I joined the march and rally of hundreds of workers at Bath Iron Works (BIW) today here in Maine during their half-hour lunch break. Even though their union contract is good for another year the company (General Dynamics) boss Fred Harris is sabotaging the collective bargaining agreement and trying to force concessions that fall outside of the union contract. Thing like outsourcing of jobs to non-union workers are among the several items in contention.
Even though I often join a peace vigil at BIW calling for the conversion of the shipyard I still support the workers right to have a union. I was trained as an organizer by the United Farm Workers Union so my heart has always been with the people who do the hard work that brings the enormous profits to the mega-corporations.
The Navy has determined that its shipbuilding budget is “unsustainable.” It can’t afford to cover the mounting costs of new aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, and the expensive Zumwalt destroyers being built at BIW. The latter costs more than double what the previous Aegis destroyer cost - price per ship has risen to more than $4 billion. The Navy’s solution to its budget crisis? Cut jobs, outsource to non-union workers, and, over time, likely move to get rid of the unions at shipyards like BIW.
What is the Plan B for Bath? Who ever thought the nearby Navy base in Brunswick would close and that thousands of jobs would be lost? How can our nation afford the expensive high-tech weapons systems that are costing the taxpayers an arm and a leg? How can we effectively deal with the coming ravages of climate change unless we immediately begin a transformation of our industrial policy from endless war to building rail systems, wind turbines, a solar society, and tidal power – all of which would help us in some degree deal with climate change?
Where is our congressional delegation when we need it to advocate for a new sustainable technology direction? Sen. Collins, Sen. King, Rep. Pingree and Rep. Poliquin remain on bended knees begging for more Pentagon funding because military production is the only real federal jobs program left. They might talk a good game about environmental sustainability, but what are they doing to lead our state and the nation toward the kind of conversion that will be necessary if our children and grandchildren are to have any chance of decent lives? The Native Americans said that all decisions must be made based on how they impact the next seven generations. Sadly, our elected officials are thinking only about their next election!
Studies have long revealed that our tax dollars create fewer jobs in military spending than in other fields. Building commuter rail systems at BIW would, in fact, nearly double the jobs. In addition, rail would get us out of our polluting cars and offer future generations a chance of survival.
I will keep vigiling for conversion of BIW (and more jobs) but will also support the good men and women who find themselves stuck in the middle of the US's industrial policy which is essentially endless war making.
One of the union leaders during the rally at BIW today quoted abolitionist Frederick Douglass who said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and never will." He asked the assembled workers, "What is our demand?" I agree with that sentiment.
~ Bruce Gagnon serves as Secretary of Space at the Green Shadow Cabinet