By Paul Walker
LONDON — Outside there were 150 protesters shouting, "Suharto, Major, CIA — how many kids have you killed today!" Inside there were 20 token shareholders making life hell for the British Aerospace board.
Shareholders at the 1994 BAe annual general meeting on May 5 raised a series of contentious questions about the sale of BAe Hawk aircraft to Indonesia and their use in East Timor against the civilian opposition and the armed resistance.
Supporters of Campaign Against Arms Trade continually pushed the BAe board about the recently agreed sales of Hawk aircraft and the human rights record.
Each of the 500 shareholders and the BAe board were handed an Alternative Report to the company Annual Report. The Alternative Report pointed to the United Nations and European Union condemnation of the Indonesian invasion and genocide in East Timor and called on the BAe board to concentrate on converting the company from military to civilian production.
According to the Guardian, the AGM was in uproar over the questions about the genocide in East Timor. The Independent pointed out that the shareholder action came as a complete surprise to the board. Even the Daily Telegraph, usually supportive of imperialist plunder, carried information and a picture about the action in its business pages and a supportive article about the East Timorese resistance in its foreign news pages.
Assailed on all sides by hostile shareholders who wanted to know just why BAe was exporting weapons to a mass murderer like Suharto, chief executive Dick Evans agreed to a meeting with campaigners to discuss the evidence of Hawk use in East Timor.
During the AGM two arms trade campaigners unfurled a banner calling on BAe to stop supporting the genocide in East Timor. As they were being dragged out by security guards the AGM began to disintegrate as disgruntled shareholders left the hall.
BAe now knows that it cannot get away with hiding behind the British government's arms trade policy. It knows that campaigners from many different organisations are on its tail and are not prepared give up until the delivery of the Hawks due in 1996 is stopped and there is a full military embargo on Indonesia.
The campaign is taking off both nationally and internationally. On April 24th a continental-wide campaign for an arms embargo on Indonesia was launched in Antwerp by the European Network Against the Arms Trade. In Sweden, Germany and Ireland campaigns are developing to support the East Timorese struggle for self-determination. Dick Spring, the Irish foreign minister, has spoken out about the Indonesian occupation of East Timor.
In Britain the government remains committed to its policy of lies and distortions. But things are beginning to move at a campaigning level. An important stop forward was the motion passed by the recent Fire Brigades Union conference, which commits the union to supporting the campaign for East Timorese self-determination and calls for a military embargo on Indonesia. The FBU is contacting its Australian counterpart and intends to take the issue through the labour movement in Britain.