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Activists from Sheffield disrupt major weapons supplier to Israeli military

The blockade targeted four factories across the country that manufacture fighter jet components used in the assault on Gaza.

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More than 50 activists from Sheffield took part in the blockade outside Samlesbury Aerodrome.

Workers For a Free Palestine.

More than 50 activists from Sheffield have taken part in a coordinated blockade of UK factories which supply fighter plane parts to the Israeli military, many of which have been used in their brutal assault on Gaza.

Over 1,000 trade unionists in total shut down four factories across the country last Thursday in an action coordinated by the Workers for a Free Palestine coalition of trade unionists.

The firms targeted make components for the F-35, the world's most advanced fighter jet. The planes have been used by the Israeli military in bombing runs that have murdered thousands of civilians in Gaza since the war broke out. Some of the research and development for the F-35 is carried out at the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC).

Arriving by coach in the early hours of Thursday morning, the Sheffield contingent were among 200 anti-war activists who blockaded multiple entrances at the Samlesbury Aerodrome in Lancashire, where BAE Systems manufacture the rear fuselage for every F-35.

"Like millions of people around the world, I have been horrified watching the genocidal Israeli assault on Gaza," Jamie Sims, a Sheffield-based activist who took part in the direct action, told Now Then.

"This war is a continuation of 75 years of displacement, violence, and occupation. I felt the need to take urgent action that goes beyond petitions and A to B marches, and instead to actively disrupt the supply of weapons from Britain to the Israeli war machine."

As protestors held up a huge banner with the words 'STOP ARMING ISRAEL', as well as trade union and Palestinian flags, dozens of workers arriving at the Lancashire site by car were turned away.

Local residents supported the blockade by bringing food to activists, who chanted, "If you fund Israeli bombs we'll shut you down". Sims told Now Then that Thursday's action was part of a bigger project to build links between Palestinian solidarity campaigns and the trade union movement.

"Individual direct actions are great, but to disrupt the flow of arms long term we need to build a movement among arms industry workers to refuse to make weapons destined for the Israel Defence Forces," he said.

"Working in the climate sector, I've watched how the environmental movement has gone from a conflictual relationship with oil and gas workers to adopting a just transition approach, and engaging deeply with workers and unions."

Sims said he'd like a modern-day equivalent to the Lucas Plan, a document produced in 1976 by workers at the Lucas Aerospace Corporation which outlined how the company could transition from manufacturing military technology to providing socially useful products like wind turbines.

Workers for a Free Palestine, which is demanding that the UK back a ceasefire and stop arming Israel, includes members from a range of trade unions including Unite, UNISON, the GMB, the NEU, the BMA, UCU, BECTU and BFAWU.

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Workers for a Free Palestine.

Outside Lancashire, 600 trade unionists blockaded a factory belonging to Eaton Mission Systems in Bournemouth, with further blockades taking place in Brighton and Glasgow. Similar actions also took place on the same day in France, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Since the start of the war in early October Israeli forces have killed 18,415 Palestinians in Gaza according to figures from Al Jazeera, including at least 7,729 children, mostly through indiscriminate airstrikes and bombing runs which appear to constitute a war crime.

Neither UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak or Labour leader Keir Starmer have backed calls for an immediate ceasefire, despite the idea being supported by the UN and 76% of the British public, according to one YouGov poll.

Sims said that he was "proud" that so many people from Sheffield had taken part in the Lancashire blockade, which brought together activists from across the north of England.

"Our city has always been a wellspring of international solidarity, with communities organising against injustices from South African apartheid to the Chilean dictatorship, and continuing with campaigns against Israeli apartheid today," he added.

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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