“Towards a Labour Strategy for Peace” was adopted by the 21st congress of the International Union of Food and Allied Workers’ Associations, which was held in Geneva from September 12 to 16, 1989.
© UITA - IUF - IUL 1989
International Union of Food and Allied Workers’ Associations
8, rampe du Pont-Rouge
CH-1213 Petit-Lancy, Switzerland,
The World We Have
The World We Want
The Different Layers of the Problem
(a) The Politics of Mass Destruction Weapons
(b) The Politics of Militarism
(c) The Politics of the Death Industry
What Unions Can Do
The necessity of peace and disarmament has been affirmed in statements and resolutions adopted by virtually all major national and international trade union organisations since their existence, and particularly in the last ten years.
Since the end of the Second World War, these statements focus in general on all or several of the following propositions:
- the survival of humanity is endangered by the nuclear arms race between the two major power blocs, by the proliferation of nuclear weapons and of other weapons of mass destruction and, more generally, by what some statements call the “plutonium economy”.
- the economic burden of the arms race places unacceptable strains on the societies of both industrial countries and of those countries which should be in a process of development, in particular through:
- the creation of unemployment:
- the subordination of social priorities to “defence” priorities and diversion of economic resources needed for socially useful investments and the satisfaction of basic needs:
- militarism helps perpetuate oppressive regimes in economically dependent and politically weak countries, frequently in collusion with major powers and/or transnational business, and represents a threat to democracy even in countries where constitutional government and democratic traditions are supposedly entrenched.
These points have been amply documented and substantiated in numerous statements and studies emanating from the labour movement, as the oldest part of the international peace movement, from other parts of the peace movement, research institutes, international organisations and governments. It is not, therefore, the purpose of the present paper to reaffirm these statements or to repeat these demonstrations in detail.
The important point for our purposes is that, from the point of view of the labour movement, peace and disarmament issues cannot be seen or dealt with in isolation from other social and political issues which are central to its concerns.
The trade union movement cannot adequately defend the interests of its immediate constituency, nor achieve its historic and present goals of a just, free and sustainable society, without securing profound economic, social and political changes on a world scale. Whether it has always and everywhere done justice to this task is irrelevant: the task remains. This situation, which obliges it to address a broad range of interrelated problems at the same time, is unique and constitutes the main difference between it and single issue movements or others who occasionally converge with certain of its concerns while leaving others aside.
In the present world, wherever and whenever the labour movement must respond to the challenge of the powers that seek to maintain political oppression, economic exploitation, social inequality and discrimination, privileges and influence for the rich together with deprivation and powerlessness for the poor, the dismantling of social structures that protect the weak and the wiping out of gains won in hard-fought struggles of the past, it ultimately faces the military establishment, its ideology and its power, exercised in forms that may range from political lobbying to outright military control and repression.
This, in itself, is nothing new. Militarism, the military establishment and its related institutions, for example: national guard, police units specialised in repression, secret services, etc., has in most cases constituted the cutting edge of reactionary economic and political interests opposed to those of labour.
The new element is that modern technologies have created, for the first time in history, the possibility of armed conflict leading to the collective death of the human race.
Although the labour movement represents, in the first instance, a social class, it has, since its origins, consciously and deliberately, assumed responsibility for society as a whole, since its constituency is the major element in contemporary society that has no vested interest in social inequality, oppression and exploitation. Its vested interest lies, on the contrary, in the abolition of power relationships which perpetuate these social evils and in the establishment of new power relationships that guarantee both justice and freedom for the individual and for society as a whole. Labour is therefore in no sense a “special interest group” or a “pressure group” among others, as conservative propagandists would have us believe, but the carrier of an alternative society for the benefit of all. This historical responsibility now includes the labour movement’s share of the responsibility for the survival of the human race.
The struggle against war has always been and, notwithstanding today’s awesome situation, remains a social struggle.
A peace strategy of the labour movement therefore cannot be narrowly focussed on the actions and policies of governments nor on the technicalities of disarmament negotiations.
Clearly it would be counterproductive to ignore serious efforts by governments to move in the direction of peace and disarmament and to treat their policies (including policy changes) as irrelevant; on the contrary, they deserve support. Nevertheless, it is not the function of the labour movement to act as a self-appointed advisory committee to governments, military alliances and international organisations. In that unsolicited and uninfluential capacity, it can only demonstrate its weakness at the level of inter-governmental diplomacy presently dominated by conservative governments or bureaucratic police states and, at worst, can become involved in supporting the policies or objectives of the power blocs which are part of the global problem.
The labour movement, acting as an independent social force on the basis of its own goals, can rather mobilize its vast human resources and its organisational experience and capability to become a decisive factor in the movements of opinion which influence governments through the pressure they are capable of exerting, directly or indirectly, even on authoritarian regimes.
The resources and possibilities of action of the labour movement derive from its traditional functions and can best be perceived from the standpoint of its fundamental interests.
What are the global objectives of the labour movement and what is the content of concepts like "social justice”, "democracy” or “freedom”? Simply put, it is the following:
A society based on social justice is a society where the dignity and the equal worth of every human being is affirmed and sustained by social relationships, grounded in general cultural acceptance and expressed by appropriate institutions, which guarantee that all should have equal access to socially useful and appropriately remunerated work in safe and human conditions, where no human being is limited in his or her capacity to develop for reasons of race, ethnic origin, sex or poverty, where power (whether based on wealth or on political control) is not the privilege of a minority to use or misuse for organising the resources of society principally or exclusively for its own benefit,
The establishment of such a society requires a political order based on democracy in the original, fundamental and most radical acceptance of the term, meaning real power in the hands of the real people, exercised through political and social institutions legitimised and controlled by their constituency and therefore capable of setting economic and social priorities consistent with the interests of the majority.
This, in turn, requires the conquest and maintenance of basic human rights, including the freedom to exercise these rights. This includes the freedom of assembly, association and organisation at ail levels of society, including the right to strike, freedom of expression and information, including democratic control of the media with safeguard for minorities, the freedom to travel without restrictions and of mobility within one’s own country, the rule of law and the protection of the citizen against the arbitrary exercise of power by the State.
The satisfaction of humanity’s basic needs depends on securing the political and social relationships described above, The problem of hunger, for example, is a political problem,
These objectives are both a means and an end, and are interdependent. Democracy, for example, is not only a goal but also a method for achieving social coexistence and for the resolution of conflicts. A democratic society cannot be achieved by undemocratic means. Each end contains its own appropriate means, and all means determine their own outcome.
The struggle against war takes place within this social and political context. A labour strategy for peace cannot therefore be incompatible with the labour movement’s own objectives and methods. These objectives of the labour movement are meaningless if humanity does not survive. Furthermore, the militarization of society and of the economy is one of the principal obstacles in the way of securing labour’s goals.
A peaceable world can only be achieved under conditions and by means consistent with labour’s goals. The independent capacity of judgement and action of the labour movement with respect to governments and power blocs must be maintained at all times and all attempts to subordinate the labour movement to foreign policy goals of governments must be resisted.
The independent capacity of judgement of the labour movement, based on the interests of its membership and the vision of society that derives from these interests, is of vital importance, particularly when it comes to questions of war and peace. In the recent and distant past, instances abound where the labour movement has accepted the interpretations of the causes of war, of the origins of the danger of war and of the risks to national security it was offered by the military establishment. Keeping in mind the disastrous results, it will be readily understood why the political will to maintain independent analysis and judgement must never weaken.
A successful struggle for peace involves a struggle against the causes of war. Therefore the struggle for social justice, for democracy, for freedom, is indissolubly linked to the struggle for peace, and all tendencies to play off peace against freedom or human rights, and vice versa, must be opposed. A lasting peace can only be secured by changing the prevailing world order in that sense.
The “balance of terror" between the two major nuclear powers, the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, represents the most immediate and serious threat to human survival.
A labour strategy for peace must start with the rejection of the main tenets of present security doctrines. Conservative politicians and governments argue that nuclear war can best be prevented by preparing for it. In fact, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence, followed in practice by both sides, is a driving force in the ongoing arms race and increases the danger of nuclear war, in particular when the many regional conflicts in which the superpowers are involved are taken into account.
In addition, the everpresent nuclear threat is used as a means of psychological and political pressure to inhibit the development of democratic movements within the two power blocs dominated by the USSR and the USA. In that sense, nuclear weapons are already being used at the political, if not military level: nuclear blackmail is a weapon against national and social selfdetermination.
This situation has led some to argue that the spread of nuclear weapons can be a means of breaking the hegemony of the two superpowers and therefore contribute to the redistribution of power in favour of lesser powers. We believe this argument to be as irresponsible as the argument of deterrence. No progressive cause can be served by the spread of nuclear terror. Nuclear disarmament must include the existing nuclear weapons of France, Britain and China, and the unconfirmed or potential nuclear weapons of Argentina, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, India, South Africa and any other country seeking to develop a nuclear option.
It is the duty of the labour movement in all countries where nuclear weapons are produced or deployed to demand their destruction and the dismantling of the capability of producing them.
A labour peace strategy must aim at dismantling the hegemony of the superpowers by supporting and strengthening the democratic processes within each superpower bloc, not by abetting the creation of new military or even nuclear powers and blocs.
Trade unions at both national and international levels have spoken out for an end to the nuclear arms race. At its 13th World Congress in June 1983 and subsequently at its 14th World Congress in March 1988, the ICFTU deplored the waste of human and natural resources in the arms race. It demanded “a general balanced disarmament under effective international control”, an end to the strategy of nuclear deterrence, a cut in arms budgets of all nations and the allocation of these resources to development, and action on alternative employment for armament workers.
Other trade union resolutions on disarmament generally follow the same lines, while emphasising different aspects and solutions according to their own perspective. The European unions stress the danger that “the massive concentration of nuclear weapons on European territory” has made “the destruction of Europe...only a matter of minutes” (ETUC Executive Committee resolution, February 12, 1987). Several national unions and trade union centers, including the ÖGB (October 5, 1987), the DGB (May 1986), the SiD (June 1984), and the Norwegian LO (1985), propose “confidence-building measures” and a new “common security” for Europe. In the United States, the UFCW has supported “a freeze on all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons development and deployment by all major powers, with verification” (March 25, 1982), and has called for a nuclear weapons test ban to be “a keystone of American foreign policy” (February 11, 1983).
International federations of unions in the armament industry, in particular the EMF (June 1983) and the IMF (1981), deplore the grave effects on the world economy of “increased spending on nuclear and conventional weapons and armed forces in general, particularly at a time when millions of workers and their families are unemployed and much productive capacity lies unused” (IMF 1981). On the distinct question of chemical weapons, the ICEF at its Tokyo Congress of 1988 declared that “all chemical and nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction...and their instability poses a constant threat to human life and the environment in peacetime as in war”. For all these trade union bodies, “there is no alternative to the policy of détente, understanding and disarmament” (DGB, May 16, 1982).
Since the end of World War II, relations between the USA and the USSR have alternated between periods of confrontation and times of relative détente. A major element in moving the superpowers towards détente has been the recurring disarmament protests that have erupted since the “ban the bomb” movement of the 1950’s. Over the course of these years, several arms control agreements have been reached, including the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the SALT I and ABM treaties of 1972. In addition to these formal agreements, unilateral actions by one or the other superpower have sometimes led to informal understandings on specific issues, or compliance with unratified treaties, as with SALT II. This has not always been the case, alas. The Soviet Union’s unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests was stopped on February 26, 1987, after 18 months when the USA did not reciprocate, and President Reagan announced that the USA would no longer keep to the “gentlemen’s agreement” to observe the provisions of SALT II.
Détente has succeeded in reducing Cold War tensions and in opening up communications between ordinary citizens from East and West, but its achievements have been limited by the continued presence of the basic structures of the Cold War,
The present period, despite all its dangers and contradictions, nonetheless offers important opportunities for arms control. On December 7, 1987, President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachov signed the INF agreement to eliminate intermediary-range nuclear missiles from Europe. This treaty calls for first-time reductions in existing weapons (ground-launched Cruise, Pershing and SS20’s); it forbids both the deployment and future development of missiles with a range of 500 to 5,000 km, the most destabilising weapons in the current European strategic context.
The multilateral forum of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) has also created an opportunity for the US and the USSR, together with 33 other signatories, to reduce tensions and initiate confidence in cultural, scientific and other fields, under the terms of the Helsinki accords.
The C5CE is also the forum for the bilateral talks on the reduction of conventional forces in Europe (CFE), which started in March 1989 in Vienna, and which provide a real chance for the reduction of the provocative military build-up by both sides in the European theatre, particularly in light of a series of proposals for reductions in conventional and short-range nuclear forces by Soviet President Gorbachov in May 1989, and the corresponding proposal by US President Bush for a ten percent reduction of US forces in Europe.
These developments are due in no small measure to the efforts of the peace movement, which through mass demonstrations and other campaigns over the past five years, in many countries with the full involvement of the labour movement, has succeeded in raising the consciousness of people all over Europe about the danger of these weapons.
At the same time, new developments in nuclear arms and the strategies of the superpowers, including the increased deployment of air- or sea-launched cruise weapons or the modernization of existing weapons systems could eliminate the gains of the INF treaty and the momentum of current negotiations unless the peace movement (of which a labour movement acting on the basis of its own peace strategy has been a leading part in many countries) uses the momentum it has gained.
The German trade union center DGB and the Socialist Parties of the Federal Republic of Germany, Denmark and Belgium have all made proposals for a 300 km corridor along central Europe free of nuclear and other offensive weapons, to counteract the destabilising effect of any new short-range missiles (up to 500 km) deployed in place of the medium-range weapons. To counteract Submarine Launched Cruise Missiles (SLCMS) and other ocean-based weapons, which are not covered by any existing treaty, the Danish SiD and the Norwegian LO (in its 1985 Congress) have both proposed nuclear-free zones in Scandinavia and her territorial waters, and many leaders (as in the Five Continents Peace Initiative) have called for a de-nuclearized Pacific.
This is, therefore, a time that offers important opportunities to the peace movement. Soviet President Gorbachov’s series of disarmament proposals reflect the profound economic and social problems the USSR is facing. He is anxious to slow down the pace of military spending in order to be free to allocate resources for domestic purposes. Gorbachov and his supporters are hoping that the liberalisation measures subsumed under the concepts of glasnost and perestroika will be sufficient to create an incentive for the Soviet technocratic and intellectual middle classes to carry out an increasingly rapid pace of economic development. However, greater job insecurity and demands for increased productivity could generate resistance among Soviet workers. And, as Gorbachov has repeatedly stated, his reform policies are risky for the conservative layers of the bureaucracy who feel more secure with the traditional Stalinist structures. One may assume that this latter group includes important elements of the military. These and other tensions- such as the growth of national demands - are arising as a freer public opinion has begun to emerge. It is uncertain how much political space democratic social movements will be able to generate in the USSR and other countries with the same social system in this situation. The outcome in Poland and Hungary, as in the USSR itself, depends on an evolving balance of forces where all players are taking great risks.
A consistently peaceful and democratic foreign policy on the part of the Western countries would offer the best help to those in the USSR and in Central and Eastern Europe who are fighting for human rights and social justice. Contrary to the arguments of the Cold Warriors, militaristic policies in the West have provided a convenient rationale for Soviet domestic repression, analogous to the way Soviet interventionism in Afghanistan and in Eastern and Central Europe has given grist to the propaganda mills of those in the West who argue for swollen military budgets and for support to “lesser evil” dictatorships around the world. Indeed, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the process of liberalisation in the East bloc as a whole pose a major challenge to those in the West, such as British Prime Minister Thatcher, who oppose popular European initiatives for conventional arms reductions, or President Bush, who seek increased public expenditures for weapons systems.
It has always been true that a peace-oriented Western policy would constitute a powerful challenge to Soviet domestic and international policies. Today, when the Soviet leadership, as well as the leadership of Poland, Hungary, and other Eastern European states to a more limited extent, have opted for a course of liberalisation, genuine Western peace initiatives could make an even greater difference.
On the nuclear level, such initiatives should go beyond the “double zero” option to a freeze, followed by a radical reduction of strategic as well as tactical weapons, such as the “third zero” option for the elimination of short-range nuclear weapons in Central Europe proposed at the May 1989 NATO summit by FR Germany.
The threat of war cannot be countered solely on the nuclear level. More than 500,000 Soviet troops continue to exercise military control of Eastern and Central Europe, and for the people of this area the withdrawal of significant numbers of the USSR’s troops, which is part of the recent Soviet proposals, would greatly aid the process of democratisation. The success of candidates of Poland's independent union Solidarnosc in that country’s June 1989 elections is due of course to internal forces for change, but also to changes in Soviet policy on the use of military force. This is one of many reasons why it is crucial for citizens of Western countries to demand that their own governments embark on a serious policy of superpower disengagement, perhaps starting with proposing zones free of both American and Soviet nuclear and conventional weapons.
Since actions speak louder than words, an effective disengagement policy would also include increasingly extensive disarmament initiatives, not necessarily linked to immediate counterpart measures, particularly regarding weapon systems with a destabilising effect, that would also offer a political challenge to Soviet military presence in Europe.
The normalisation of commerce and trade between East and West and the strengthening of economic, cultural and scientific exchanges are fundamental to the success of this policy. Trade between Eastern and Western Europe can encourage the economic liberalisation and modernisation of the East and ease the economic crisis in the West. According to an estimate by the Belgian Socialist Party (General Council resolution, May 23, 1987), Belgium would gain 40,000 jobs if its level of trade (as percentage of Gross Domestic Product) with the Comecon countries were expanded to the level of the FRG’s trade with these same countries.
The policy of encouraging trade also encourages political stability and the disengagement of both Eastern and Western Europe from the power blocs.
The development of new contacts between the non-aligned Western peace movement and independent human rights and trade union activists in the Eastern European bloc is a positive factor in that context. The most significant recent instance was the international peace seminar held in Warsaw in May 1987, attended by 65 non-aligned peace activists from 14 Western countries and more than 150 Poles, including prominent leaders of Solidarnosc and of Wolnosc i Pokoj (Freedom and Peace), a new independent peace movement, who were also the organisers of the seminar. The IUF was represented, for the first time at this type of meeting. Subsequently, the IUF has joined trade unionists from Solidarnosc and from Western European countries at a discussion of trade union opportunities for peace at the 1988 European Nuclear Disarmament convention, in Lund, Sweden.
A further important instance of such contacts has been the collaboration of individuals from Eastern and Western non-aligned movements to produce a common document in late 1986, “Giving Real Life to the Helsinki Accords”. The document, which is addressed to the citizens and governments of the countries participating in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) held in Helsinki in 1975, states the following:
“Peace is more than the absence of war. A lasting peace can only be achieved by overcoming the various political, economic and social causes of aggression and violence in international relations as well as in the internal conditions of states. A comprehensive democratisation of states and societies including the existence of a critical public opinion able to exercise effective control over all aspects of military and security policy is necessary to create the conditions conducive to peace”. “Détente policy, to achieve permanent results, must have a firm basis not only on the governmental level, but within societies.... Official détente policy should create the framework which encourages the process of “détente from below”.
A labour strategy for peace should include the following elements:
(a) With respect to superpower relations, support for the following demands:
- military disengagement by the superpowers in Europe, the Pacific, the Middle East and other areas of confrontation.
- the replacement of the strategy of deterrence by a strategy of dissuasion involving renunciation of pre-emptive and retaliatory measures (especially with weapons of mass destruction), aiming at achieving a structural inability on both sides to launch an attack.
- support for a greater role for the UN in verification procedures, and as a peace-keeping force in regional conflicts.
- the development of confidence-building measures through increased trade, cultural, social and scientific exchange, and the free movement of persons and ideas (Helsinki agreements).
(b) With respect to weapons of mass destruction, support for the following demands:
- withdrawal and dismantling of all medium range missiles and of all nuclear weapon systems with short warning time stationed in or directed at targets in Europe and Asia.
- a halt to the arms race at sea.
- no escalation of the arms race into space.
- substantial negotiated reductions in conventional arms throughout the world.
- a total ban on testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons.
- the establishment of zones free of nuclear weapons without increases in conventional armament, as in Central Europe, Northern Europe, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
- a total ban on the production and stockpiling of chemical, biological and environmental weapons.
(c) With respect to the labour movement’s own policies and actions:
- active support of independent and democratic movements for human rights and social justice, of peace movements and (in the first place) of independent and democratic trade unions, East and West; this support should include assistance to such movements to help them develop contacts and cooperation among themselves and with similar movements in the Southern hemisphere.
- total opposition to all elitist forms of armed struggle and tenor, which cannot be equated with legitimate resistance of mass movements against dictatorship and oppression.
US President Eisenhower, who was in a good position to know, first coined the term “military-industrial complex” to describe the coalition of interests between the military and business establishment with its tremendous political power and its capability of subverting democratic processes. Today, the military-industrial complex is a major factor in the shaping of the foreign policy of the USA, the USSR and of certain European countries, and dominates the domestic political life of many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The “Irangate” scandal uncovered by the US Congress, and the unfolding MIS scandal in Britain, among other incidents, have revealed the attempts of conservative extremists entrenched in the Reagan administration and in the Thatcher government to institute secret and parallel authorities with quasi-governmental powers prepared to break the law and to subvert democratic institutions to carry out their political agenda behind the back of society.
The sense of shock and surprise caused by these revelations in public opinion is only a measure of its ignorance. The atmosphere of international tension generated by the global confrontation between the USA and the USSR, and the endeavours of both to occupy what they regard as strategic positions in Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as Europe, has been a major factor in the militarization of politics in most of the so-called developing world. What is now becoming apparent is the difficulty of conducting illegal militaristic and subversive adventures abroad without repercussions on the democratic fabric of society at home.
On the Western side of the confrontation, influential circles seek to pursue the militarization of the world by using the concepts of “national security” and “low intensity conflict”.
Such ideologies constitute the underpinning of state terrorism exercised by the military against its own people (as presently in Chile, Guatemala and Indonesia, and in the recent past in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay).
“Low intensity conflict” is a method of indirect military intervention in a situation where popular support for open war cannot be secured, and is therefore a method of circumventing democracy for the purpose of making war. A typical example is the present proxy war waged by the USA against Nicaragua.
A characteristic of the “national security” approach is to negate domestic causes of social conflicts and to attribute all social conflict to foreign intervention. This approach has been described as the “police interpretation of history”.
In the sphere of influence of the USSR, military might is the glue that holds the bloc together. The Communist regimes of Eastern and Central Europe, with the sole exception of Yugoslavia, were established by military occupation for the purpose of imposing the domination of the USSR Whenever this domination was challenged (Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968), it was reaffirmed by military, not by political means. (Yugoslavia, here again, is the exception, probably because the political price of military intervention would have been too high.) In Poland, the weakening of the ruling Communist Party in 1980 in its confrontation with an independent labour movement led to the take-over by hard-line military elements in 1981. The Polish military then became the guarantor and proxy of USSR control in place of the collapsed party structure. Only the re-emergence of a vigorous independent opposition, based on Solidarnosc, combined with a severe economic crisis, succeeded in opening up the process of liberalisation that is now underway.
The recent reforms initiated by Mikhail Gorbachov would indicate an effort to reduce the power of the military and of the secret police in Soviet society. It remains to be seen how far Gorbachov and his supporters are prepared to go, whether they will prevail against the vested interests of the military and to what extent the military underpinnings of relations between Soviet-type states will be affected.
In the Third World, the USSR has relied primarily on its military rather than its political capacities to extend its control (for example in Afghanistan, Angola, Ethiopia and South Yemen).
Militarism as an instrument of foreign policy is by no means confined to the superpowers, and it has been a threat to democratic institutions not only in the USA, but also in several European countries.
Militarist tendencies in the French army are a political factor domestically as well as internationally. It is a measure of militarism’s capacity for corrupting the quality of domestic politics that a socialist government endorsed the terrorist operation against Greenpeace in New Zealand, with the minister principally responsible for it receiving a standing ovation at the Socialist Party congress following his resignation in the wake of the scandal. One of the contributing factors in President de Gaulle’s decision to build a French nuclear weapon system under the direct control of the President of the Republic rather than the military, was apparently his distrust of the French military establishment based on his experience of it in the Algerian war. Right-wing circles have sought for some time to politicise the British army. The war in Northern Ireland serves as an exercise and testing ground for strategies to control a hostile population. Sectors of the Italian army (particularly military intelligence) have been involved in anti-democratic conspiracies, and the military of Greece, Portugal, Spain and Turkey have been too actively involved in the recent political life of their countries to be trusted.
In much of the Third World, militarism is the primary instrument of domestic control by the ruling elite which, in some cases, is virtually identical with the military caste. In most cases, this military establishment is linked with one or the other of the superpowers and is part of their global network.
In the Middle East, more people work for the military than in any other occupation, except farming. If irregular forces (like the Revolutionary Guards in Iran) or militias (like those in Lebanon) are included with regular soldiers, there may be as many as ten million people in military service in that region. The majority of Middle Eastern states are themselves controlled or strongly influenced by the military. And these military controlled governments without exception violate the political and human rights of their citizens.
In South and East Asia, the military plays a dominant or controlling role in the governments of Pakistan and Indonesia and heavily influences political life in the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand, largely on behalf of the interests of the local ruling class. In Burma and Taiwan, the single ruling party maintains itself in power largely by military means (with recent significant concessions in Taiwan to democratic forces). In Fiji, a democratic government was overthrown by a military putsch in May 1987. In Japan, Prime Minister Nakasone has taken psychological and political steps to rehabilitate and strengthen militaristic tendencies.
In Latin America, military pressure remains strong on the civilian governments of Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and others, and has an inhibiting effect on the democratic process. Chile, despite elections in October 1988 where General Pinochet’s regime was voted down, remains an outright military dictatorship. Paraguay is a personal dictatorship of which the military is the principal instrument and beneficiary.
In Africa, the militarization of politics has been actively promoted by superpower rivalries (for example Ethiopia and Somalia) and, in Southern Africa, by the low intensity conflict strategies implemented by South Africa against its neighbours (principally but not exclusively Angola and Mozambique, in the first case with active US assistance). South Africa itself is a militarized society, with direct representation of the military at all levels of government and presumably with the ultimate control of political decisions. With very few exceptions, African governments rely principally on military control to maintain themselves in power.
The principal function of militarism, as an ideology and as a system in the Third World, is control of the rural and urban population, and not least of the labour movement, by threatened or actual violence. Their function is not national defence but the social defence of the privileged ruling class. (0f the 145 wars fought in the Third World since the end of the second world war, the great majority have been civil wars.)
To the extent that Third World militarism is linked to superpower strategies and interests, as it very frequently is, it can become the detonator of a global nuclear conflict. This threat is only increased by the growing military presence of the superpowers (as well as such medium-sized powers as France) in the Third World, in particular through the deployment of sea-based military systems such as submarine-launched cruise missiles. According to an estimate by the International Peace Bureau, there are now at least 8,900 strategic and 6,600 tactical nuclear warheads at sea.
A labour strategy for peace must include a strategy to fight militarism at all levels, nationally and internationally, and to bring (or maintain) the armed forces under democratic control. This should include the following elements:
- the rapid withdrawal of all foreign military bases, facilities, advisors, counter-insurgency experts, etc. from Third World countries;
- international agreements limiting the sale and transfer of arms, leading to a total ban;
- pressure on democratic governments to impose sanctions on dictatorships (the inclusion of social clauses in international commercial treaties and the campaign for sanctions against South Africa are good examples).
- exposure and denunciation of superpower operations in the Third World;
- exposure and denunciation of violations of human and democratic rights wherever they occur;
- support for democratic movements, and in the first place of bona fide trade unions, in Third World as in all other countries. (Recent examples are the democratic movements in the Philippines and South Korea. the independent black trade union movement in South Africa and the independent trade unions which emerged in Braid after the recent transfer of power from military to civilian rule.)
- official publication of military budgets, complete and regular information on all military planning as well as on the individual contribution of Eastern and Western countries to military alliances.
- campaigns against all forms of domestic militarism. Abolition of military instruction in schools and universities, as well as of para-military training. Initiatives for a comprehensive peace education and for independent research on peace. (The 1988 video by the Colombian union SINALTRABAVARIA on militarism and repression in that country, Estrategia Sindical para la Paz’. is one example of trade union campaigns to inform the public about militarism.)
- limitations on the length of compulsory military service to not more than one year.
- recognition of the right to refuse military service for reasons of conscience as a basic human right: provision of an independent alternative form of civilian service.
Since 1945, a permanent war economy has been built up around the world. Military spending is taking a growing share of total public expenditure, key industrial sectors are increasingly dependent on military contracts, arms exports are expanding, and military research and development is growing at the expense of civil research.
In 1986, SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) estimated that approximately US$ 850-870 billion was devoted to world military expenditure, and that it was increasing at an annual rate of 3%. The rate of growth has been much higher in the USA (as high as 5.4% in 1984), but significant increases have also been noted in the Third World. In many countries, including much of Western Europe, military expenditure is taking an increasing share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The USA and the USSR have the world’s largest military industries. The US industry is more capital-intensive and the Soviet industry more labour-intensive, but both have high turnovers and exports (the USA had 34% of the arms export market in 1982-1986; the USSR 31%) and are big employers (in 1976, the US defence sector employed 4.8 million persons).
The most extensive arms industries in Western Europe are in the United Kingdom, France, the Federal Republic of Germany and Italy. The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) estimated that in the UK, the arms industry employed both directly and indirectly 750,000 workers in 1981, the French military industry 500,000, and the West German arms industry 300,000. In the Warsaw Pact, the German Democratic Republic and Czechoslovakia have important military industries.
In the Third World, the largest producers are the industrially developed countries Brazil, Israel, India, Taiwan, Argentina and South Africa, with Israel and Brazil by far the largest exporters. In most cases, these countries specialise in small arms and ammunition, and lack the high-technological base of the Western arms producers. Argentina and Brazil, however, are also important producers and exporters of armoured vehicles, Brazil produces and exports aeroplanes, and South Africa produces long-range artillery, which it has exported to Chile.
While the military industry cannot be said to have a pre-eminent place in the economy as a whole in any Western country, it is either holding its position as other sectors fall back, or (as in Italy) is growing faster than other industrial sectors. Even more importantly, military industries tend to dominate key high-tech sectors of the economy, such as electronics, aerospace and shipbuilding. This has an important effect on general economic performance and planning, as well as on employment.
Military industry demands a highly skilled workforce. In a recent statement (August 1987), the ILO estimated that 20% of all engineers and scientists in the world engaged in research and development were working on military projects. In France, according to an ETUI estimate, 19.8% of the employees in the military industry were technicians, compared with 4.2% in the total work force.
Another major aspect of the growing sophistication of high-tech military industry is its increasing reliance on research and development (R&D). SIPRI estimated that one quarter of the world’s R&D expenditure in 1986 was devoted to military purposes, approximately US$ 85-100 billion. The USA and USSR account for three-quarters of the world’s total military R&D. The UK, France, China and the FRG are the other major military R&D spenders. Military R&D has been increasing rapidly (15% in the USA; 25% in the FR Germany from the mid-1970’s).
In some countries, total government-funded R&D has tended to decline in recent years in relation to government-funded R&D for military purposes. This is the case in the UK, which devotes half of its total R&D budget to defence, and, to a lesser extent, in Sweden (SIPRI, 1986).
This is perhaps the most disturbing consequence of the militarization of the economy: the more resources the world devotes to military research - which is generally product-oriented applied technology - the fewer resources there will be for basic research, which is necessary for any effective scientific and economic development. Moreover, military R&D is a spur to the arms race and encourages the development of ever more sophisticated, expensive military systems which become obsolete with increasing speed.
Military production has often been seen as a motor of industrial development and a stable source of income and employment. Today, countries such as Indonesia and Singapore are attracted by military exports from France or Italy because of agreements to produce some of the components locally. But in the developed countries, there is no longer any justification for this argument. The rationalisation of the industry is reducing employment and is calling for higher capital costs, and domestic spending restrictions are forcing previously protected national firms to compete on a world market. Many arms firms, such as the private French aerospace firm Dassault, are now in serious difficulties.
The arms trade has been the salvation of many threatened arms producers, particularly in the smaller countries with less domestic demand. Recent scandals have drawn public attention to the extent of the arms trade, both official and unofficial; both legal and illegal. The Swedish firm Bofors and the Belgian firm PRB have been under investigation for illegal exports to Iran, and the USA has experienced a major scandal involving exports to Iran funding the Nicaraguan Contras. Third World producers such as China and Brazil have even fewer arms export restrictions than the Western countries and the USSR, and are deeply implicated in several current conflicts. Many producers have profited from both sides in the Gulf war: In 1986, 28 countries exported arms to both Iran and Iraq (SIPRI, 1987).
The economic and political role of the global arms industry is immensely powerful and destructive.
The vested interest of this industry is to maintain international tensions. Its interest is not in a global war, but in the threat of war and in relatively small-scale regional and local wars. Through the political influence armament lobbies are able to exercise in the principal arms-producing countries, they become an active factor in international politics in opposition to the relaxation of tensions and to the peaceful and negotiated settlement of conflicts.
Through their mutually supportive and dependent relationship with the military establishment, armament lobbies help sustain its power and are an important factor in strengthening militarism. In many industrially developed Third World countries (for example Argentina, Brazil and Egypt) armament industries are actually owned by the military, thereby providing it with an independent and powerful economic base.
Since much of the arms trade would be unacceptable to public opinion if it were known and, at least in democratic countries, would therefore be drastically curtailed or stopped, the arms industry has developed secret operations which amount to the subversion of democracy. In many democratic countries, the policies of the armament industry, particularly regarding exports, run counter to the declared foreign policy objectives of the government. Even small neutral countries like Sweden and Switzerland have been repeatedly embarrassed by the sales policies of their armament industry conflicting with stated government policy (for example the sales of the Swiss Pilatus planes to Guatemala, and the illegal sales of Bofors arms to conflict areas in the Third World through the intermediaries of Yugoslavia and Singapore).
A labour strategy for peace should therefore include the following elements:
analyse and expose the reactionary political role of the armament industry and of its political lobbies;
demand an agreement between all CSCE countries to reduce their military expenditure or budgets proportionally. Savings accruing in this way should go into a common CSCE fund for financing socially useful development projects (job creation, environmental protection, medical care, housing, education, support for small food producers in agrarian countries). Later, this fund should be extended worldwide, with savings being used for development, especially of Least Developed Countries, in line with proposals by the UN conference on disarmament and development.
accelerate work and build political pressure for conversion from military to civilian production.
On the question of conversion, the trade union movement has already developed initiatives in a number of countries on which further action can be built:
in 1980, in Finland, the SAK issued a report by Reijo Lindroos on “Disarmament and Employment”, giving the first comprehensive overview of the world military economy and the possibilities for conversion to civilian use.
in 1983, in Sweden, the Metal Workers Union held a Conference on Conversion in Lysekil, which was followed by conferences in 1984, called by the Peace Forum of the Labour Movement, and in November 1987, called by the LO. Workers from the armaments industry discussed the possibilities of preparing for conversion to civilian production in a situation where real détente develops between the superpowers and where real steps can be taken towards disarmament.
in October 1983, the ETUI sponsored a seminar with Western European and international trade unionists, and issued its own report on “Disarmament and the Conversion of Arms Industries to Civil Production”, concentrating on the military industry in Western Europe.
in June 1985, in the USA, the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department unanimously adopted a resolution on “Economic Conversion: Military Spending and Jobs”, which endorsed the concept of economic conversion as a “rational and responsible effort to deal with plant closings and mass lay-offs in defence plants and military bases”. The resolution also supports initiatives in the US Congress to require the development of economic conversion plans for defence-related plants and facilities (notably HR 1066 introduced by Rep. Nick Mavroules (D-MA), and HR 229 introduced by Rep. Ted Weiss (D-NY)).
in September 1986, in F R Germany, the DGB organized a “New Products Instead of Old Slogans” conversion exhibition fair. The union has also backed alternative-use projects at arms firms such as Blohm and Voss (Hamburg) and VFW (Bremen) for wind energy and other forms of environmental protection.
in March 1987, in the United Kingdom, the TGWU organized an international arms conversion conference, bringing together trade unionists in the defence sector from 22 unions in 10 European countries. Many of those present expressed the wish for further dialogue about the best way to pursue arms conversion policies in an international setting. The union has also backed several arms conversion projects in Britain, including the Lucas Aerospace plan of 1976, as well as local projects at Vickers Shipbuilding, Barrow, and Llangennech naval stores in Wales.
in November 1987, in Belgium, the ABVV-FGTB invited a TGWU delegation to discuss disarmament and conversion with trade unionists from both Belgian national centers, ABVV-FGTB and ACV-CSC, as well as peace movement activists, This was the first international exchange between unions specifically devoted to these issues.
in April 1989, the ICETU committee on peace, security and disarmament recommended a study of the likely impact of the reductions envisaged by NATO and the Warsaw Pact in the event of an agreement on conventional forces on employment in the European defence industries, together with possible measures for the restructuring of these companies in order to maintain employment in production for peaceful purposes.
in September 1989, the ICEF and affiliates in the chemical industries put forward proposals at an international conference sponsored by the Australian government, for the participation of trade unions in the chemical sector in the negotiation and verification of an international treaty banning the production and stockpiling of chemical weapons and the conversion of the chemical weapons industry to civilian use.
At the governmental level, only one country has until now responded to the United Nations’ request to draw up a comprehensive plan for conversion: Sweden, in the report “Towards Disarmament” (1984), by Inga Thorsson.
At the beginning of this statement we said that the resources and possibilities of action of the labour movement derive from its traditional functions and can best be perceived from the standpoint of its fundamental interests.
The weapon of the labour movement is organisation, which can be used directly (industrial action at the workplace) and indirectly (political campaigns, demonstrations, etc.).
A labour strategy for peace must ultimately rely on the effective use of the organisational resources, firstly to educate and to prepare its own membership for action, secondly to organise public opinion at large.
The past experiences of the labour movement in directly confronting the war issue are mixed. Before the First World War, labour action for peace proved quite effective in limited situations. For instance, when Norway broke away from the Swedish crown in 1905, war threats from Swedish conservative and militaristic circles were countered by a general strike threat from the labour movement of both countries, thus clearing the way for the peaceful negotiation of Norwegian independence. But when it came to the wider conflict, labour’s political will proved too weak to prevail.
Although it was the declared policy of the Labour International before 1914 to oppose war, if necessary by an international general strike, in practice labour opposition to the war collapsed when nationalistic and militaristic pressures proved stronger in the major European powers and later in the United States of America. However, after the horrendous costs of the war in human lives and material destruction had made their impact on public opinion, the labour movement was instrumental in stopping the war in a number of major countries (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia).
In the 1920’s and 1930’s, labour’s battle against war was lost long before the outbreak of the second world war, when fascism crushed the unions and the parties of the Left in Italy (1922), Germany (1933), Austria (1934) and finally Spain (1936-39) - a further demonstration, if any is needed, of the direct link between the fight for democracy and the fight for peace.
In the immediate post-World War II period, the labour movement, in its great majority, lined up on opposite sides of the Cold War and generally accepted, on both sides, their own governments' interpretations of the global conflict. In the last twenty years, however, independent and critical thought and action have revived in the Labour movements of several important countries, mainly under the impact of a greater public consciousness of the true nature of the nuclear menace, of the Vietnam war and of the progressive political disintegration of the Communist system.
Especially on the nuclear issue, a number of important trade union centers have again resorted to labour's traditional methods of action.
An early instance in Europe was the successful threat of a general strike by the German trade union confederation DGB, in 1958, to prevent the conservative government of Konrad Adenauer, with Franz Josef Strauss as Minister of Defence, from equipping the FRG with nuclear weapons. Instead, it was left to the USA to control nuclear weapons in the FRG.
The issue of the US and USSR medium range missiles again led to the use of the strike weapon as a protest in the FRG. A demonstration strike for peace was organised by the DGB on October 6, 1983; about 8 million workers took part. The action was carried out despite objections from the employers’ federation which dammed that workers had gone beyond their trade union rights with the five-minute strike.
Similar demonstration strikes took place in Finland (October 27, 1982), Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark.
In 1986, a second round of demonstration peace strikes took place in Denmark, Norway and Finland. The Swedish LO congress decided, by a thin majority, not to participate.
The possibilities of action by the labour movement are still largely untapped. Therefore, the present attempt to elaborate a labour strategy for peace should be seen as a contribution to building a consensus that makes common action possible of the labour movement with independent peace movements, other public interest groups and liberation movements, wherever their activities are compatible with labours demands for social justice, democracy and freedom.