli state.
In London, as elsewhere, marches of hundreds of thousands have become a weekly occurrence. So too have waves of train station sit-ins and blockades of arms factories. Organizations like Palestine Action, which for years have targeted companies like Elbit and Leonardo — another arms manufacturer that ships weapons to Israel — have paved the way for the upsurge in arms factory blockades and protests.
Now, as Workers For a Free Palestine, we broaden the scope of the British wing of the Palestine solidarity movement against the Israeli war machine, bringing mass pickets and blockades to complicit sites across the whole country. It’s time for an end to impunity. As important as the mass demonstrations that have seen half a million on the streets of London are, we need to organize to disrupt weapons factories too.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of targets for us to shut down. This is a testament to the deep historic and current British complicity in the subjugation of the Palestinians.
Our task must be to organize a mass movement against war, occupation, apartheid, and settler colonialism. This task will require an inordinate amount of legwork, but as residents of the European metropole of empire, we have a duty to resist.