By Iona Soper Associate for Secure Scotland: https://www.securescotland.scot/people/iona-soper
I recently attended a panel exploring ‘Real Human Security’ at the Campaign Against the Arms Trade’s It Starts Here 2021 conference. It’s encouraging to see the term become part of the conversation, because to me, it’s always felt like the unspoken elephant in the campaign meeting room. Campaigning against nuclear weapons in Scotland, we’ve frequently posed the question ‘what would YOU spend the money on?’ as a campaign device, without asking people to explain why. Panels such as this, along with work being done by Secure Scotland and our partners Rethinking Security, seek to engage with militarism not only as a divergence from funding real human need, but as the enforcement system of the patriarchal capitalist system that sits at the root of people’s daily insecurities.
The concept of ‘human security’ brings together individual aspects of the anti-militarism campaigns under a shared understanding of the vast upheaval that is required for a more peaceful world. Tackling militarism from a standpoint of ‘real human security’ draws together the issues of divestment and ethical consumption, diversification and just transitions for workers, indigenous rights and colonialist, capitalist exploitation, and the need for a ‘green industrial revolution’ and nonviolent solutions to conflict, as well as (largely due to the climate crisis) asserting an urgent timeframe for tangible action.
The panel’s first speaker was Mel Evans, Head of GreenPeace’s Oil Campaign and one of the ‘Stanstead 15’. Mel highlighted the outreach work being done by GreenPeace among offshore oil and gas workers during the pandemic with Platform London and Friends of The Earth Scotland. Among their findings was the fact that over 80% of workers would consider leaving the industry, and half would like to work in renewables and offshore wind. The primary concern for workers lay around job security, which has been continuously destabilised largely by the increased use of casual workers, agency workers and zero-hours contracts. Mel noted the additional risk to the health and safety of workers when companies are driven to ‘cut corners’ in this way, and emphasised the need for huge government investment to create the amount of jobs in other sectors that will be lost as we transition away from oil and gas. It’s something I’ve heard mirrored countless times in my own campaigning at Faslane, regarding the jobs that would be lost if we shut down our nuclear industry. Diversification and protection of workers is essential not just to maintaining support for your campaign, but to ensure that your campaign leaves no one behind. As Mel rightly stated, “security really has to be about care.”
Mel was followed by Sam Evans, Policy Officer for Climate Change and Just Transition for the Public and Commercial Services Union, and involved with the New Lucas Plan for aerospace engineers. On the topic of job security, Sam noted that “real job security will come in defining the just transition to zero carbon that we need, and is rooted in the funding of public service and socially useful production.” Sam’s contribution emphasised, among other things, the many, very real crises we are currently facing - such as the climate crisis, the global pandemic, increased automation and loss of jobs - and the inability of our current defence policy to remedy any of them. She cited instances during the last year where it had been clearly demonstrated that industries devoted to destroying life, such as arms engineers, could easily develop technology that saves lives, such as ventilators. The pandemic has proven to us that we have the means to diversify. What we require is the will. As Sam noted, “At the heart we need an agenda for peace”.
Next up was Daniel Selwyn, educator and researcher with the London Mining Network, and author of their recent report, Martial Mining: Resisting Extractivism and War Together. Daniel began by discussing how the violent impact of global crises, as well as conflict, is distributed differently along lines of class, race, gender, ability, and immigration status, and that challenging these distinctions must be an intrinsic part of our response, particularly in light of the eco-fascist response to the climate crisis we are already beginning to see. On the issue of domestic workers, he noted with concern how military, arms and mining companies have inserted themselves as ‘essential’ services throughout lockdown, despite high numbers of Covid-19 cases among staff. (Again, you only have to look to Faslane to see the same thing happening in Scotland). He also highlighted several links between British mining, arms production and indigenous and ecological exploitation in the global south, reminding us that “militarism is more than a divergence of funds from issues for real human security, but is itself an essential ingredient to fuelling the ecological and climate crisis.”
The panel’s final speaker was Eleanor Lisney, Founder Member and Director of Sisters of Frida and Co-Founder of Culture Access CIC. Eleanor drew the stark contrast between the financial and human cost of conflict, and of the disproportionate impact of conflict on the BME and Disabled communities she represents, both in domestic investments and in the experience of living in, and seeking refuge from, conflict zones. “We’re constantly told that our needs cost too much, there’s no public money for access to housing, healthcare, jobs services. We’re not able to contribute to society if we don’t have the necessary support of human security, such as inclusion and accessibility.” She spoke further of the impairments that occur in conflict zones, and how these present a gendered stigma around women, who are expected to continue performing duties as mothers, wives and housekeepers. Perhaps the most haunting moment was when she asked us “how many disabled people have you read about that have managed to escape conflict zones on boats?”
I find that ‘intersectionality’ is a term that can often be used to signal virtue in a hollow fashion, but the It Starts Here conference was a great example of putting that rhetoric into practise. Bringing these individuals together to explore the relationships and intersections between their experiences of campaigning to help build a movement that speaks with the voices of many, is exactly what is needed to challenge the dominant patriarchal capitalist narrative that works exclusively for the few. As someone who thought I had taken on an intimidating enemy in nuclear weapons alone, I’ll admit it’s a daunting challenge to make. But you only have to click one of the following links to understand why it’s a challenge worth fighting for.
GreenPeace Report: Workers in offshore oil and gas: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/resources/offshore-oil-and-gas-workers-report/
The Lucas Plan for aerospace engineers: http://lucasplan.org.uk/
London Mining Network Report on Martial Mining: https://londonminingnetwork.org/2020/11/martial-mining-report-out-now/
Sisters Of Frida: http://www.sisofrida.org/
Culture Access CIC: http://cultureaccess.co.uk/