The Prime Minister’s statement of 25th July that the Defence Export Services Organisation, based in Bloomsbury, will be shut by the end of the year is a great success for the peace movement in general and Campaign Against Arms Trade in particular. CAAT’s Shut DESO campaign, which included encircling the building with a human chain in October 2006, culminated with the handing in of a petition calling for DESO’s closure with over 10,000 signatures to the Chief Secretary of the Treasury.
I had signed that petition and got involved with the Shut DESO campaign because it was so obvious how wrong it was to have 500 civil servants in the heart of the government working for the interests of the arms trade. While we are campaigning against the exporters of death on principle, the strategic use of financial arguments during Shut DESO probably appealed to those who may not have shared all of our goals but wondered why private companies such as BAE Systems were getting such support from public coffers when other UK industries have been left to sink or swim in the “free” market system that is otherwise so lauded by our political “leaders”.
A total victory in such a major campaign feels fantastic. It is precisely this sort of thing that shows the cynics that change for the better is possible and that people united in a just cause can triumph over the vested interests of big business, even the trade in death, with its roots so deep in the political establishment. It provides renewed certainty for the campaigns which are still underway, such as that against the world’s biggest arms fair, the Defence Systems & Equipment international exhibition.
The fact is, that in terms of timing, the announcement of DESO’s closure could have been a little better for London CAAT, which had just called for a protest outside the DESO offices for the following week with the idea of keeping up the pressure on the government after a leak that DESO would be closed. With the announcement meaning there was no longer any need to call for its closure, our presence outside the offices on Monday July 30th may have felt to some inside a little like having salt rubbed into the wounds. The victims of their business, however, suffer more than just wounded pride.
London CAAT called the protest to show solidarity with Disarm DSEI’s call for action and even though DESO is doomed, inside those offices on that day people were helping to organise the DSEI exhibition at the ExCeL Centre in September. That is no doubt why so many peace groups were represented at the latest, and probably last, protest outside DESO (DisarmDSEI, East London Against the Arms Fair, CND and CAAT). With successes in the Reed Elsevier campaign and the Shut DESO campaign spurring us on, attention now turns to ridding our hometown of that bazaar for torturers and human rights abusers.