On Tuesday 3rd May, Sisters Against the Arms Trade blockaded an MBDA missile factory in Henlow, Bedfordshire, occupying the factory for 10 hours and closing production for the day. The action, which took place six months on from the first UK airstrikes in Syria and as the Assad regime intensifies its attacks on Aleppo, called for an end to the UK’s military intervention and an end to Assad’s bombardments and starvation sieges. Here, one of the activists discusses her experience of the day.
This time last week was a sunny bank holiday Monday and I was at a friend’s house in the countryside. I was with a group of women and non-binary people, filled with anticipation as we anxiously plotted and finalised our plans for the following day.
The 15 of us were in Hertfordshire so that the next morning, bright and early, we could leap into action and shut down a nearby missile factory. We got up first thing (4am!), ate a quick breakfast, and headed straight to the factory. By 5.45am we had chains and locks around both gates, and two people locked on. The factory was shut down! Nobody could get in to work.
How did we shut it the factory down?
The factory only had one entrance, which consisted of a wide gate for vehicles and a turnstile for people. We were organised: we coordinated our arrival and had the locks, chains, and arm tubes ready. Within seconds of arriving the two gates had locks round them and couldn’t be opened, and two people were locked into an arm tube in the way of the gates opening.
It was before 6am, so the factory staff hadn’t arrived yet. There was one member of security staff inside, who seemed a bit bemused, but all other staff were turned away as they arrived. Cutting the locks off the gates would have required some pretty big bolt cutters, and the arm tube was heavy and couldn’t be moved without injuring people, so that was it; we occupied the space for the day. Factory closed!
Who are MBDA?
The site is a missile factory owned by a company called MBDA. MBDA is a nasty company: their entire business is in missiles, and they seem to sell them almost indiscriminately, only for profit. Their missiles are being used in British air strikes in Syria, by Saudi Arabia as they commit human rights abuses in Yemen, and were sold to all sides of the conflict in Libya, including Gaddafi. So many people around the world have had their lives and homes torn apart by missiles made by this company in factories like this.
The day we shut down the factory was exactly six months on from the UK’s first air strikes in Syria. At least a million people are living under siege in Syria. Aleppo has been subject to intense bombardment by Assad’s forces. Women in the besieged town of Daraya are facing starvation and have issued an urgent call for help:
“There is no food at all in Daraya. There are cases of malnutrition and we have resorted to cooking soups made purely of spices in order to stave off hunger. We call on the United Nations and all humanitarian and relief organizations to enter the town immediately and deliver humanitarian aid.”
Air strikes or other military intervention in Syria are not the answer, and Syrian activists are calling for food and aid, not more bombing. British airstrikes will not defeat Daesh, but will make others suffer more. Meanwhile, Assad’s brutal regime is laying siege to cities and barrel bombing civilian buildings. People are starving while the UK does nothing.
A spokesperson for Syria Solidarity UK said:
“With the UN failing to deliver, others have a duty to protect civilians. The UK, the US, the Netherlands: all of them have a proven ability to carry out air drops, but all they drop in Syria are bombs. The UK already has the necessary capacity nearby in Cyprus. The UK should stop making excuses and start saving lives.”
The actions of the Women Against Arms Trade group were in solidarity with Syrian women, which is an incredibly important cause. But my personal motives also included another issue I care deeply about: the UK arming Saudi Arabia.
For the last year Saudi Arabia has been leading coalition air strikes in Yemen, which has been devastating for Yemini people. There is clear evidence Saudi has been repeatedly breaching International Humanitarian Law, and the majority of the UK public think we should stop arming them. Yet we still do. We are supplying them with (among other things) Brimstone missiles made in the UK by MBDA. We need to stop this, urgently. There is a lot of campaigning to get this company and the government to #StopArmingSaudi. I personally have done almost everything I can think of, and will keep doing so, but sometimes you have to do what you can to stop the weapons being made in the first place.
So often I feel hopeless and powerless to do anything in these situations where people are speaking out for the UK government to change its ways. But as one of the women I was protesting with put it:
“Because the government continues to enable arms companies to profit from war, it is up to people in the UK to resist.”
You can see more photos from the action and read the full statement from the group on CAAT’s facebook page. You can also check #BrimstoneBlockers and #Women4Syria on twitter for more pictures and reports from the day. A longer version of this blog appeared at glitterandrainbowsblog.wordpress.com.