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IF THERE was one thing that British listeners should have picked up from Vladimir Putin’s interview last week, it was the intervention by Britain’s then prime minister Boris Johnson over Easter 2022.
Putin confirmed that, just prior to Johnson’s visit, a signed agreement had been reached ratified by the representatives of both Ukraine and Russia and counter-signed by France and Germany.
Johnson’s intervention caused Volodymyr Zelensky to back out of the agreement. Whether Johnson acted alone or on behalf of the US government, or elements within it, we do not know. But it is unlikely that Johnson would have acted without some sort of US sanction.
What we do know are the human consequences. According to the UN, just over a thousand civilians had lost their lives by April 2022. Since then 10 times that number have been killed and the same ratio is likely for the much higher level of military casualties.
Even more worrying for the future, however, is the process of institutional militarisation. The EU has integrated its forces with Nato and Nato has expanded. Finland joined in May 2022, doubling the length of the Nato border with Russia. Sweden applied in May 2022, although its application remains blocked by Hungary. Nato’s central military budget has been increased by 23 per cent.
And Britain has led the way. The previous defence minister Ben Wallace announced, in September 2022, a governmental pledge to double defence expenditure to £100 billion by 2030.
Subsequently Jeremy Hunt’s May 2023 Budget found an extra £11bn for defence. For the forthcoming Budget still more money was being proposed over the weekend “to strengthen Britain’s defences in the Red Sea.” Britain remains the second biggest contributor to Nato after the US.
Yet Britain is a country that can no longer afford the basic infrastructure needed for clean water, rail transport or a national grid capable of connecting existing renewable capacity — let alone a viable health service and effective schooling.
In Glasgow rising rents are plunging older tenants into poverty and, like other councils across Britain, the City Council has just announced another round of swingeing cuts. Glasgow’s trade unionists should be congratulated on planned protests seeking to unite communities with the labour movement.
As we approach the conference season, these are the issues our trade unions need to discuss. We should be clear that military expenditure does not create jobs. It destroys them — by a ratio of at least three to two. Even for the GMB jobs from increased defence spending will mean a greater number of members, precisely those doing socially essential work, losing their employment – and it will be those who do work that is socially essential.
At the same time we also need to ask the wider political questions. Why did Johnson and, probably the US State Department, sabotage peace in Ukraine in April 2022? Was it to open the way to a militarisation of Europe that would complement the militarisation of the Pacific initiated by the 2021 military pact between Britain, the US and Australia — in turn part of a wider bid to shore up US global dominance ?
Today, as Israeli armed forces begin their murderous assault on Rafah, the United States calls for restraint. Why, then, does it continue to fund and arm Israel? Why does Britain continue to allow Israel’s electronic warfare company Elbit to operate in Britain as Cameron deplores the bloodshed?
Again the answer would seem to be about the balance of world power. Palestine, Ukraine, the Pacific. At the height of the cold war our trade union movement was a key force for peace. It needs to be again.
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