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Aukus might create jobs – but at what cost?

Britain’s skilled engineering sector needs to be turned to good use, not ever-increasing militarisation, warns JENNY CLEGG

THE Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU) has welcomed the benefits of Aukus, creating thousands of well-paid jobs, securing thousands more across the supply chains for years to come. 

But what about the costs? 

Within Britain’s constrained budgets, creating one job in the defence sector means cutting significantly more jobs — quite possibly those of trade union members — in sectors, for example, that provide for social welfare. 

The £3 billion defence spending increase recently announced by PM Rishi Sunak to go on supporting the delivery of Aukus is enough to pay the junior doctors’ claims in full one-and-a-half times over. And it is just the start.
 
The benefits to the supply chain might not be that great either since over a third of MoD supplies are purchased from overseas.

The reactors to power the Aukus submarines are to be built by Rolls-Royce in Derby using weapons-grade highly enriched uranium.

Thousands of jobs will be created, yes, but these vessels are for war-fighting so this will breach the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) stipulation that the exchange of nuclear technology must be “for peaceful purposes.”  

This also violates the spirit of the Nuclear Weapon Free Zones of the south Pacific and south-east Asia. There, the expanding authority of the Anglosphere is not something that is welcomed. 

It goes against hopes to make the region a zone of peace, instead increasing the likelihood of regional nuclear proliferation and an escalating arms race.  

A recent meeting of former Pacific leaders raised complaints about the “staggering” amount of money committed to Aukus which “flies in the face of Pacific Islands countries … crying out for climate change support,” the “threat … challenging our future existence,” they said, “is not China but climate change.”

The gross overexpansion of Britain’s military industrial base is to prepare for war with China. But China has not fought a war for 40 years; it maintains a defensive military posture with just one overseas base and only a small nuclear arsenal kept under “no first use.” By treating China as the enemy, Aukus will surely turn it into one.

China in fact is Britain’s fourth-largest trading partner; economic links have generated at least 150,000 jobs across the country and there is great potential for this to grow. 

Not long ago Chinese companies stepped in to help in the rescue of Jaguar Land Rover and saved 3,000 jobs at British Steel. 

Why put all this at risk? China should be seen as an opportunity not a threat.

By the time the submarines become operational in the 2040s, the world will be massively transformed. 

The emerging markets of the Brics countries already exceed the G7 in economic size and will easily double this in 20 years.  

A paradigm shift is under way as these rising powers reset world agendas — it is their priorities on climate change, health and tackling poverty that are now driving the world economy. 

Yet Britain continues on the path of disproportionate military influence even as it drops out of the world’s top 10 economies in the coming years.

The CSEU is working with the Australian engineering unions, yet the Australian Council of Trade Unions (Actu), which brings together 36 trade unions, has not endorsed the pact and maintains its backing of Australia’s nuclear-free defence policy.  

To support the huge Aukus military expansion, the Australian taxpayer will pay on average US$6bn per year for the next 30 years — a whacking total of US$245bn.

To secure Britain’s high-skilled base requires long-term contracts but the MoD’s seemingly easy solution stokes more problems for the future: the more that is invested in arms production, the harder it is to reverse — the end of a contract means thousands of jobs are at stake and the chase for investment becomes endless.

The British government has just spent over £6bn on the two aircraft carriers, now one is being mothballed. How many more white elephants are planned?

The CSEU needs to think again. Instead of delivering the labour movement into the pockets of BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, instead of driving China onto a war-footing, it should inform its members of the implications of the scheme.  

It should ask them: do they want to be building a world of conflict, tension and destabilisation for decades to come? Is that the kind of future they envisage for their children and grandchildren?  

We are nowhere close to having sufficient green skills to deliver the green transition globally — the CSEU should be encouraging apprentices to hone their skills for a green future; and it should get creative and set up teams of members to come up with alternative ideas not least to serve the new agendas and growing markets of the global South.

People in Britain can only rely now on skilled engineers to ensure the economy remains relevant in the coming decades. Politicians are failing us — it is up to the unions to envisage a different future for the country and to see that Britain’s advanced engineering is put to good use in a vastly changing world.

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