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.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Day 23: Shut out of Taxation Committee meeting in Augusta

Connie Jenkins (Orono) with her Wizard of Oz sign hoping for a miracle that the Democrats in the legislature would find the courage to stand up and deny corporate welfare to General Dynamics (GD)

Mary Donnelly (Brunswick) handing out flyers in between the House and Senate chambers in the capital building
Artist Russell Wray (Hancock) with an excellent sign
Peter Robbins (Sedgwick) and Tom Whitney (South Paris) talk with a Republican legislator who has twice told me he was going to vote against the bill

Around noon time one of our friends came up to me on the 3rd floor where I was resting before the 1:00 pm Taxation Committee meeting which was to be held on the first floor of the capital.  He said the room downstairs is already full with BIW workers.  Come to find out BIW bused in a room full of management supervisors and some workers at least two hours in advance and filled up the room so our folks could not get a seat inside the final Work Session of the committee. 

I refused to go into the 'overflow room' across the hallway from the Taxation Committee and instead sat in the hall with about half our folks during the entire meeting which lasted well over three hours.  Our other friends sat in the overflow room and came out now and then and briefed us on the sausage making process that they could hear over a sound system.
From the inside of the Taxation Committee meeting room looking out - one of our locked out friends held his sign against the window to make his point.  The human spirit can't be shut out. 

Connie Jenkins (Orono) asked the Taxation co-chairs Sen. Dana Dow and Rep. Ryan Tipping to allow our side to have half the seats in the room before the meeting began.  They both refused.
 


As we were leaving the state house we noticed BIW workers piling onto a bus. One of our friends with us, a former BIW worker who retired after 34 years at the shipyard, said the workers were likely paid overtime for being at the work session.

We had 27 opponents gather on the third floor of the State Capital this morning beginning at 9:30.  We covered both sides of the hallway in between the House and Senate chambers.  We handed out over 100 flyers again to legislators, lobbyists and the public.  We stayed up there until about noon when we learned that BIW had bused about 40 people to the Taxation Committee meeting and filled up the room ensuring that we were banished to an overflow room across the hall.  On the doors at each room there were notices (the first time we had seen them since we began coming to these meeting during the three previous sessions) directing people to the overflow room.  So it is quite clear that this whole charade was well planned in advance between BIW/GD and the legislative committee.

During our time on the 3rd floor hallway while the House and Senate were gathering we had several excellent conversations with some legislators who are choosing to oppose the $60 million give-a-way bill to GD - one of the richest corporations on the planet.

While there, one of our supporters, a union person in Maine, told us a remarkable story.  She reported that she had spoken to a representative from the Machinist Union (S6) at BIW who informed her that they were not going to support the bill.  One of their members had read the cover story in the February issue of The Bollard magazine out of Portland entitled Ship of Fools.  This blockbuster article was widely distributed throughout southern and midcoast Maine.  After reading the story the worker began educating other BIW workers about how GD is loaded with so much cash they are buying back their own stocks driving up market share which primarily benefits top executives and investors.  As a result the union Executive Committee voted not to endorse LD 1781.  There has been no media coverage of this huge story.

This is a big deal for many reasons - primarily because many legislators in Augusta have been hanging their hats on how they are supporting the bill because of the workers - saying that the workers want the bill passed thus they as elected officials must honor their demands.  As it turns out there is much, much more to the story.

After the long Taxation Committee meeting they voted 9-2 in favor of moving the bill to the floor of the House and Senate.  The two votes against were Sen. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) and Rep. Janice Cooper (D-Yarmouth).  Chenette once again stated that he could not vote for the bill because BIW/GD never proved they really needed the money - they were unwilling to show the committee in closed session their books to prove they were in financial straits.  Rep. Cooper talked about the great many social needs across Maine that presently exist and how this $60 million was essentially peanuts to mega-corp GD while to our state these kinds of funds are urgently needed.

Rep. Ryan Tipping (D-Orono), who himself was once an organizer for the Maine People's Alliance, weakly stated that he would vote for the bill despite his worries that we are now in a 'race to the bottom'.  It's a strange thing to hear someone say that (which is totally correct) and then meekly change course and vote for a bill that will only accelerate that plunge into further poverty and such.  Rep. Denise Tepler (D-Topsham) made the absurd statement that she thought we had ample funds in the state treasury to fund social needs and the corporate welfare bill for GD.

All Republicans on the committee voted for the bill.

LD 1781 next goes to legislature staff who must insert the final language into the bill which the committee analyst told me should take about two weeks since we are nearing the end of this special session and the backlog of bills needing staff work before they can go to the floor for final votes is growing.

My plan is to continue my hunger strike and use this remaining time to help build even greater opposition to LD 1781 in Maine.  Working with good folks across the state we will keep asking Mainers to contact their state legislators and to keep writing letters to the editor.  I will be going back to Augusta to stand between the House and Senate chambers with my sign next Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30 am to noon.

See the Portland Press Herald coverage of today's events here

Bruce

Photos by Regis Tremblay, Martha Spiess and Bob Klotz

2 Comments:

Blogger Peter said...

The picture of the bus says so much. BIW is playing hard ball to the bitter end.

3/7/18, 5:07 AM  
Anonymous Brother Jonah said...

The buy-back is going to give them money on paper, sure, but the currency and certificates won't make for toilet paper, like confederate money being used as wallpaper. Or the Reichsmark during the Weimar Republik.

3/7/18, 8:47 PM  

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