Converting the United States and United Kingdom defence sector to civil production: The views of defence workers

Peace &Change, Volume 49, Issue 2, Page 101-123, April 2024.


There are many social, environmental, and economic reasons for converting from defence manufacturing to civil production. Importantly, such a transformation could support more peace in the world while still ensuring the secure jobs that the defence sector has historically provided. The views of defence workers on such a transition are important to understanding how this change could effectively and equitably occur. To capture some of these views, the research project on which this paper is based involved interviewing 58 former and current defence sector workers in the United States and the United Kingdom and convening key leadership focus groups which included their trade union representatives. Though these workers' opinions were not entirely polarized and some interviewees had mixed and nuanced views, they loosely fell into three categories (a) opposed to defence diversification, (b) supportive of defence diversification, and (c) supportive in principle but thought that it would be unlikely to happen. The (a) category of defence workers primarily based their view on the idea that the defence sector is necessary for security and a feeling of pride in supporting this endeavor. The (b) category views were built on the perceived harm of the sector, the potential ‘peace dividend’ that would arise from transition, and feelings of guilt about working in the sector. The (c) group of workers identified the profit motive, worker attachment to defence jobs, technological issues, and the economic and political power of the defence companies as the key barriers to change. Proposals for effectively converting included economic incentives, government regulation, and organizing trade unions to push for change. A unified view was that workers want to be involved in discussions about these issues in their workplace and unions.

This was originally published on Wiley: Peace & Change: Table of Contents.