Hundreds of trade unionists blockade BAE Systems factory in Israel-Gaza protest

Organisers said more than 400 trade unionists blockaded the factory in Kent on Friday.

Lucas Cumiskey
Friday 10 November 2023 10:39 GMT
Trade unionists and protesters form a blockade outside weapons manufacturer BAE Systems in Rochester, Kent, in protest over the Israel-Gaza conflict (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Trade unionists and protesters form a blockade outside weapons manufacturer BAE Systems in Rochester, Kent, in protest over the Israel-Gaza conflict (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Hundreds of trade unionists under the banner “Workers for a Free Palestine” have 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 blocked its two entrances as part of an international day of action called for by Palestinian trade unions to “end complicity in Israel’s war crimes”.

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.

BAE Systems said it is “horrified by the situation in Israel and Gaza”, adding: “We operate under the tightest regulation and comply fully with all applicable defence export controls, which are subject to ongoing assessment.”

The blockade consists of health workers, teachers, hospitality workers, academics, artists and more who are members of trade unions such as Unite, Unison, GMB, the NEU, the BMA, the UCU, Bectu and the BFAWU.

Th activists 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”.

Some protesters are clutching Palestinian flags and signs which say “Free Palestine”, “UK is guilty”, “End the genocide” and “Stop arming Israel’s war machine”.

At one entrance, the group chanted 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.”

They also chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, despite controversy around the slogan’s meaning.

Outside the factory, Harriet, 32, from east London, told the PA news agency: “I work in A&E and we got here very early, I think we got here about 6.20am or 6.30am this morning. Behind us is the BAE factory where some central components of the fighter jets that Israel is using to bomb Palestine are made and then they are shipped to Israel and become a part of the killer fighter planes.

“The more than 10,000 now Palestinian civilians that have been killed in the last couple of weeks are literally at the mercy of these weapons.

“So we’re trying to turn workers away who are coming to do their job which is assembling those weapons and we’re trying to stop deliveries getting in and out of the factory which so far has been successful. We’ve turned quite a few workers away.

“I think this has been a long month and it’s been a very long 75 years for Palestine. And I think people are getting rightly so angry and I think fatigued of the genocide but not of fighting it.

“I’m here because I’m a person. I’m also here because I’m a medic and we’ve seen hundreds of medical staff in Gaza killed, some still under the rubble.

“Just last night the Indonesian hospital in Gaza has been bombed again, al Ahli hospital has been bombed, al Shifa hospital, the biggest hospital in Gaza has been bombed. There’s absolutely no protection or sanctity for the medical facilities, if anything they’ve been targeting which is I think a testament to just how evil the plan of wiping Gaza off the map is.”

Alexandra, a teacher and National Education Union member, 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.

“As a teacher, seeing 185 schools and other educational institutions in Gaza bombed is utterly heartbreaking.”

A BAE Systems spokesperson 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.”

The Israel-Hamas war started after a Hamas incursion into southern Israel on October 7 that killed 1,400 people.

The Hamas-run health ministry says that a month of retaliatory bombardment by Israel on Gaza has killed more than 10,500 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and children.

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