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

I grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was there that I became a peace activist.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013


Each day this week I've been taking flyers door-to-door in Bath about a public forum a group of us are organizing on November 13.  Bath Iron Works (BIW), which is owned by the $31 billion aerospace and military conglomerate General Dynamics Corporation, is requesting a $250,000 a year tax break for the next 25 years from the City of Bath.

I've been trying to do four hours each day dropping flyers and I know of at least eight others (Bath Citizens for Responsible TIF Action) who have been helping do so as well.  Two volunteers went to the voting polls in Bath yesterday for a couple hours and reported, "Most reactions were very positive in that people basically see this as corporate welfare and unfair to them as average citizens who don't get a break. Lots of people said they would come next week to the forum."

That's what I've seen as well as I've gone from the most run-down neighborhoods right near BIW to the expensive homes on the north end of Bath along the river.  I'm not knocking on doors but just putting the flyers in their doorway and moving on.  But now and then I run into folks and no one so far has argued in favor of a tax break for BIW.

One man, before I could get anything out of my mouth, said, "This is corporate welfare."  A man yesterday near the shipyard chased me down a block after I put a flyer at this house.  He wanted to know which side of the issue I was on and told me, "We'll all have to pick up the slack in the city budget if they give BIW more tax breaks.  BIW has done nothing for this neighborhood."  (In fact the neighborhoods around the shipyard are littered with dusty parking lots and run-down rental housing.  The noise from BIW is ever present.)

Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised when I ran into three young guys in a parking lot and handed them a flyer.  One of them really knew the details of the BIW tax break request - $250,000 a year for the next 25 years.  I was impressed that word is getting around.

There has been good media coverage including a front page story in the Portland paper earlier this week.  Regular letters to our local paper have been running against the tax break.

Bath is a classic example of a community that is job dependent on the military industrial complex.  Most people have a relative or a friend that work there.  People often speak fondly about the time when BIW was locally owned.  Someone told me today that in those days they had a day care center at the shipyard but when General Dynamics bought BIW they closed it down.

Many workers have told me that working conditions are increasing hard as more layoffs force people to do the job of 2-3 others.  The workers are being squeezed by the corporate drive for increased profits and now they are putting the squeeze on the taxpayers in the city once again.

Times are hard for alot of people and many of them are having a tough time paying property taxes that generally keep increasing each year.  I know that the taxes on our house go up every year while city services are being trimmed.  I think that the public has taken to this BIW tax break request so strongly because they see the unfairness of it - especially while the head CEO at General Dynamics made $18 million in compensation last year.  The municipal budget of Bath is just around $15 million per year.

In their defense General Dynamics says they have to compete with the Ingalls Shipyard in Mississippi which is getting local and state tax breaks as well.  I'm sure there is some truth in that but the bigger issue has to be that the public is paying for the military industrial complex on two ends these days and our lifeline is getting shorter all the time.  At the national level Congress gives 57% of every discretionary tax dollar to the Pentagon and then at the state and local level the taxpayers are being tapped again to give even more "corporate welfare" to these military giants.  That's an unsustainable situation.

What this boils down to me is this - the weapons industry should not be a profit making business.  When profits drive military production then war is endless and the profits are never enough.

Some historical perspective on this might be useful.

“The committee listened daily to men striving to defend acts which found them nothing more than international racketeers, bent upon gaining profit through a game of arming the world to fight itself.”

With these words Republican Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota neatly summed up the findings of 93 Senate hearings held from April 1934 to February 1936. Nye headed the Senate Munitions Investigating Committee, known to history as the Nye Committee, whose purpose was to investigate four topics: the munitions industry; bidding on Government contracts in the shipbuilding industry; war profits; and the background leading up to U.S. entry into World War I.

In April of 1936, the Nye Committee issued its final report. Of the seven members, four called for nationalization of the munitions industry. The three remaining members called for “rigid and conclusive munitions control.”


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