Women battle against nuclear arms


By Emily Ross

The Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, Yellow Gate, is now embarking on its 14th year of direct action. Following the closure of the military base there, the focus is on fighting the newer Trident warheads, which are replacing Cruise missiles.

Britain's current defence program requires four 16,000-ton submarines, each equipped with 24 nuclear missiles with multiple warheads.

The warheads are manufactured in the south of England at Aldermaston and Burghfield bases. They are then transported in unmarked convoys to Scotland while old, unstable warheads are transported back down the length of the country to be refurbished. The route is along public roads, and the military refuses to answer questions about emergency backup procedures and the ability of hospital and fire services to cope with accidents.

While I was at the camp, a convoy was expected. Defence is very secretive about when the convoys run, so I went to Burghfield with one of the women, Janet, to check if there was a convoy loading.

The base is surrounded with razor wire and fitted with vibrational sensor alarms. Between the two outer fences patrols a 24-hour security car. The section of the fence that provides a view of the loading area had a solid wooden barricade to block the view. We took a ladder and peered over into the base. There was no sign of a convoy. Janet explained that if they were loading a convoy, there would have been several more patrol cars, and swarms of security guards and dogs, ready to hassle us and move us away.

When the convoys leave Burghfield, the women follow. They drive with the convoy, displaying on their cars information for the public about what the trucks are transporting, and they mark the convoys with paint to make their contents more visible.

Another form of direct action is to disrupt security by entering the bases, e.g. by cutting through the perimeter fences or gate padlocks.

A priority for the peace camp is to have Greenham Common returned to the people. When it was taken over by the military, it was not first deregistered, which means that it lawfully still belongs to the people, and the trespass laws cannot be applied. Now that the base is no longer active, the military is trying to deregister the common, so that it can profit by selling it off to developers. The women are fighting this both in the courts and on the common.

The threat that the women pose has sparked a series of police victimisations. The women have been told that a developer has expressed willingness to pay vandals to wreck the camp and disperse the women. All the caravans have broken windows from vandals. Men have been frequently seen lurking around the outside toilet area. The camp car was stolen and dumped nearby. Women's underwear has been taken from tents. Two women were attacked by a construction worker in the base, being chased and repeatedly pinned against the fence by his car.

The desperate attempts to discourage the women are a testimony to how effective their campaign is. Despite the attacks, the women are maintaining high morale and are by no means weakening their fight.

They can be contacted at Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, Yellow Gate, Newbury, Berkshire RG147as, England.

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