The newsletter of Pax Christi (“International Catholic Movement for Peace”) has an article on a new variety of war tax resistance:
From local to global… funding of the arms trade
The truth can be simply stated: everyone in the West Midlands who pays Council Tax is funding the activities of the military-industrial complex, led by the likes of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman.
As a long-term resident of Coventry, I [Paul McGowan] was well used to hearing the place described as “the city of Peace and Reconciliation.” But the contradiction between this reputation and the discovery that Coventry is one of the seven District Councils of the West Midlands who together founded, and now run, the West Midlands Pension Fund (WMPF), and invests £90 million in arms-dealers, has altered everything I thought I ever knew about the city. When the discovery was shared with the Deanery Justice and Peace Group, we knew we had to act. became the year of the WMPF campaign.
was the Global Day of Action on Arms Spending. Thanks to the interactive map produced by CAAT, we knew that we had two giants of the international arms business operating in our city. (No, we didn’t know beforehand!) These were General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman. We picked on General Dynamics because it was bigger than Northrop Grumman, and closer to where most of us lived, made our placards and banners, informed the local media, and set up a two-hour silent protest outside the factory. One of the free papers gave it a good write-up and a photo. General Dynamics refused to comment. A few weeks later, however, General Dynamics closed its Coventry factory. It just shows what can happen when do-gooders are allowed to get their hands on pieces of card and felt-tip pens!
In , we sent a letter to all Councillors, explaining the background to the campaign and asking for their support. No one replied. Several members of the group wrote to their Councillors, asking for meetings. We took advantage of the installation of the new Lord Mayor to hold another demonstration as the Councillors processed ceremonially into the Cathedral. Even if they hadn’t read their letters, at least they had seen us.
Over the next four weeks we collected signatures for a petition highlighting our aims — divestment from arms companies and an undertaking to work towards an arms-free city. 424 signatures were collected and presented to the Council (by a Conservative Councillor) on . The petition was handled in accordance with council procedures, but because of the summer holidays, it was before it reached the relevant sub-committee.
In the meantime, we demonstrated silently at the Council House before each monthly meeting of the full Council, and individual Councillors were pressed for their views on specific questions, such as whether an investment in Textron (cluster bombs) reflected well on the City’s image. A further opportunity came on , Hiroshima Memorial Day. For a quarter of a century, this has featured a ceremony held in Coventry Cathedral attended by the Lord Mayor. This year, it contained a silent demonstration to draw attention to the financial support which the WMPF gives to companies directly involved in the nuclear weapons programmes of Britain, France, and the U.S.A.
There are other funds across the U.K. run by many of the local councils of the major towns and cities, again funded from Council Tax, e.g. West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside. Many of us rely on pensions built up in this way, but we can begin to dismantle the existing arrangements and build new ones. With total assets of £90 billion, local government pension schemes can exert massive influence on big business and big politics, of which the arms trade is certainly part.
As we start , we know that the petition has been through the bureaucratic process, and turned down. I have it in writing from our Pension Fund representative that he regards this as the end of the matter. Sadly, for him, this is not the case. The struggle continues.
Another note by Paul McGowan in the same issue details the research Pax Christi has done into which companies manufacture “cluster munitions,” which have been outlawed by a Convention that was signed by the U.K.. Excerpt:
By comparing the data in the IKV–Pax Christi report with the latest statement from the West Midlands Pension Fund on its Equity Holdings, it has been possible to draw up a list of firms known for certain to be still producing cluster bombs, and receiving direct investments of Council Tax money. In addition, and this is entirely new for us, we now know which financial institutions in receipt of direct WMPF investments are themselves lending money and managing the assets of cluster bomb manufacturers such as Alliant Techsystems (U.S.A.), Hanwha Corporation (South Korea), Singapore Technologies Engineering, and Textron (U.S.A.).
This throws a little more light on Hedley Lester’s refusal to pay his council tax, which I reported on .