Why we think it’s important to be at the factory gates

Campaigners in Wales hold an annual vigil at their local BAE Systems factory as well

For fifteen years, a dedicated group of campaigners have kept a monthly presence outside the gates of their local arms factory – BAE Warton in Lancashire. In the run up to September’s month of action against the arms trade on our doorstep, Jan Harper spoke to us about what inspires them to action.

Can you tell us a bit about what you do around the BAE Warton arms factory?

We do a monthly vigil lasting for an hour at the roadside. We hold a banner ‘Remember the Victims of the Arms Trade’. It’s clearly visible from the road. We hand out about 200 leaflets to workers at the factory, passers-by, and traffic. It’s optional to take a leaflet and we don’t force them. The leaflet states clearly why we are there, and focuses on a particular issue, currently drones. As we are a Christian group we would usually say a prayer at the end.

What made you start the monthly vigils?

We were heavily involved in supporting the campaign against the sale of BAE Hawk jets to Indonesia, a local woman was part of a group of four that disarmed a Hawk jet and was arrested. The trial was In Liverpool and the women were acquitted. A whole campaign and other actions followed at the Warton site. One of our group in particular felt that after the campaign a regular witness would be important at the arms factory, she had heard of similar witness in United States. So that’s how we began, back in 1997!!

What has the response been?

The response is mixed. We get some support, some abuse, and also we hear “this is my job, my livelihood”. I think people are amazed at the consistency, that we have been there for so long. While we don’t always get dialogue, we hope that people read the leaflet and at least think about it.

Why is it important to you to keep a presence at the factory?

It’s important to be a presence at the factory to say that we want an end to the arms trade. It’s unlikely that we will see an end to it but by being there we are saying “This is not in our name”. BAE Systems is one of the largest arms companies in the world, we believe it’s important that they are called to account for their actions (we say this in our leaflet). Ultimately what is produced there will be responsible for the death or injury of someone in the world, quite often women and children. No matter how we dress it up, this is the truth and it’s important to witness to that truth while recognising we too are caught up in it all (in our taxes etc.). We want to raise awareness and public consciousness.

What effect do you think the vigils have had? What have they achieved?

We often talk about achievement, but we can’t always measure it. I think we can only hope that people driving past BAE see us, and realise what the factory symbolises. I think just making the link is an an achievement. We also have some locals who join us now, which we couldn’t have imagined as most people are employed there.

What advice would you have for others who want to take action about a local arms company site?

My advice would be to be realistic about what you want to achieve, and to be prepared for the long haul! Be patient and don’t expect big results. Visible banners are great, and we feel the leaflets are a good way of communicating our message. Perhaps focus on one thing (one of CAAT’s current campaigns maybe!!).

Would you like to plug future demos?

We hope to maintain the monthly vigils though we are small in number. We welcome support for those. Please be in touch if you would like to come – janharper1[at]yahoo.co.uk or 0151 263 6578.

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