For an arms trade which meets real human needs

Socialist Unity spoke to Stuart Jordan who was arrested for 'unlawful protest' at last year's arms fair.

 

Stuart (left) and co-defendant Irene WillisCan you explain the circumstances that led up to your arrest?

It was Wednesday 14th September 2005 and a day of action had been called to disrupt the DSEi arms fair in London Docklands. DSEi is the biggest arms fair in the world and the British government invites all its most violent, quisling 'friends' to window shop for instruments of bloody murder. Seeing a noble cause, a friend and I went by bike and joined with the critical mass bike ride.

The bike ride started at Bank Tube station in the heart of the City. The bankers looked a little bemused to see a load of hippies on bikes handing out anti-capitalist propaganda and we were equally bemused that our sage words failed to persuade them to give up the day job and join us. However, once had judged the lack of revolutionary zeal in the pinstripe suits we went on our way to the Excel Centre. We got a little bit of abuse on the way from a handful of Daily Mail readers but largely the people of London were in support and appreciated our colourful spectacle.

By about midday, having caused long tailbacks throughout London we arrived at one of the entrances to the Excel Centre. Above the Excel centre on the flyover a group of around 6 were locked onto a concrete block and were blocking the traffic. As the road was free an impromptu street party had started up where people seemed to be dancing a ceilaigh. Below, at the entrance to the Excel centre the critical mass had got off their bikes and were blocking both entrance and exit. Someone erected a banner and there was some good natured jeering 'What would your mother think?' etc. The police then imposed conditions upon the demonstration and told us that we had to move into a police pen or be arrested. I was feeling particularly bloody minded about the whole thing having been pushed around by police for the last two days and I sat down with two other people and we got carried off to the police station.




How do you feel the police handled the arms fair protests?

The role of the police on a demonstration like the one at DSEi (and more generally in society at large) is to maintain the status quo. This means that they attempt to render the protest useless, belittling and intimidating the protestors, whilst doffing their caps to arms dealers and delegates. Throughout the day there had been a catalogue of abuse from the police: stop and searches, threats of arrest (I saw a bloke who was threatened with arrest for riding his bike on the pavement), bizarre arrests (a woman was arrested for writing in chalk on the road) and a bit of pushing about. Effectively, I was arrested because it was inconceivable that the arms fair delegates might get out of their chaffeur driven cars and walk into the exhibition centre.

From a certain perspective the police handled the arms fair protest extremely well. There was minimal coverage of the event in the press, minimal disruption to the arms fair itself and the international arms trade continues unabated, thriving off of money given by a largely ignorant taxpayer. As errand boys for a political establishment which seeks to consolidate power to a small minority they did extremely well. However, the actions of the police in crminalising non-violent dissent and the actions of the media in failing to report non-violent dissent leads to a political climate in which violence is the only recognised currency.

In terms of civil liberties, the event was shameful. Not so much because peaceful protest was criminalised (although this is a cause for concern) but because the police were acting in collusion with the security forces of Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Algeria, Colombia, China who are openly recognised as some of the most oppressive regimes in the world. The British police were effectively acting to protect these regimes from a load of peaceniks whilst they shopped for the weapons that they will use to crush political dissent in their own countries.


 

Why were you attending these demonstrations?

I see the DSEi arms exhibition as one of the most blatant signs that we are engaged in international class war. The only problem is that the rich are the only ones who are aware there is a fight on.

A brief look at the arms fair shows much that is wrong with the world. The British government invted seven regimes to this event, which the foreign office itself has blacklisted for human rights abuses. Our government knows that these regimes will use weapons bought at DSEi to terrorise their own people and yet it sells to them anyway. Why? Because the rich and powerful elites that rule these countries are willing to implement neo-liberal reforms (privatisation and free-trade) which benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. Around the world, from Britain's own National Health Service to water provision in Bolivia, governments are trying to implement privatisation and free-trade in the face of massive grassroots opposition. Sometimes, like in Britain, this opposition can be overcome by creating a climate of political apathy and by massive propaganda exercises through the capitalist-run media. However, in less democratic societies political dissent is crushed by violence and state terror. It is interesting to note that President Bush recently called for an arms embargo on Venezuela after they democratically elected Hugo Chavez on a pledge to re-nationalise the oil.

In a world a such enormous economic disparity, the rich need large weapons and draconian laws to
to protect themselves from the mass of humanity. I went to DSEi to voice my dissent for all those people who cannot speak up for fear of persecution.

 

What do you think the main focus of the campaign against the arms industry should be?

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade is peace organisation which seeks the complete abolition of the international arms trade. It compromises a variety of different individuals of different political persuasions. However, I think that the idea that is it possible to abolish the international arms trade is fanciful and comes about because of a lack of political clarity. The campaign will lobby New Labour MPs on the basis that the arms trade is heavily subsidised and so it does not follow free market logic and at the same time it will lobby Lib Dems on the basis that arming up dictatorships is not very democratic. I am not convinced that rational argument will work against a political establishment which has shown itself to be hellbent on promoting arms proliferation.

There is a Gandhian notion that 'the science of war will lead to dictatorship whereas the science of non-violence will lead to democracy pure and simple.' Although I appreciate this sentiment and see it reflected in the work of CAAT, I think there is a stronger case for saying 'we want an arms trade which meets real human needs, not the needs of a rich and powerful elite.' In this way the campaign could tap into working class politics and trade unionism and play a part in raising international working class solidarity. I also think that a campaign with such aims has a broader appeal and would not be restricted to converted lefties and pacifists.

 

 

We report on Stuart's case here

 

Jan 2006

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