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Victory! Great Exhibition of the North – no to arms, yes to arts!

BAE Systems makes military equipment including fighter planes and assault rifles - photo by Sgt Rupert Frere RLC/MOD

BAE Systems makes military equipment including fighter planes and assault rifles – photo by Sgt Rupert Frere RLC/MOD

Artists have beaten big business after forcing arms manufacturer BAE Systems to pull out of the upcoming ‘Great Exhibition of the North’ arts festival in England.

 

Two acts – Nadine Shah and the Commoners Choir – cancelled their slots in protest against the British multinational’s involvement. Meanwhile, other Great Exhibition acts raised concerns and sought to negotiate a situation which excluded BAE from funding or participating in their event.

 

Bad Art stands in solidarity with all artists exercising their democratic right to protest, including by withdrawing their labour, in opposition to imperialist war and its big businesses beneficiaries.

 

Vicious, profit-driven austerity has left many arts organisations reliant on the ‘sponsorship’ or ‘philanthropy’ of big business. Grassroots arts funding has all but disappeared, with local councils slashing culture budgets by £236 million a year, on top of Arts Council England losing about £267 million a year.

 

Working-class artists – and audiences – are the losers. The only winners are the tiny elite of big business owners whose tax breaks the cuts pay for, and whose bottom lines are fattened by privatisation schemes. Bad Art opposes all austerity and privatisation.

 

Councils can fight back, however. Right-wing councillors – including the right wing of the Labour Party – say there is no choice but to pass on central government cuts. The arts are an easy target: in 2013, Westminster Council cut its arts budget by 100%.

But there is no legal barrier to using councils’ reserves and borrowing powers to balance the books and stop the cuts now. This could show workers and local residents the huge impact well-funded public services can have. From there, councils could use their resources and platforms, linking up with trade unions, to build a campaign.

 

Fight for the Tories to give the money back! The present government is a minority government and split on multiple issues. The Panama and Paradise Papers prove the money is there. Take the wealth off the super-rich! Tories and Blairites out!

 

BAE Systems claimed its involvement meant to encourage young people to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Bad Art would welcome genuine initiatives to open up opportunities and advancement in the sciences as well as the arts.

 

But why is this job left to the dealers of death? Where is the public money for socially useful research and technological improvement?

 

There is another way. In 1976, unionised workers at arms company Lucas Aerospace faced the threat of mass redundancies. They responded with a plan to save all the jobs: retooling their facilities to produce socially useful products, including medical equipment and public transport.

 

In spite of determined industrial action, the ‘Lucas Plan’ did not become the company’s model. But it shows how the huge creative and productive resources capitalism exploits for the profit of a tiny elite could instead be planned to provide for all.

 

Bad Art stands for public ownership of big business, under democratic workers’ control and the democratic management of workers and service users. A socialist plan of production, on the basis of international collaboration, could eliminate the driving forces behind war with no loss of jobs – and allow massive expansion of art and science funding.

 

Pulling out of a show can pose a real dilemma for artists. For newer acts, the dilemma can be compounded by the cutthroat competition for funding and recognition which austerity has only exacerbated.

 

And none of us wants to disappoint an audience, who may have made travel or leave commitments, or shelled out on greedy promoters’ extortionate ticket prices.

 

If any audiences had been put out of pocket, the blame would lie squarely with BAE Systems and the festival organisers. In such a situation, Bad Art says management must as a minimum offer fans the options of a transfer or full refund.

 

This victory shows that protest works – especially when backed by the threat of withdrawal of labour. Artists and workers have real power, in particular when we take collective action.

 

Bad Art salutes the acts who campaigned for this. We back any efforts by artists and audiences to combat the corporatisation of the arts, and PR or recruitment exercises by warmongers.
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