Arms manufacturers target schools and universitie

International Women’s Day does not sit comfortably with the proliferation of the arms industry into our educational system and society

On 6th November 2023 three members of Palestinian Action climbed on to the roof of the Leonardo UK facility, Southampton, to highlight that it is a subsidiary of Italy’s largest arms company. It has a staff of 400 people. It also has sites in London, Luton, Edinburgh, Yeovil, Lincoln, Bristol and Basildon. The Southampton site mainly produces thermal imaging technology (infra-red detectors) for missile guidance systems and communications systems. Leonardo DRS prides itself in providing advanced defence electronics solutions across all warfare domains (land, sea, air and submarine communications technology). 

Leonardo globally, supplies Israel with Aermacchi M-346 training aircraft and components for its Apache attack helicopters. The laser targeting system for F-35 fighter jets is made at the Leonardo UK Edinburgh site.

In November 2022 the Israeli radar company RADA became a subsidiary company of Leonardo DRS and operates as a company unit within the parent company. The RADA website proudly states its radar network provides surveillance to the whole Gaza strip. Lessons learned from the Ukrainian war have helped RADA develop further radar technologies to provide protection to military vehicles. War and carnage is seen as an opportunity for further profits through new designs and technologies. RADA works with other arms companies such as Elbit Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and many more well known for providing the military infrastructure used by Western countries to bomb indiscriminately to further their colonial intent.

Technology produced in the Southampton Leonardo factory is being used by Israeli forces to target civilian Palestinians in the current attacks on Gaza. Consequently, Palestinian Action members damaged the roof of the Leonardo factory and shut down production that day. The activists were arrested, and their court case will be heard later this year. Many locals, including myself, had no idea the facility produced such products.

Leonardo greenwashes its complicity in genocide on the Gaza strip. It has won awards for reducing its carbon footprint over the years, in producing these products that improve the global military industrial complex’s ability to murder. CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) awarded the company a rating as a leader in the fight against climate change. CDP states it “is a not-for-profit charity that runs the global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impacts. Over the past 20 years we have created a system that has resulted in unparalleled engagement on environmental issues worldwide”. In other words, greenwashing for global companies and political bodies.

Scientists have identified that the global military industrial complex produces 5.5% of global warming while producing military products. But the devastation to the climate and the biosphere is much less defined during a war. UK and US scientists reported at the end of January 2024 that they believe that the carbon footprint of the Israeli genocidal attack on Gaza has exceeded the annual emissions of the 20 most vulnerable countries to climate change in the world. 

When we consider that Leonardo provides apprenticeships for 900 young people from the age of 16 onwards each year, one wonders if these young people would be so keen to join if they were aware of the devastation caused in wars by the equipment produced in these factories. But we must remember that it costs at least £9000 per year to attend university while remaining in your parents’ home. Many young people cannot afford to get into debt to pay these fees. Therefore, apprenticeships that provide unique job opportunities, while providing paid opportunities to complete BSCs and Masters degrees are very attractive to young people without financial support. These students will probably go on to complete PhDs with this industry to push forward their careers and make a good living for their future families, trying hard not to connect the destruction of other families’ lives with the end-product produced because of being funded by the industrial military complex. 

Jinsella is co- founder and executive director of demilitarise education (dED_UCATION). Last February he published an article in Declassified UK. It highlighted the fact that there are at least £1 billion worth of funding provided between UK universities and the arms industry. BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and QinetiQ tend to be the main partners with universities. Funding is through research to universities from arms trade companies, or money is invested by universities, directly into these companies, or through third parties such as Barclays, Lloyds or BlackRock. The military industry also provides consultancy to universities while their military equipment is being improved through research. Leonardo’s university of choice is Bristol University to develop drone technology through the university’s masters courses.

Leonardo Southampton makes good use of STEM outreach programmes based in secondary schools to lure in a new generation. They provide robotic equipment to schools for Years 7 and 8 science clubs to build robotic chariots and pupils then participate in schools’ competitions based at the Millbrook site. One of my son’s participated in these events and thoroughly enjoyed them. We had no idea the company was an arms company at the time. Leonardo portrays itself as producing parts for satellite production and national security. The apprentices visit the schools and provide support to the pupil as they build their robots. This is a technique used by many businesses involved in military production to ingratiate themselves into the local community. The government provides the funding for these apprenticeships, not the company that made £171 million in 2022.

The apprentice is on minimum wage, and the government pays for 95% of training and assessment. One wonders why the government can pay for apprenticeship training in a military industry but cannot provide free education to all undergraduate students? The answer is, of course, they can pay for free education for all but choose not to for political reasons. During the Palestinian vigil outside Leonardo we clearly highlighted that we were aware that the company was complicit in the genocide in Gaza. Two more protests have taken place since then. We realise that closing down the factory would result in 400 people becoming unemployed. So, what to do?

Leonardo UK also participates in the NASA PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem) which provides invaluable information through satellite data to monitor how the ocean and atmosphere exchange carbon dioxide. It is clear from the national and local Palestinian protests that the people of the UK do not want to have facilities producing weapons that murder women and children in their backyard. The Campaign Against Arms Trade has stated that the UK was the second largest trader in arms in the world between 2010 to 2019. This has only increased since then. Our unions will make a big issue of International Women’s Day on 8th March 2024, highlighting the need to cherish our women and girls and fight for equality within the work place while over the past 4 months we have watched the slaughter of 30,000 Palestinians on TV, the majority being women and children. My union, Unison, has passed a motion in solidarity with the women of Gaza during the union’s Women’s Conference this month, but they are just empty words.

On 21st February 2024, UN experts called for the prioritisation of gender-responsive humanitarian interventions, that clearly target much needed support to women and girls in Gaza, which included:

“Implement an immediate ceasefire and take all possible measures to avoid civilian casualties and displacement from Gaza. Establish a field hospital at the Rafah Crossing or offshore from Gaza, specifically to provide medical assistance for pregnancy and amputations, and protect existing hospitals. Facilitate the delivery of food, drinking water, medicines, fuel and other supplies critical to the survival of women and girls, and open crossings for humanitarian aid and the movement of people, particularly the injured. Prioritise adequate supplies of menstrual hygiene products for women and girls in Gaza, as well as sexual and reproductive health care and psychosocial support services. Build additional shelters and schools in Gaza so that educational facilities are no longer used as shelters and girls can resume their education. Provide safe spaces and reparations for women and girls who have survived or are at risk of gender-based violence in Gaza and the West Bank and ensure accountability for those who perpetrate violence against them, including Israeli authorities and settlers.”

But all this will be ignored. Countries like ours will not end the arms trade research and manufacturing within our borders. Unions such as Unite, GMB and Unison will have representation within these arms-producing facilities. It is paramount that our union leadership works with the working class within these facilities and beyond to present a formula to transfer these facilities to productive industries that benefit the families of the world and the environment, rather than them being used to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians and destroy our global environment. 

These global military companies buy our present political leaders. The privatisation of our schools and universities has resulted in them vying for external funds to support their educational remit, while allowing companies like Leonardo UK to dictate the nature of the curriculum. Only by building a mass movement based on organising the working class through unions can we take control of these industries and change them to benefit the 99% of the world’s population. We need industries that ensure none of our population, in the UK or internationally, will go hungry, cold or homeless and that we have a future planet to thrive on. We also desperately need our educational system to be renationalised. All run by the workers, through unions, and for workers. We cannot wait: temperatures passed the 1.50C threshold on 8th February 2024 and 25% of the world’s population is in a war zone. Time is of the essence.


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