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How do we stop the arms trade?

  • Paul McGowan

Coventry J&P campaigners

Coventry J&P campaigners

Pope Francis has condemned it, but on it goes, under our very noses and on our doorsteps. It surely qualifies as an example of the 'banality of evil', evil woven into society, which is taken as normal and unexceptional. Our small Justice and Peace group in Coventry has been struggling with the problem of the arms trade for nearly ten years. The particular problem we face comes to us in the form of investments made by the West Midlands Pension Fund.

This Fund exists to provide for the needs of the employees of the seven District Councils of the region. It therefore draws money from Council Tax revenues to pay into the Fund. This is our first point of leverage: anyone who pays Council Tax in the West Midlands has a stake in how the Fund is run and the right to make their opinions heard. Hundreds of thousands of people are in this position in the area. Added to this number are those who are both Council Tax-payers and also members of the Fund in their own right. Such people have two voices. It is the investments, not the existence of the Fund, that we object to.

We have a further point of leverage as citizens of Coventry in particular. The city has worked hard over many years to acquire its reputation as the city of Peace and Reconciliation. We have taken the view, in campaigning against arms investments, that it is impossible to square these investments with these ideals. This has led us into being the leading force in pushing this campaign forward and sustaining it over almost ten years.

We have employed all the usual devices available to all campaigners: leafleting, lobbying, petitioning, researching, recruiting support, writing letters, writing more letters, explaining the issues to community, using local press and radio, finding allies in other parts of the region, raising questions in appropriate forums, and so on, and so on.

Does any of this work? Does any of this make a difference? It is sometimes tempting to say: No. But this is not true. We have ensured that the issue is permanently in the municipal bloodstream. If we did not continue to raise it, they would notice. It troubles the municipal conscience.

For those who might wish to take up the issue in their own areas, here are some suggestions for getting started. Remember: this approach is for municipal Funds over which your Council has control and responsibility. It would not work for private pensions or superannuation schemes such as exist for NHS or Teaching staff.

Find out which pension fund your Council (on behalf of its employees) belongs to.

Write to the Director of Pensions at the Fund's HQ, to ask for a copy of their latest Annual Statement of Equity Holdings. This is the key document. It lists ALL investments made by that Fund, how much is invested and how much each investment is worth. Do not be fobbed off with any other version of the Fund's activities.

Get a copy of the latest research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) into the Top 100 arms dealers. You can find this online. You will then have to trawl through your Fund's Annual Statement (above), looking for any firms listed by SIPRI. There is no reliable shortcut.

But if you do this you will have your target list, which you can take to your local Councillor, to ask who represents your Council on this Fund's Pensions Committee/Board of Trustees.

You can take it from there. Away you go! And good luck!

The Justice and Peace Group in Coventry is made up of people from several Catholic parishes in the city.

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