MOVING TOWARD CONVERSION
A group of a dozen or more will vigil for an hour today during shift change at the gates of Bath Iron Works (BIW) here in Maine. There are two more Saturdays to go during this series of Lenten vigils led by the Smilin' Trees Disarmament Farm from Hope, Maine. They are a Catholic Worker related community that has maintained faithful vigils at BIW for many years.
Next Saturday there will be a larger group of us at BIW due to the fact that a ceremony will be held to 'christen' the first Zumwalt stealth destroyer - costing more than $4 billion to build. Its mission? To sneak up up to the coast of China and blast them with electromagnetic rail guns and other weapons of destruction. That's why they call it a 'destroyer'. It's job is to kill innocent people and bust stuff to pieces.
Many in our community, even progressives, are reluctant to protest at BIW. Some think it is futile to protest, nothing will come of it. Others know someone who works at the shipyard or they fear becoming a 'social outcast' if they protest against such a large employer in a state desperate for jobs.
The jobs issue is what is most important - at least to the workers at BIW and to Maine citizens. So seeing this reality it becomes inescapable that peace groups must develop an economic analysis and program to deal with the jobs issue if we truly hope to end war. Saying we are against war is one thing but helping to build the public consciousness, the courage of the people, and the political clout to transform the military industry complex is job #1.
Yesterday a man who has frequent contact with BIW workers asked me if I had any idea just how many people at BIW felt bad about their job. I said I had an idea but would love to hear more. He went on to tell me that his many years of intimate contact with shipyard workers indicates to him that large numbers of the 5,500 workforce would rather do something else. They feel bad about making weapons of war.
On one hand you could say we've won. The workers largely agree that we should not be making weapons. OK, so everybody gets that one. Now what are we going to do about it?
I told the man yesterday that I would hope that all military production workers would begin to see that they have a role and responsibility in helping to make this transition possible. The workers need to start calling on their unions to be more engaged in the conversion/diversification effort. They also need to begin speaking out more themselves in the community about their concerns. They could write letters to local papers, speak up at the dinner table, talk to each other inside the shipyard, and when the politicians come by to shake hands before the next election tell them "We need your help so we can build something good and needed here". Imagine if a politician heard that 40-50 times in one early morning glad-handing experience.
The workers need to help make this happen. The greater community must genuinely offer to help otherwise the workers will lose heart if they think no one cares.
Conversion of the war industry would create more jobs with the same amount of money that is now spent building weapons. Those jobs could be building public transit, wind turbines, solar systems, doing home weatherization, hiring teachers, repairing infrastructure and more.
It's the only way we can get out from under this heavy dark cloud of military economy and also deal with climate change.