As demo day approaches, let’s get the St Athan arguments right!

Metrix\'s sinister promise

While the campaign against the privatised military academy at St Athan has been steadily growing, it has yet to register on the radar of the mass media. That will hopefully change after the demo in Cardiff on April 26th, which now features on the Stop The War homepage and looks set to pull in a big crowd. With increased media scrutiny, however, it is vital that campaigners get their facts right and are prepared for the arguments which our enemies will undoubtedly raise.

Cardiff PR were not involved in the statement of opposition originally drawn up by the campaign, but if we had been we would certainly have counselled against building the romantic illusion that Wales is uniquely pacifist as a nation. Wales, whether we like it or not, has been successfully integrated into the British imperialist military machine, not only through the involvement of Welsh regiments in the armed forces and Welsh politicians in sending troops to war, but also in the supply of essential goods to the armed forces: the British navy was once dependent on the high-quality steam coal which was the source of the Rhondda’s prosperity.

That does not mean there has not been opposition to this integration. The campaign against St Athan has a notable precedent in the campaign to prevent the siting of a bombing school on the Llyn peninsular in 1936. And the bravery of Welsh miners fighting against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, while the UK government was covertly supporting him, should never be forgotten.

Our role is to build on this tradition of opposition. However, the campaign against St Athan must not become a NIMBY campaign, but a campaign against privatisation full stop, and beyond that a campaign against public money being spent in the preparation of future invasions that the majority of people in Wales and the rest of the UK do not want. That is why, as we have argued before, we should defend the right of MoD workers to full employment and retraining if necessary, but we should not be arguing in defence of the existing training centres.

Of course we will be attacked for being pacifists (which Cardiff PR and many other activists certainly are not) and risking the defence of Wales and the rest of the UK. We have already dealt with this argument. The wars currently being waged by the UK military have nothing to do with our defence – in fact they have undermined our safety. No-one should accept the huge sums of money being poured into “defence” without a full and open public enquiry into this expense, run not by government with its vested interests, but by workers’ organisations.

It is important for us to also be clear on what a PFI project entails. PFI (now called PPP, or private-public partnership because of PFI’s unpopularity) is a scheme whereby private businesses pay for the building and running costs of an institution which government then rents back through regular payments over 25 or more years. PFIs offer the illusion that governments are spending less money when in fact they are spending more, since they have to subsidise the profits of the privateers, all the more so since businesses pay far higher interest on loans than governments do. Furthermore, if a PFI project gets into difficulties, it is down to government to bail it out.

One reason PFIs are so unpopular is that the supposed superior efficiency of the business model is achieved through cutting labour costs to the bone: every single PFI has involved redundancies and the employment of workers on minimal wages with minimal rights. A recent Guardian/ICM poll showed that two-thirds of people questioned favoured an immediate moratorium on PFI projects. And it should not be forgotten, as the likes of Rhodri Morgan praise the “Team Wales” PPP, that Labour originally came to power on a promise to end all PFIs.

A recent email purporting to be from the Cardiff Stop The War Coalition, besides unilaterally redefining what the 26th demo is about, claims that St Athan will be the UK’s “School of the Americas”. We should avoid such lazy comparisons. The School of the Americas was founded with the explicit intent of brainwashing South American military leaders and producing rabid anti-communists such as Pinochet. While it is certainly true that the products of St Athan will take part in reactionary wars and the repression of left dissent, the purpose of the academy will be to train students in aeronautical engineering, electro-mechanical engineering, and communications and information systems. Senior military officers will oversee the privatised training – they are not the object of it.

Of course, the original plan was for much more training to take place at St Athan. That was before the government backtracked on “Package 2”, claiming that the Metrix bid did not represent sufficient “value for money” – a significant climb-down from the drive to privatisation. The loss of Package 2 means that the project is now calculated at £11 billion – but bear in mind the escalating costs of other privatisations and the potential fallout from the growing economic crisis.

The campaign has rightly focussed attention on the presence of arms manufacturers Raytheon in the Metrix consortium. As we have previously argued, the question of whether Raytheon actually manufacture cluster bombs or depleted uranium warheads is merely splitting hairs. Their own website includes pictures of the “submunitions” (cluster bombs) their “delivery systems” (missiles) are designed to carry. They are without question guilty of some of the most appalling crimes against innocent civilians.

One minor detail we haven’t mentioned yet: in 1997 Raytheon made a donation to the Labour party and took MPs on an expenses-paid holiday. Two years later they were handed an £800 million contract from the MoD.

As for the daylight robbery involved in the privatisation of Qinetiq (major players in Metrix), you know something is seriously amiss when even the Daily Mail takes exception.

And if all this cannot convince punters that they should at least be sceptical of handing huge amounts of public money to Metrix, maybe we should also mention that another Metrix partner, service provider Serco, has a senior independent director, Margaret Ford, who also happens to be a Labour peer.

In the light of the dishonesty, vested interests and shameless profiteering already associated with this project, why should anyone believe the claims about jobs and knock-on effects on the Welsh economy made by its proponents? The PCS, which represents most of those presently involved in MoD training, has rubbished the jobs figures: we and others have already pointed out that many of the training jobs will be relocated from elsewhere. The idea that the academy is the best way to use public money to cut dole queues in the Rhondda and other impoverished areas of South Wales is absolute nonsense.

But the money is only available for this project, we are told. Who says? In this supposed democracy, why should we accept that there is a bottomless fund for warfare and never enough for housing, health, new community centres, better services, etc, etc, etc? Why not ask the unemployed what they need and see if they answer “another war in Iraq”?

Further articles on St Athan:Open University and arms dealers
PR resolution to Stop the War conference.
Check archives for more.

Leaflets and posters in English and Welsh can be downloaded from our resources page. Below: a few of Raytheon’s products – see videos.

A few of Raytheon\'s killers - see video page

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2 Responses to As demo day approaches, let’s get the St Athan arguments right!

  1. seren says:

    Coal was the source of the Rhondda’s prosperity? Have you seen the Rhondda, either in 1913 or now? Not much sign of that prosperity. As any marxist should know, the wealth extracted from the ground and workforce went straight to build the grand castles of the Crawshays and the even grander buildings down in Cardiff Bay.

  2. permanentrevolution says:

    Fair enough, it is important to distinguish between the bread enjoyed by the exploiters and the crumbs allowed the workers. But the reason there were nearly two hundred thousand people in the Rhondda at its height was because of the availability of work, due to the particular demand for steam coal, much of it used, as we said, by the Royal Navy. When markets were favourable workers could earn well above the national average wage, though (as the events leading to the Tonypandy Riots showed) those conditions could change suddenly and drastically – one of the few options available for workers then as now being the military.

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