Barrow BAE Town.

A report by Philip Gilligan

The shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness has a central role in the production of Britain’s so-called ‘nuclear deterrent’, producing the submarines which carry the nuclear missiles and nuclear warheads.

The previous class of Vanguard nuclear submarines were produced here and the new Dreadnought submarines designed to carry the new Trident D-5 missiles will also be built here. Barrow is the major town and administrative centre of the Westmorland and Furness unitary authority where I live and is very much dominated by BAE Systems. The dockyard and associated buildings physically dominate the centre of town, and BAE is by far the largest local employer and the first port-of-call for anyone seeking reasonably paid employment outside the public sector. The company has at least 10,000 direct employees in the town and plans to recruit 1000 new apprentices at the shipyard in 2024. This, in an authority which has 20 areas ranked by the Office of National Statistics as being amongst the 10% most deprived areas in England. BAE Systems publicises its sponsorship of community activities with young people, charitable organisations and activities that make a positive social or economic contribution to local communities.

Local politicians (Conservative and Labour) and many trade unions compete to show their support for Trident and submarine building, uniting in 2022 in The Keep Our Future Afloat Campaign (KOFAC) focused on ‘influencing defence procurement policy’ to ‘enable Barrow shipyard and its supplier base to sustain a core workload’. The group is led by the Unite and GMB trade unions, and includes both local councils and BAE Systems and its suppliers. Campaigning for nuclear disarmament and cancellation of the Trident programme in such a context is inevitably challenging.

There are Barrovians who recognise the absurdity of the so-called ‘nuclear deterrent’ and reject the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, and they express support whenever we hold a vigils or protests in the town, but many see opposition to the Trident nuclear weapons programme as tantamount to campaigning for economic disaster for the town.

It is, therefore, essential that our campaigning emphasises the necessity and possibilities for new and different economic investment in the town, for diversification and the redeployment of skills and workers in more socially useful and sustainable industries, and this, in turn, requires effective campaigning for policies which would produce the investment needed. A Government committed to nuclear disarmament and an effective national defence diversification agency would provide the essential foundation for such policies to become a meaningful reality.

Philip Gilligan is a long time member of CND and an activist in Lancaster CND.