Demonstrators blockade weapons manufacturer BAE Systems site in protest over Israel-Hamas war in Gaza
Hundreds of trade unionists under the banner ‘Workers for a Free Palestine’ today blockaded weapons manufacturer BAE Systems’ factory in Kent in protest over the Israel-Gaza war.
Activists descended on the site in Chatham, Rochester at about 7am on Friday and moved to block its entrances. One group held a banner saying ‘stop arming Israel’ and some chanted ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’.
An organiser said that more than 400 trade unionists are involved in the action at the site, which they claim provides components for military aircraft being used in the bombardment of Gaza.
They said the group includes health workers, teachers, hospitality workers, academics, artists and more who are members of trade unions such as Unite, Unison, GMB, the NEU, the BMA, UCU, BECTU and BFAWU.
The blockade has been organised as part of an ‘international day of action’ called by Palestinian trade unions to ‘end complicity in Israel’s war crimes’. Another banner read ‘This factory arms genocide’.
Activists descended on the site in Chatham, Rochester at about 7am on Friday and moved to block its entrances
An organiser said that more than 400 trade unionists are involved in the action at the site
A protester in a high-vis jacket puts up a sign reading ‘trade unions 4 Palestine’
Participants are calling for ‘an end to the UK Government’s complicity in war crimes being committed in Palestine, by ending arms sales to Israel and supporting an immediate ceasefire’.
The plant produces electronic systems for Boeing and Airbus, and high-tech helmet mounted displays for the F-35 Lightning stealth combat aircraft.
The helmet uses infrared cameras to allow pilots to ‘look through’ the air-frame, giving them a perfect 360 degree view of their surroundings and enemies.
Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the bulk of the F-35, describes the ‘stealth combat’ aircraft as ‘the most lethal fighter jet in the world’. In July, Israel’s Ministry of Defence approved the purchase of 25 the aircraft, bringing its total fleet up to 75.
Today, there were claims BAE Systems workers had been unable to enter the site during the protest.
Alexandra, a teacher and National Education Union member taking part in the protest, said: ‘I’m joining the blockade today because as a teacher and trade unionist it’s impossible to stand by and watch as our government supports Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza, including with arms from this very factory.
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‘As a teacher, seeing 185 schools and other educational institutions in Gaza bombed is utterly heartbreaking.
‘If our government and the Labour opposition won’t support a ceasefire, as workers we will continue to take action to stop the slaughter of civilians in our name, funded by our taxes. The British arms industry, which is subsidised by public money, is involved in the mass killing of Palestinians.
‘We’re here today to disrupt the Israeli war machine and take a stand against our Government’s complicity and we urge workers across the UK to take similar action in their workplaces and communities.’
A member of Workers In Palestine, a coalition of major Palestinian trade unions that is calling for industrial action and civil disobedience to halt the arms trade with Israel, added: ‘Massive marches send a powerful message but it’s equally important to exert targeted pressure on governments and corporations that profit from the arms trade with Israel.
‘We salute all trade unionists who took up the call made by the Palestinian trade union movement and acted decisively against complicity, only such clear actions by people of conscience can bring an end to Israel’s impunity.’
Kent Police are currently hanging back as activists blocking one entrance to the site in Chatham, Rochester, chant slogans such as: ‘1,2,3,4, occupation no more; 5,6,7,8 Israel is a terrorist state’, and: ‘BAE must be stopped, no more bombs must be dropped’.
One activist held up a sign which read: ‘Taxpayers have blood on their hands’.
A BAE Systems spokesman said: ‘We’re horrified by the situation in Israel and Gaza and the devastating impact it’s having on civilians in the region and we hope it can be resolved as soon as possible.
‘We respect everyone’s right to protest peacefully. We operate under the tightest regulation and comply fully with all applicable defence export controls, which are subject to ongoing assessment.’
More than 70,000 people are expected to flock to London on Saturday to protest against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza – a few hours after a two-minute silence will be held at the Cenotaph for fallen servicemen and women.
Participants are calling for ‘an end to the UK Government ‘s complicity in war crimes being committed in Palestine, by ending arms sales to Israel and supporting an immediate ceasefire’
One protester said: ‘We’re here today to disrupt the Israeli war machine and take a stand against our government’s complicity’
Today, there were claims BAE Systems workers had been unable to enter the site as a result of the protest
The plant produces electronic systems for Boeing and Airbus, and high-tech helmet mounted displays for the F-35 Lightning stealth combat aircraft
Police chiefs have cancelled leave, extended overtime and drafted in 1,000 more officers from across Britain to reinforce their ranks.
And senior public order officers are set to give orders to immediately clamp down on any criminality or violence.
It comes after Met Police chief Sir Mark Rowley refused to ban pro-Palestine rallies on Armistice Day – saying he legally had ‘no power’ to stop it.
But he did not rule out action if protesters disrupted the remembrance events – saying the force would ‘protect locations and events of national importance at all costs’.
READ MORE – Israel reveal why they have sent IDF troops into Gaza
The Met faces further challenges from the far-Right, with fears growing that members will clash with protesters.
Sir Mark said he could not ban Saturday’s demonstration simply because people felt it should not take place.
‘The laws created by Parliament are clear. There is no absolute power to ban protest, therefore there will be a protest this weekend,’ he insisted.
‘The law provides no mechanism to ban a static gathering of people. It contains legislation which allows us to impose conditions to reduce disruption and the risk of violence, and in the most extreme cases when no other tactics can work, for marches or moving protests to be banned.’
He said use of the power to block moving protests is ‘incredibly rare’ and must be reserved for cases where there is intelligence to suggest a ‘real threat’ of serious disorder.
But he said organisers of Saturday’s march had shown ‘complete willingness to stay away from the Cenotaph and Whitehall and have no intention of disrupting the nation’s remembrance events’.
‘Should this change, we’ve been clear we will use powers and conditions available to us to protect locations and events of national importance at all costs,’ Sir Mark said.
Gangs of football hooligans have said they are planning to ‘team up’ and ‘protect’ the Cenotaph from pro-Palestine protestors this weekend.
A woman joins in chance during the protest outside a BAE plan in Chatham, Kent
The protest was said to include health workers, teachers, hospitality workers, academics, artists and more
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