Metrix run scared as Qinetiq privatisation slammed

Q: What do the following have in common: George Bush snr; George W.Bush; Donald Rumsfeld; James Baker; disgraced Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra; former Reagan defence secretary Frank Carlucci; John Major; Bill Clinton. A: They have all served on the board of, or as consultants to, the Carlyle Group, the private equity firm who walked off with 34% of Qinetiq when the MoD R&D wing was privatised.

That privatisation hit the headlines this week when the National Audit Office slammed the obscene profits made by Qinetiq managers after the sell-off. For an investment of £500,000, ten men pocketed an incredible £107 million. Carlyle, meanwhile, had been given preferred bidder status despite six other firms competing for what amounted to a licence to print money. Why? Because profiting from war depends on the collusion of politicians- and no-one represents the cosy relationship between arms suppliers, the armed forces and politicians (the “military-industrial complex”) more comprehensively than the Carlyle Group.

The high price of Qinetiq shares did not happen by accident. The market was clearly anticipating a healthy rate of profit. Key to this was an upcoming £16 billion contract for a new military super-academy. Qinetiq was a key player in the Metrix consortium which proposed to site this school of death at St Athan in the key marginal seat of the Vale of Glamorgan. As has been well documented by Permanent Revolution, the Metrix bid, fronted by ex-MoD insider Sir John Chisholm, won out, applauded all the way by Welsh AMs of every party, the Wales TUC, and the local media.

Clearly, however, the campaign to stop St Athan, in which PR are playing a significant role, is beginning to rattle Metrix. The contract to build the academy is not due to be signed until April next year, and opposition is growing fast. With this in mind, the shadowy “St Athans Communications Working Group” has stated on its website (now mysteriously inaccessible) that there needs to be a “bulwark” against the “Campaign to stop the St Athan academy from being built”

The comments of Jill Evans, Plaid Cymru MEP, opposing the academy, have put St Athan back in the headlines in Wales and prompted a hysterical backlash, orchestrated by BBC Wales and taken up enthusiastically by Labour and Tory politicians, including supposed left wingers such as Newport West MP Paul Flynn. However, if Metrix are worried about Plaid coming out against the scheme, they can sleep easy. Now junior coalition partners in the assembly government, the ‘party of Wales’ have thus far supported the murder academy to the hilt, and at the recent meeting of the No2St Athan campaign, Jill Evans admitted she had not pushed the issue to a vote at Plaid national council because she knew she would lose.

What makes the coalition against St Athan dangerous to Metrix is not its ability to lobby MPs and AMs – an exercise unlikely to bear much fruit – but its potential to become a campaign with mass support not only within Wales but throughout the UK and beyond. Now that PR have won the UK Stop the War Coalition to the cause, we are now carrying out our aim to get meetings on St Athan in every major town and city with a Stop the War group, in order to build for a mass demo in South Wales before any contract is signed. We have also successfully argued within the campaign to take the issue into the unions, in particular those directly involved, such as the PCS and UCU (the Open University is a partner in Metrix and Barry College is being drawn into the project). Already Cardiff PR have won FESC (further education lecturers’ council) to the campaign, despite the nominal support for St Athan of Wales TUC. In practice, this is the support of a few bureaucrats, since no workers in Wales have been consulted and the whole package has been sold on a completely bogus claim that St Athan will create 5,000 jobs.

However, there are dangers for the campaign in simply following the demands of PCS members in Cosford and elsewhere whose jobs are threatened by the “rationalisation” of defence training represented by the new super-academy, which will of course, like all “rationalisations” actually involve a net loss of jobs. We do not need the Stop St Athan campaign to become a campaign to save RAF Cosford. The campaign should instead call for the reemployment of all redundant military trainers, at equivalent wages, in socially useful jobs.

Permanent Revolution are quite clear in our view on defence spending. We agree with Liebnecht’s dictum of ‘not a penny, not a person’ for the war machine, not because we are pacifists, but because we are anti-imperialists. The armed forces of the UK do not exist to defend us, but to defend the interests of the powerful corporations who carve up the world in search of markets, raw materials and cheap labour. Time and again throughout history, ‘our boys’ have been used to break up our strikes, suppress dissent, and crush rebellions here and abroad. That is why we support all efforts of rank-and-file soldiers, sailors and airforce personnel to democratise their services and be in a position to choose which actions they will perform at the possible cost of their lives.

However, we do not expect the campaign against St Athan to take up such demands. What we do agree with is the call for a public debate on the militarisation of Wales, and at the recent campaign meeting we argued successfully that the only bodies large and representative enough to carry out such an inquiry are the trade unions – unless of course, people would prefer Lord Hutton.

If Metrix’s fears are to be fully realised, the No2St Athan campaign has a way to go. At present it is campaign dominated by peaceniks of a certain age, meeting at the forbidding Temple of Peace in Cardiff, over-concerned with lobbying and short of activists on the ground. While there is certainly an important role for CNDers and the like in the campaign, it needs to reach out to a wider audience, drawing in that layer of young radicals who protested so actively against the onset of war in Iraq. Such people will not be enthused by the likes of the Green Party whose resolution to party conference commits its leaders to no more than writing a letter to Rhodri Morgan. Equally, however, they may be alienated by the arrest-hungry stunts of South Wales anarchists, who lack nothing in boldness but have no perspective on building an effective mass campaign.

Permanent Revolution are quite clear on the kind of campaign St Athan needs. A campaign that utilises the massive potential power of the organised working class, alongside the creativity and energy of young radical students, overseen by a coherent strategy for maximising political pressure through mass action and the widest possible public awareness. If you agree with that, get in touch with us and help build such a campaign. Nobody wanted George Bush when he paid his ill-fated visit to the UK – now let’s ensure he and his buddies in the military-industrial complex do not get into Wales by the back door.

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9 Responses to Metrix run scared as Qinetiq privatisation slammed

  1. Paul Bemrose says:

    Obviously PCS as a union, and the MoD Group and IO Group in particular will not entirely endorse your analysis of the situation. However, we welcome the interest of PR, STW, CYW and anyone else opposed to the building of St Athan Defence Training Academy.

    Its not just Cosford PCS members who are against this project. Members in Blandford, in Portsmouth, in Cranwell, Bordon and Arborfield all face site closures. And those in package 2 are not out of the woods. The MoD will look at cherry picking “profitable” elements and hive them off to the private sector. This isn’t about St Athan or Cosford- that’s too simplistic. Its about the privatisation of public services and attacks on workers terms and conditions. Our trainers aren’t “military”. They are Civil Servants delivering phase 2 and 3 training to services personnel. “Military” trainiers are personnel still in the Armed Forces. There is a difference. The range of training provided is vast- from literacy to highland dancing and wind surfing. The point is our members don’t want to move, dont want to be made redundant and dont want to work in the private sector.

    AS for 5000 jobs, this is pure spin. 1100 Civil Service jobs are in scope. This programme doesn’t create jobs, it just steals them from other parts of the country. It really is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Unfortunately too many Political parties have failed to read the small print.

  2. permanentrevolution says:

    Thanks for your comment, Paul, and in particular the clarification about jobs. We are clear that many of the people currently employed at other centres, and many of the proposed jobs at St Athan, are not directly employed by the military – we used ‘military trainers’ in the broader sense of people training the military, in whatever capacity. At the recent campaign meeting the involvement of Barry College was mentioned, along with the expectation that half the available jobs would be for tutors. You are absolutely right to stress the centrality of the privatisation issue, given the creeping privatisation of the FE sector as a whole, which is why we are sceptical as to how many of the jobs will go to Barry.
    Where we absolutely agree is that none of your members should either be made redundant or forced to move. Where we do not agree is that the armed forces represent in any sense a ‘public service’.

  3. Andy Williams says:

    Dirty laundry and all that?
    Interesting post with some good points. Whilst I agree with many of them, though, I’m not so sure that a public website is the most appropriate forum for discussing them. You can do what you like, of course. But at a time when, as you’ve so rightly pointed out, the (very organised and well-financed) bad guys are about to round on opponents of the base it might not be politically expedient to dwell so much on our differences in public like this.
    As you say, the loose coalition we are building against the base consists of many different groups, often with very different agendas and heritages. When you get far left parties, peace activists, anarchists, unions, mainstream parties, and groups like the STWC together in the same room it goes without saying there will be quite some differences of opinion.
    But we are united in varying degrees (and sometimes for quite different reasons) by our opposition to the St Athan project. This is just my opinion, of course, but I think that building and keeping together our own ‘coalition of the willing’ will be difficult enough without such frank public statements of what divides us. Both for reasons of our own internal cohesion, and to avoid giving our opponents ammunition with which to take easy pot-shots.

  4. permanentrevolution says:

    Andy’s arguments here will be familiar to veterans of many campaigns, strikes etc past; anyone who remembers the friefighters’ strike of 2003 will recall how powerful was the pressure within the FBU to close ranks and not criticise general secretary Andy Gilchrist. We reserved our right to make such criticisms. We said that the only guarantee of success was for the rank and file to organise a conference and take control out of Gilchrist’s hands.
    Who would say now that we were wrong to make those criticisms, and given that, how could we have avoided them being in the public domain? It was message we needed to get across to thousands, not a few people in private room.
    PR absolutely agree in the importance of unity in action, and in collectively following through democratically made decisions. Both now, and in our previous existence as Cardiff Workers Power, we believe we have been exemplary in that regard. But in any healthy united front the right of participants to raise their own arguments should be taken as read. The points we raise are dedicated to making the St Athan campaign as effective as possible, anticipating the arguments of the very enemy Andy describes, while also keeping everybody’s sights on the bigger picture – defeating that enemy for good.

  5. Andy Williams says:

    Fair enough. I’m not in any way about closing down debate. Just questioning the political expediency of public debate at this time, when the loose coalition we’re all trying to build is in its infancy and under atack from powerful external forces.

  6. James Maiden says:

    I agree that there is lots more the campaign needs to do and there are some excellent suggestions in the article. Stopping the Academy is obviously a massive task that will require us all to work together. I’m just not exactly clear how having a swipe at just about everyone involved (i.e. the tone and derogatory language used) is really helpful to that end. If anyone has any constructive criticisms to make, then aren’t the planning meetings the best place to do it? I am somewhat saddened that, in my view, this strained attempt to score political points has been placed above the best interests of the campaign.

  7. permanentrevolution says:

    Our last comment has already dealt with this criticism which is essentially the same as Andy’s. We certainly do not want to waste the time of campaign meetings polemicising against Plaid or the Greens – that is why we make our entirely valid and relevant criticisms here. It is not petty point scoring to point to Plaid’s utter hypocrisy on this issue, nor the ineffectiveness of letter-writing as a means of political change, nor the fact that the campaign needs to widen its audience and get more activists on the ground. It is part of political debate, a healthy and necessary thing in any campaign, if not to the taste of some.

  8. rob says:

    This is Cardiff PR’s website . They are entitled to put their opinions here even if they might be wrong 😉
    Your article’s okay but a bit abstract .
    How do you propose to ” utillise the massive potential power of the organised working class,alongside the creativity and energy of young radical students,overseen by a coherent strategy for maximising poltical pressure through mass action and the widest possible public awareness ” in South Wales exactly ?
    Any actual concrete proposals ? Otherwise your just sloganeering .
    Comradely
    Rob

  9. permanentrevolution says:

    Check back through our previous articles. Our resolution to STW contained a number of concrete proposals which we will do our best to ensure are carried out via the STW network, if necessary taking the relevant initiatives ourselves. We’ll be continuing to win support within UCU – next stop UCU conference – and via other PR branches attempting to win affiliations from both trade unions ans student unions. We’ll be holding stalls and meetings locally to build the mailing list; and of course, as we are here, we will use the web to update info about the campaign, take apart the enemy’s arguments and spread the message as widely as possible. But of course we are a small part of this campaign, and fortunately it’s not just up to us. That’s why we’ve encouraged the campaign as a whole to focus on the labour movement as well as the peace network and why we’ve offered to write campaign material that will appeal to all our key audiences; this will be avauilable as soon as time allows, because we do all have jobsand families as well as lives as political activists!

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