Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

Thursday, October 03, 2013


I went to Bath City Hall last night to attend another city council workshop on the request by General Dynamics Corporation (GD) for a tax break (called TIF) over the next 25 years.  GD owns Bath Iron Works (BIW) here in the city where destroyers for the Navy are built.

Since the late 1990's BIW has received $197 million in tax cuts from the state and the city of Bath.  During that time their employment has dropped from about 8,000 to below 5,500 today.  They've used alot of the funds to help mechanize the operation thus reducing the need for workers while profits grow.

The workshop was led off by BIW's lawyer (Jon Fitzgerald) on this TIF request.  He went on the offensive and claimed that those who were suggesting this was "corporate welfare" were off base.  Then he suggested that any comments about the annual executive compensation of GD's top CEO is also out of bounds.  Then he talked about how BIW has paid $100 million in local taxes over these years.

Three of us from the local community stood up to speak during the public comment period of the workshop.  In the past two workshops public comments were not allowed.  Both of those sessions were held after 9:00 pm, last time I was the only person from the public in the room.  This time the workshop was held at 6:30 pm.  So we are making some progress here.

When I spoke I challenged Mr. Fitzgerald's claim that the CEO executive compensation issue was not relevant.  I said, "I want to remind everyone that last year the top CEO at General Dynamics was paid $18 million in compensation.  Compare that with the annual municipal budget of Bath – about $15 million.  So one guy at General Dynamics got paid more than our entire city budget – yet General Dynamics says they need more money from local taxpayers in order to stay competitive. I say tell them to cut executive compensation first, before coming to the citizens of Bath for another hand out.  Our city should request that General Dynamics open their books for public scrutiny if they want to claim they need more corporate welfare."

That last line I got from a BIW worker who recently called me.  I'd only just met him and we'd never spoken before about this TIF issue.  He told me that a recent Op-Ed I wrote for a local paper hung in his shop for three weeks taped to the wall.  He told me next time I spoke at city hall that I should ask to see their corporate ledgers.  So I did.

I also told the city council last night that, "When we gathered signatures opposing this TIF at the polls during our recent special state senate election we got 370 signatures.  Many BIW workers were eager to sign the petition.  Now why would scores of BIW workers sign the petition?  We heard them repeatedly say that the workers are being squeezed by General Dynamics.  One woman said she is now doing the job of three workers and that wages are frozen for the next year or more."

That day we had our table at the polls collecting signatures and we taped a large sign to the front of the table that read "TIF of the Iceberg".  We got that slogan from another worker at BIW.

I've heard that Mr. Fitzgerald has been asking some folks if they know that I am a peacenik kind of guy - of course making the point that they might not want to be publicly associated with such a scruffy character.  But if they think this campaign is coming from me then BIW and GD are making a big mistake.  The frustration and anxiety about another round of corporate welfare for BIW is coming from the community.  I am just helping to give voice for people who feel they can't speak out for obvious reasons - including many BIW workers.

Last night our third speaker asked the city council which side their expert TIF lawyer, hired to protect the city's interests, was actually working for.  The lawyer was speaking in legal/technical mumbo-jumbo and virtually no one understood her evasive words.  That question summed up this whole TIF movement in Bath - who can we trust to really protect the people from the big corporate interests?  

The next step is for our growing local citizens committee to organize a community forum in early-November on this TIF question.  We'd hold it at city hall and last night invited the city council to attend.  Two members of the council spoke in favor of such an event. 


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