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: Brunswick, 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.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Lenten vigil at BIW

Twenty-two folks gathered yesterday for the weekly Lenten vigil at Bath Iron Works (BIW).

We broke out a new banner that was made by Veterans For Peace members Tarak Kauff (Woodstock, NY) and Ellen Davidson (NYC) for the upcoming April 27 'christening' of the Zumwalt destroyer to be named after former president Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) who was driven from office by the anti-Vietnam war movement.

(The Vietnamese people called it the 'American war' which it truly was.  LBJ escalated the war and a favorite chant of the young people opposing the war was 'Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?'  LBJ sat in the White House from 1963-1969.  While there he represented the interests of the Texas oil industry and the military industrial complex.) 

The new banner acknowledges the labor union and desire of the workers at the shipyard to be paid fairly and treated with respect.  We want to pass on the message that we are not against the workers but just want to see a different product made at the shipyard.

Most workers want to believe in what they are doing at BIW.  They want to feel good about their warships.  But the growing reality of climate disruption is causing many of the workers to think more deeply about their jobs.

In the last 2-3 years there has been a huge generational shift at BIW.  Many skilled workers have retired and a new crop of younger workers are taking their places.  Alot of these younger workers learned about climate change and sustainability in their public schools.  So when we stand outside the gates with signs reflecting the climate issue many of them understand our point.

There is of course pressure inside the shipyard to 'man up' and declare that peace is only maintained by 'superior firepower'.  But during my 37-day hunger strike last year I spoke to quite a few workers at the shipyard and learned that there is a strong core of respect for our call for conversion of BIW to sustainable production.

It should be remembered that before the vote last year in the State Legislature on the General Dynamics Corp. request for a $60 million tax cut, the largest union (Machinist) at BIW took a vote on the bill at a general meeting and the vote count was 50-50.  They couldn't make an endorsement decision so the union sat it out.  This, a big local story, was never mentioned in the local newspaper.  But that was no surprise because the paper did everything they could to ignore or undermine our campaign.

In the end the legislature approved the bill but did cut it to $45 million.  So our collective effort helped save Maine taxpayers $15 million - something we should all feel proud about, especially in our very poor state.  We had 100 letters to the editor printed in more than 25 papers across the state.  So it was a great campaign.

Now our goal is to continue to build education and energy around the conversion of BIW issue.  How can we effectively deal with climate catastrophe unless and until we take this wasted money from the war machine and use it for life giving purposes?


Photos by Peter Woodruff


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