Ever since World War II, the US economy has become increasingly reliant on the war industry to provide jobs. It was, in fact, World War II that converted our existing economy into one dependent on government spending from the Pentagon and its associated agencies and industries. But it is possible to convert the economy back the other way, from one centered on the war industry to one that generates good jobs while addressing the existential threats of the climate emergency, pandemics, and ecological devastation.
In this panel discussion recorded on March 10, 2021, and organized by the War Industries Resisters Network (WIRN), panelists discuss the existential need to transition away from the war economy and the practical steps that would make it possible. (WIRN is a coalition of local groups and organizations across the US and around the world that are opposing their local war industries and collaborating to confront corporate control of US foreign policy.) With permission from the event organizers, we are sharing this recording with TRNN audiences.
Panelists Include: Miriam Pemberton, founder of the Peace Economy Transitions Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, and author of the upcoming book Six Stops on the National Security Tour: Rethinking Warfare Economies; David Story, a third-generation union member born and raised in Alabama, President of the Machinists & Aerospace Workers Union Local 44 in Decatur, Alabama, and a founding member of the Huntsville IWW; Taylor Barnes, an award-winning, multilingual investigative journalist based in Atlanta who covers military affairs and the defense industry, and whose work has been published in local and national media outlets, including Southerly Magazine, Facing South, Responsible Statecraft, and The Intercept. This panel is hosted by Ken Jones of Reject Raytheon Asheville, a local movement of activists and peacemakers who have come together to ensure that the economic development of Buncombe County relies not on incentives given to war profiteering multinational corporations, but rather on investments in a sustainable local economic model.
Post-Production: Cameron Granadino
Ken Jones: [Welcome] everyone. My name is Ken Jones, and I live in Asheville, North Carolina. I am part of an organization here in Asheville called Reject Raytheon, which, as the name sounds, we’re a coalition that’s been working against a local Raytheon plant. And I’m also an organizer for the organization that’s sponsoring this webinar, the War Industries Resistors Network, W-I-R-N, WIRN. And if you don’t know, we’re a coalition of local groups, like the Reject Raytheon here in Asheville, and organizations around the United States, and even abroad. There’s a group in Australia with us. And the common denominator is that we’re opposing local war industries and associated organizations working with war industries: banks, congressional people who are in league with the war industries, so forth. And we’re trying to network ourselves together so that we can work together to confront the corporate control of US foreign policy.
We’ve been around for a few months now and we’re growing. We have probably 30 very active members and a mailing list of… I think we’re up to 170 now. We’ve had several webinars and we planned yet another. In fact, after this webinar, let me just tell you that we’re going to have a webinar in April. It’s April the 13th. It’ll be at 8 PM. We’ll send out word about that. In fact, maybe I’ll put the link for registration in the chat so you can have it right there, handy.
And that webinar in April, the title of it is Demilitarize, Decolonize, and Decarbonize. So, as the title suggests, it’s finding the links between climate change, militarization, and colonization. We have three marvelous presenters. Tara Hoska, some of you may know of. She’s an Indigenous woman in Minnesota who’s been very active working against Line 3 there. We have Leona Morgan who is Dene. She has been working for years in New Mexico against nuclear waste disposal. And we have a young man, Mikey Inowe in Hawaii, who is an independent filmmaker and organizer who’s been working with a large group of people there to oppose the Red Hill fuel tanks that have been contaminating water. So, those three will be our presenters in April, and I hope you’re able to attend that as well as this one.
I want to give Brian a chance to talk more about our network, and then I’ll get right into our program. So, Brian, please.
Brian: Thanks, Ken. So, a little bit more about WIRN, the War Industry Resisters Network. I’m up here in Massachusetts, the unfortunate hometown of Raytheon Technologies. Raytheon Technologies headquarters is about, gosh, a 10 minute ride from where I’m sitting right now. And really, that’s a big part of what brought me into the work, realizing that a lot of these issues that we work on, issues of war and peace, aren’t far away at all.
A lot of these decisions are being made by institutions that are right in our backyard. So this is an opportunity for us to act locally and have a global effect. And also to localize these issues and make people realize that they’re not so far away. So, in our work with the Raytheon antiwar campaign up here in the bay state, we came across Ken and his work down in Asheville, North Carolina. And we also came across Jack and Felice, who were out in Arizona doing a similar project. And like Ken was saying, we found more and more and more of these groups across the country, and now across the oceans as well, who are focusing on their local war profiteers, I think is the correct term.
And we decided that we’d be a lot stronger, our message would go a lot further if we banded together, if we organized together. And out of that was born the War Industry Resisters Network. And what we decided is we’re going to start doing projects together, and this webinar is one of those projects. And we’ve done a couple of webinars before. One was an introduction. Another was about the military-industrial complex and our culture. And these webinars are all for the purpose of building up towards a coordinated week of actions that are going to take place from April 17 to April 24.
We chose those dates because it’s around Tax Day. And as many of you know, the reason why our military budgets keep going up and up and up and up – A huge amount of your federal income tax dollars, more than half, go to the military budget – Is because that’s guaranteeing the profits of companies like Raytheon, companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman.
So, we decided that we were going to do a series of webinars to introduce people to the network and allow them to sign up and participate in this week of action that’s going to come up in April around Tax Day. So, I invite you all to check out the form that I just put into the chat. Fill it out. If we don’t already have your information, we need it. You may be in a group that’s focusing on a military contractor, just like we are, and we don’t know about you yet. And we’d like to.
So, you can either fill out that form directly or to the Vets for Peace website, the WIRN page there. Let us know what you’re doing in your area. Or if you’d like to get involved, fill out that form and someone will contact you. And we’ll also invite you to our next meeting of the network, which is coming up. That’s going to be, I believe it’s a Wednesday, March 16 at 6:30 PM Eastern Time here in the States. So, please fill out that form. We would love to have you help us build this network, because we know that there’s a lot of like-minded folks out there. And if we band together, we can get strong, we can continue to build, and we can make some much needed change in this country and this world. With that, I’m going to pass it back over to Ken. Thanks, Ken.
Ken Jones: All right. Thank you so much, Brian. Okay. So, about our program tonight. It’s on converting the war economy, and we know that we can do that, from one centered on the war industry to one that addresses the existential threats of climate emergency, pandemics, ecological devastation. And we also know, in so doing, that we will create many more jobs than can be generated in a war economy with a green economy. So tonight’s webinar is designed to help us all think about what that could look like as we move forward from converting from the war economy. And in order to do this we have three pretty wonderful presenters, and I’m going to give their little bios here, right now, all three up front. And then we’ll just go from one presenter to the next as we go through the program.
So, our first presenter will be Miriam Pemberton. She’s the founder of the Peace Economy Transitions Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. She does have a new book coming out in June, which you can pre-order, from the conversion of the war economy, titled Six Stops On The National Security Tour: Rethinking Warfare Economies. She also has another book that she co-edited with Bill Hartung. She’s the editor of it. It’s a 2018 book called Lessons from Iraq: Avoiding The Next War. She was, at one time, an editor, researcher, and finally director of the National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament, and has a PhD from the University of Michigan.
The second presenter is Taylor Barnes. Taylor Barnes is an investigative journalist, she’s based in Atlanta, who covers military affairs and the defense industry. Her work has been published in local and national media outlets such as Southerly Magazine, Facing South, Responsible Statecraft, and The Intercept. And she also works for CNN.
David Story is our third presenter. He’s a third generation union member born and raised in Alabama. He’s the president of the Machinist and Aerospace Workers Union Local 44 in Decatur, Alabama, and a founding member of the Huntsville IWW. So with that, I think we’ll just turn it over to our first presenter, Miriam Pemberton. Please, Miriam, go right ahead.
Miriam Pemberton: Oh, thanks so much. It’s great to be with you all. I thought I’d just start on a little personal note. I found my life’s work at the end of the Cold War, and I happened to take a job with an NGO called the National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament. And I didn’t know what economic conversion was, but it sounded kind of progressive, so why not for a temporary job. But as it happened, I took the job a month before the fall of the Berlin Wall. So, suddenly swords into plowshares was where it was going to be at, and we were going to bring down the defense budget and fund education and healthcare. The whole list. We were going to convert military resources to civilian use.
So, that was a heady experience for about five years, and then it became what it remains: an uphill battle. And I’d say, from events of the last month, the uphill battle looks [inaudible] but what remains true is that I’m committed to building an enduring peace. This goal is not attainable without addressing the economic forces propelling war. And so my work, and specifically the work in this book I’m about to publish, is about those forces and how to tackle them. And I hope it will be a useful resource for folks.
So, we can start with how do we spend on our military as much as the next 11 countries put together and still be increasing our spending? There’s a new answer to that that’s been provided in the last month, but long term, a lot of this is about the profit motive. And this is something I think I can just skip over because it seems like this group understands everything I could say about the extraordinary collection of devices that the defense industry uses to protect its power. The think tanks, the guaranteed contracts, the campaign contributions to key committees, and the communities across the country that have had their economies tied to rising military budgets.
And I think, maybe, in this group of friends, we can all agree that the only way to break this extraordinary power is to create alternative economic activity, to give the war economy something else to do. So I thought I’d do three things. One is to briefly say what I see as the keys to getting this done. And secondly, what the status of all of that is right now. And then I thought I would just do a brief pitch to this group on what it might do, in addition to what it’s already doing, to advance a peace economy.
So what are the keys to making economic conversion work? So, in this book, I’ve looked at communities and companies that have tried, and there have been some successes. But they’re all scattered. So, to replicate them on a national scale you have to do two basic things. Surprise, surprise, you have to cut the military budget. But it’s not enough to do that. It’s not enough to cut the military budget. What you have to do is invest on the civilian side of the budget to do what economists call a demand poll.
So, create this alternative economic activity that the war economy can move into. So, got to do investment on the civilian side. Well, invest in what? And there we get to the question of industrial policy, which is, as we know, government action to steer the economy and its industrial production in one direction or another. And this has always been a taboo topic. It’s not the American way; we’re going to let the market work. But as we all know, we in fact have an industrial policy, and it is a military industrial policy. And we need a different one.
And I think Ken and Brian both adverted to probably what that main one should be. If we’re going to avoid climate catastrophe, we have to do this drastic shift, this drastic transition for our economy to run on clean energy and clean transport and get to zero emissions very fast. And that’s something that even the military, in a way, agrees with. They say, apart from a nuclear war, the biggest threat to national security, they say, is climate change. What they do with whatever they get to invest in climate change is another question we could get into, but the military industry can have a role in this.
So, one of the most interesting examples that I came up with of conversion success in my book was this defense contractor in Binghamton, New York, who figured out a way to take the hydraulic system from a fighter jet and convert it to run the drive train for hybrid electric buses. And there are about 12,000 of these buses, and they’re in five different continents. But again, these examples are scattered. And so, the question of where we stand now will not have escaped the notice of anybody on this call, I expect. Yesterday, Congress voted to give $40 billion extra to the military, when the budget of last year was already higher than the Cold War average at almost the peak of the Cold War. So they’re giving the military $40 billion extra, about 5%, or more than 5% increase, and $40 billion more than what was given to all other domestic priorities put together.
We used to talk about parity between the defense budget and the domestic side of the budget. But military is now back, pulling ahead. So, the wind at the moment seems to be blowing very much in our faces, but we do have truth on our side. So, we’re doing this increase because Russia has invaded. But Russia spends about a tenth of what the US spends on its military. So, throwing even more money at the US military is simply not the answer.
Then, the question of investment. Rich Trumka, who was until recently the head of the AFL-CIO, said that the Biden climate plan was as close as we’ve ever come to a green industrial policy. And of course, we don’t have that plan. So, there are some climate provisions in the budget, but they’re mostly focused on adaptation, on resilience, and building the walls higher to keep the water out and all. But really what we need to be focusing on is actually mitigating the effects of climate change so that they don’t become catastrophic. And that’s why we need this green industrial policy, such as was outlined in the Biden plan. And it stalled. We all know that. But we can’t give up, because a habitable planet is at stake. So we can’t give up. I thought I’d mention… How’s my time doing? Am I okay? Or should I start…
Should I mention a couple of glimmers of hope that I saw, namely the Biden administration has talked about defense companies specifically as consolidating too much power. And so they are doing some antitrust enforcement, which will be somewhat helpful in curbing that power. Lockheed Martin, the behemoth that we all know about, has been trying to acquire all the pieces of its weapons systems, which would obviously give it a lot more power to name its price. And at least one of these acquisitions, the Biden administration has rejected. So that’s a little something.
And in this book I’ve done, there’s a chapter on California as a leader and model of green industrial policy, driven in part by the more stringent emissions standards that were allowed for California. Trump got rid of that permission for more stringent standards and now the [Biden] administration has restored it. And back in the post Cold War period when the aerospace industry was facing severe layoffs, there were actually programs to retrain workers in the aerospace industry to build a nascent electric car industry in Southern California. Some of you may be old enough to remember a movie called Who Killed The Electric Car. The big three automakers were at that point not interested in moving to electric, but now they are. And so, there are some models to work with, to look at how the aerospace industry can become useful to the building of this alternative green economy.
So, before I end, I want to just make this little pitch for one thing this group might do that it’s, as far as I can tell, is not yet doing. Or maybe it is. We need to know more about the war economy, and it sounds like a lot of people in this network live in communities with defense industries. And even if you think you [don’t], you may anyway, because so much of this stuff is hidden and just woven into the fabric of so many economies. So, I’d suggest finding out some more about your local defense economy. It sounds like maybe you’ve already done this work. I don’t know. But I was going to suggest just two really simple resources. One is a website called governmentcontractswon, It’s one word, governmentcontractswon.com. And if you plug in your county, there will be all the defense contracts that have gone into that county for the last 20 years.
And so that’s a great place to start to find out about local defense economies. And then I’d just say, there’s Wikipedia. Usually, in local communities, usually talk about the economic base, that would give you some context to find out how the local defense economy came to be that way. And then I’m wondering what David thinks about folks on this webinar finding ways to have some dialogue with local defense workers, wondering if this could be productive? And if so, how? And what things to avoid, like don’t lead with war is wrong? That kind of thing. I have tried to do this in research for this book, but I’m kind of flying in and finding out about a local union meeting, and going there and lurking around and trying to talk to people. But I think most of the folks on this call have a much better shot at doing that work well. Which is, you live there, you have local contexts, you have time to develop relationships. And at some point eventually getting into discussions of what non-military production would be possible with the skills and equipment that those folks work on. And what do they think about doing that? That kind of thing.
As I say, this has gotten a lot tougher, I think, in the last month. But if some folks in this network did some of this work, you could all compare notes, figure out what things worked, and pool information and try to make this one dimension of the network that you’re trying to build. And then ultimately convening community conversations, which likely you have done a lot of, but trying to broaden those out to really incorporate defense industry folks along with others to learn from. As I’ve said, and as we all know, this has gotten a lot tougher lately, very lately. What we know is true is still true, that the only path to a lasting peace has to run through the task of tackling the economic underpinnings of war. So I have probably talked too long, and I look forward to hearing from everybody else.
Ken Jones: All right. Thank you so much, Miriam. To answer your question, that’s exactly what we want to do is network people together so that we can tell each other what’s going on, what the defense industries are in our community, how we’re talking to maybe the workers in our local communities and so forth. We’re just getting started. We’ve only been around for a couple months, but that’s certainly what we are trying to do in our meetings. Brian mentioned our next meeting is May 16. So we break into small groups and we talk to each other a little bit about what’s going on in our local area.
I neglected to mention, we’re going to have a Q&A afterwards, after the three speakers. So if something occurs to you that you want to ask a question about, please put it in the chat and we’ll try to keep an eye on them. And then when it comes time for Q&A, if we can dig them out of the chat, that’s good. But you can also ask a question right on the spot. So our next speaker is Taylor Barnes. Yeah. Over to you, Taylor.
Taylor Barnes: Thank you very much. Before I start my presentation, I wanted to add one resource to the resources that Miriam was mentioning about how to start getting the lay of the land of the defense industry in your area. And they are really great state profiles that are published on a site called The Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation. You can just Google defense spending [inaudible] state by state by state, OLDCC. And for example, the first time I went to go report in David’s neck of the woods, I looked at one of these profiles and saw an extremely dense red dot right over where he was. And I thought, okay, I think I’m going to the right place now.
So my name is Taylor Barnes. I’m a reporter based in Atlanta. I describe my work in a few different ways, but one way is as a field reporter for the military-industrial complex. And the defense industry beat within journalism is generally treated as something done from DC, done from the Pentagon. And I think it’s extremely important to understand how the military-industrial complex plays out amongst constituents on the ground across the country. And I think this is a very local beat, and it’s very important to understand the locus of power that exists all across the country within this. And that’s also why I think Warren is such a cool and neat group, because you guys are based in places like Huntsville, like Asheville, Tucson, St. Louis. So I really love seeing that. And tonight I’m going to talk about a story I have coming out soon that examines two small towns that each attempted a conversion from a military to civilian economy, one in Maine and one in South Carolina. Definitely go ahead and pull up my slides. Let’s see… Here we go. Can everyone see that okay?
Ken Jones: Yeah. Good.
Taylor Barnes: Great. So, yeah, but even before I get into that, I want to just talk a bit about why I think it’s very important to understand the centrality of employment in the jobs question in understanding why the United States has a military budget that is not just the highest in the world, but as Miriam said, higher than the next 11 militaries combined. And in short, I think it’s important to understand how this is used as a federal jobs program. And the basic mechanism for how this is done, it’s pretty easy to understand. Congress controls the power of the purse. They can spend money on our behalf. The most important duty of a given Congressman is to get reelected, and a pretty fantastic way to get reelected is to provide jobs for your constituents. And jobs in the military-industrial complex are a bit unique because they’re very visible in a way that other federally subsidized programs may not be.
So for example, I have Google alerts for various cities that I follow and various defense contractors. I have one for Lockheed Martin here in Marietta, Georgia. And every headline I see in the local press is just, 800 new jobs at Lockheed because of X, Y, Z. I drive past the plant. There’s a local elementary school named after the plant. It’s very visible in a way that other types of federal spending are not. So for example, if the government subsidizes childcare, that also creates jobs, it creates jobs in a variety of ways. But it’s not visible and concentrated, it’s more dispersed than when it happens in the military-industrial complex. And so my next slide.
Yeah, on the primacy of jobs, sort of in the minds of American voters, this really stuck out to me. This is a passage from a book called Sustainable Regeneration of Former Military Sites. It included an essay from a Naval officer and defense researcher talking about just how crucial jobs are in the minds of American voters. And he wrote, “the American people care most about jobs and not any other policy.” And to back that up, he cited 14 polls from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs carried out since the 70s, in which protecting the jobs of American workers always were ranked very important, and in the majority of the polls, eight of them, it was the absolute highest foreign policy goal, higher than preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and combating international terrorism.
So first when I read this, I laughed a little bit, because of course, preventing nuclear war is more important than maintaining our jobs. Though, of course, on a day to day basis we think more about our job than we think about nuclear war, with the exception of maybe right now. But I also thought this was very intuitively correct. This is indeed what people are thinking about when they go to vote. And so when I read that, I thought about how we can spend long hours at the proverbial Thanksgiving table debating with our relatives about the morality of nuclear weapons or about ending the war in Afghanistan, and maybe that’ll move the needle. Maybe that will do something. But I really think that the issue of sky-high defense spending and the power that confers on the defense industry is really probably more of an issue that has to do with bread and butter financial issues even more so than it has to do with these big picture ideological ones.
So tonight I wanted to briefly go through a recent reporting project I carried out in about two towns, two small towns, one in Maine, one in South Carolina, that each attempted to transition from a military to a civilian economy. They have plenty of differences between them, I’m not saying they’re equivalent places. But some of the similarities were that they’re both deeply tied into the Cold War, they were both major economic engines in their states. And each stake their transitions on alternative energy projects. And one in Brunswick, Maine, is a “swords into plowshares” story. And the other one in Aiken, South Carolina, is a plowshares back into swords story. So onto Brunswick.
Excuse me. Are you guys seeing my next slide?
Ken Jones: No, not yet.
Taylor Barnes: There we go. Nope. I need to go back one.
That’s okay. I’ll let it go for now. We’re already on the South Carolina slide. So Brunswick was home to a Naval air station that hosted patrol aircraft, and where these patrol aircraft would take off and fly over the Atlantic looking for Russian submarines that may be laden with nuclear weapons. After the Cold War, it was on the list of bases to be shuttered. It was shuttered in 2011. And the town really snapped into action, partly out of fear. This was on the heels of the Great Recession. A local real estate agent told me that home values had dropped as much as 40% and the town was panicked.
And what happened? The local redevelopment authorities carried out a deep public engagement program. It included things like high school workshops, or bringing high schoolers to visit the base, and then go back to their high school and markup maps of it. It included bus tours for regular locals, included open office hours with the redevelopment authorities, included randomized phone surveys for people who may not show up to a public meeting. And that didn’t mean that everything was smooth and agreeable. I think Martha Skis is on this phone call, and she sent me a fantastic video of a public hearing when redevelopment authorities proposed perhaps turning the base into a drone testing facility. And it angered a lot of locals and local city council people. One of my favorite parts of watching the hearing was a grandmother who got up and tearfully told the stories of seeing victims of drone attacks.
And then she turned to the redevelopment authorities and said, if you go through with this, I’m going to join everyone in this room and I’m going to sue you. And so, yeah, that was how the public engagement played out. And very crucially in the case of Brunswick, this was not a town that was deeply under the influence of a major military or DOE contractor. The nearest industrial hub to Brunswick is a separate town called Bath. And this makes it very different than a place like, for example, Huntsville, Alabama, where, as David knows, the local Redstone Arsenal is literally hugged, physically hugged by an industrial park of hundreds of corporate offices, most of them for defense contractors.
So, yeah. Instead in Brunswick, most of the civilian jobs before the base closed down were in the service sector, like working in the commissary or working in family services. And so within just 10 years of it shutting down, the results have been pretty extraordinary. And I’m giving a simple version of this. It doesn’t mean the story has been perfect, but it’s pretty impressive for what it is. The former base has tripled its number of civilian jobs and they’re of the better paying sort than those ones that were in the service sector beforehand. They’re often in the high tech sector, and very often in the sustainability and alternative energy sector. So for example, that includes a popular local bakery that employs 80 people, a secure data storage firm that’s housed in the former facility used by as a NATO command and control center, multiple alternative energy and sustainability startups.
An extremely impressive one that makes underwater zero emission river turbines that, within a few short years, were tested with an Indigenous community in Alaska and is now powering the entire Indigenous community, which otherwise beforehand relied on diesel, which is both an expensive and polluting fuel. So what happened in Brunswick? This was a much more grassroots transition than we’re about to see in South Carolina. It was not the sort of base encircled by major defense contractors. And local redevelopment authorities indeed carried out a pretty robust public engagement process, and the public spoke up, including in very adversarial ways at times.
So now onto Aiken, South Carolina. Some of you may be familiar with this location through a fantastic book called Cold War Dixie about the establishment of this nuclear weapons plant called the Savannah River Site. And in short, in 1950 when the United States detected radiation from a Soviet nuclear weapons test, this sent the US into a panic because it knew its brief novel as the world’s only nuclear weapon state was now over and set off a frenzy to build more nuclear weapons. And the Federal Government at that time announced that a rural quarter of South Carolina would become the location of a new H bomb plant. And this plant would go on to produce 40% of the United States’s Cold War era stock of plutonium. And then the Cold War ends. All of the reactors are deactivated. The DOE announces that this plant would largely transition to environmental management of all the hazardous waste on site. And to this day, this government of South Carolina refers to the hazardous waste stored at SRS as “the greatest environmental threat in the entire state.”
Then in 2000, the SRS appeared to get a new mission. Russia and the United States signed an Arms Control Agreement in which each side would dispose of excess weapons-grade plutonium by turning it into fuel usable in civilian nuclear power reactors, civilian nuclear power plants. And this type of fuel was called mixed oxide and it was new in the United States. And so this sounds like a good idea. This sounds like a swords into plowshares story. You’re taking something that was used in a weapon and you’re going to turn on a light bulb with it, in theory. But many problems soon emerged. And I want to give a big shout out to a local watchdog group in Aiken, in South Carolina. There really is a one man shop called SRS Watch who, for 40 years, has been scrutinizing the SRS for both environmental and fiscal accountability.
So just one year into the construction of the project, MOX lost its only would-be buyer, which was Duke Energy, and never got any other nuclear power plant to go on contract to buy its eventual fuel. And then a familiar story for people who follow DOE and DOD sites, the construction costs ballooned by billions and the timeline to finish the project ballooned by decades. The construction had appalling flaws. The local watchdog told me he would be getting anonymous phone calls from workers saying, you wouldn’t believe what’s going on here on the inside. One of the flaws that stood out to me that was revealed by a whistleblower was that a contractor sold rebar to the government that they certified as nuclear grade enabled to withstand an earthquake, but actually it was commercial grade and it just snapped under the weight of a workman’s hammer. So that’s a little terrifying.
And Aiken, unlike Brunswick, is deeply, deeply a company town. So here in the corner, you’ll see a horse farm owner named Pete Laberge that I met. He bought a horse farm that’s about three miles from the SRS. And he told me a bit about his culture shock of moving into Aiken, where he would flip through TV channels and see law firms putting out ads for workers to make compensation claims for cancer. He would flip through the local newspaper and see the major DOE contractor at the site presenting oversized checks to the local United Way. And so sort of that largess that allows the contract to present those oversized checks was part of just this great spending project that turned the area into what the Center for Public Integrity called “a sea of prosperity in a rural corner of the state.” And South Carolina’s congressional representatives fiercely, fiercely defended that island of prosperity.
Most prominently among them was Lindsay Graham, whom locals then nicknamed Mr. MOX for his association with the project. And so $5.4 billion ended up being spent on the MOX plant over a period of a decade and some change before the DOE would pull the plug on it. And it employed about 1800 people, give or take, over that time. So by my calculation, since the plant did nothing, it provided energy to nobody, if you view this instead as a job creation project, each of those jobs was subsidized to the tune of about $3 million, or $270,000 per year. One Republican congressional critic from Ohio, who identified as a fiscal conservative, lobbied against the project and called it “the biggest, baddest earmark of all time.” And so in 2018, the DOE officially canceled MOX. It didn’t produce fuel to power anybody’s house, unlike, for example, that river turbine that came from Brunswick, Maine, that now is up and successfully running, successfully powering an entire Indigenous community in Alaska and cost a tiny, tiny fraction of this $5.4 billion boondoggle in South Carolina.
So when MOX closed in Aiken, did the public actually get a chance to chime in about what they wanted next, like people in Brunswick did? Absolutely not. On the exact same day that it was shut down, the DOE announced that it had a substitute lined up for MOX and that it would be turned into a plant to produce plutonium pits, which are the bowling ball size orbs that form the core of nuclear weapons. Some of you all may be familiar with the story of Rocky Flats in Colorado, which was the last major plant for plutonium pits. So what does that mean? It meant that a plant that was meant to dispose of excess weapons grade plutonium instead is becoming a plant that will just produce more bombs, hence becoming a plowshares back into swords story.
And so I tried to look for, in my story, in my reporting, where are citizens supposed to go to sound off about this and give their opinion? What are the public forums for this? And it turns out that we as taxpayers actually do fund a public forum for this. It’s called The Community Reuse Organization. And these CROs came into existence at the end of the Cold War and were supposed to be a forum for nuclear weapons communities to transition away from their dependence on the weapons economy. But as I looked into the SRS’s CRO, it’s very broken. And I spoke with several civically active members of the community in and around Aiken who told me either that they never heard of it despite being active on these issues, or two, that it [inaudible] doesn’t need public outreach, it’s useless to go to their meetings. I called up the SRS CRO and asked if I could go to one of their meetings and they seemed genuinely baffled.
Then I asked the president of the SRS CRO, hey, several residents have been telling me this is not a public forum. They don’t go to it. Is this indeed a place where the community can go to discuss reuse of the community as the name suggests? And to my great surprise, he told me, no. And he said, “ours is not a public forum for such discourse. Instead, many members of the CRO come from local chambers of commerce. Many of them have close ties to the major contractor at the SRS called Savannah River Nuclear Solutions.” And then, despite being a forum set up for reuse, the president of the CRO endorsed pit production on the site. And I asked him why he did that. And he said, I endorse it because it will create 3000 jobs. And I think everyone on this call kind of knows that when you hear those job claims, you should scrutinize them and ask where that number came from.
I asked him where it was from. And then he walked it back and he said, actually, the estimates say it’ll create about 1800 jobs in “the peak year of construction” and perhaps 1300 jobs will be made in “the area of influence.” So anyhow, like I said, it’s important to understand the rhetoric around job creation in these projects, and to also then scrutinize and see what’s really going on. So finally, I just want to end with a few quotes from locals. And like I said, since the CRO is a pretty broken forum for where they actually could go and speak out about this, I found out there had been a public meeting in 2019 that was not actually about economic conversion. It was actually about the environmental impact of becoming a plutonium pit plant. But since locals don’t really have anywhere else to go, they used this meeting as a way to speak about the SRS’s new future, and they said some great things.
So Pete, who’s there in the corner, who lives three miles from the plant, he’s there showing his aquifer. And he said, “I’m terrified about having to share my aquifer with a nuclear weapons plant.” A local pastor said, “Set your goals on something that’s better than killing one another.” One person brought up the advance of the Nuclear Ban Treaty at the UN and said, “We’re out of step with the way the world is going.” And then my absolute favorite thing I wanted to end on was a woman who said she had lived both in Oak Ridge and an Aiken, and she called living in company towns, “Like the Stockholm syndrome, you’re captive and you’re under the spell of this plant that is producing weapons to kill millions of people.” So I’m going to end there, and I look forward to taking any questions. And thank you all for having me.
Ken Jones: All right. Can you unshare your screen, Taylor? All right. Good enough. Thank you so much, Taylor. And Taylor, is that article of yours published yet? And if so, can you give us a link to it in the chat?
Taylor Barnes: That article is not yet published.
Ken Jones: Oh, okay.
Taylor Barnes: It’ll come out in about a week or two.
Ken Jones: Okay. Well, if you get on our mailing list, and you can do that if you go to our website which I posted above, I’ll post it again. It’s on the Veterans for Peace platform. We can send things to you. We’ll send mailings to you. And in this case, including the link to Taylor’s article. Someone told me I made a mistake and said our next meeting for our WIRN group is May 16. It’s not. It’s in less than a week. It’s next Wednesday, March 16, 6:30. So please come join us, help us discuss our local situation with each other. Our next speaker is David Story from Alabama. So over to you, David.
David Story: Good evening, everyone. I appreciate you allowing me to come speak to you tonight. Like he said, my name’s David Story. I’m the president of a local here in Decatur, Alabama. We work in the defense industry. And I’m very much out of my wheelhouse tonight, I’ll be completely honest. Generally when I speak to people, I am talking about how I’m going to protect their jobs, and tonight I’m talking about how we’re going to do away with their jobs, which is completely unheard of. And if most of my members knew what was going on, they’d probably be pretty pissed. That being said, I got a few stories to tell, and I apologize as I don’t speak as quickly as our previous guest. We take things a little bit slow here in the South.
Our union in the state of Alabama represents… Approximately 90% of our membership is in the defense industry. So that’ll give you an idea of where I’m coming from whenever I talk about the work that we do. A couple of stories. My father came out of the Vietnam war roughly two years before I was born. When he came out – He’s a heavy equipment operator in the air force – He went to Birmingham at first as an insurance salesman while he looked for work in the immediate area, which was about an hour north of Birmingham in North Alabama. There was a startup called Champion Papers, and they made paper of course. He was lucky enough to get on. It was one of the, if not the best job north of Birmingham in probably a four to 500 square mile area. It was represented at the time by paper workers and then the steel workers came in and represented them. He worked the majority of his life at that facility. Around 2000, a larger facility called International Paper took it over, bought it out, did a lot of furloughs.
Basically, they were purchasing up the smaller businesses to kill them off so there would be less competition, private industry of course. Luckily, he was pretty close to his retirement age and he took a buyout from them. I mean, it was like I said, it was one of the best jobs in the area. We were raised extremely well. Nobody was rich, but nobody ever wanted for anything. Shortly after he retired, the plant closed. This was in a city called Courtland, Alabama. Courtland has roughly a population of 700. There was 1100 workers that were furloughed, eventually lost their jobs in that city. Approximately just a couple years after that, Lockheed Martin moved in. Lockheed Martin developed the… I believe it was the Thaad missiles. There were several missiles. They just recently, a few weeks ago, they announced an expansion of that facility to this hypersonic missile defense system.
I’ve done some reading on it and it’s about as insane as it sounds. But you’re talking about the largest employer in that area, closing up shop, privatize, Lockheed Martin moving in. And regardless of what anybody thinks, even though Lockheed Martin is a private industry, private owned industry with stocks and shares and things like that, They’re 100% percent fairly subsidized. We’re paying everything for Lockheed Martin. The same where I work, all of our salaries are paid by the federal government. So it’s important to keep in mind, kind of like Miriam said, in America we’ve got towards this mentality that the free market’s good, the free market helps makes things cheaper. For the American market, the free market has been devastating. For an example, just like I gave with my father.
Also recently, one of the things that I’m passionate about, the solar energy industry. LG, an American manufacturer produced right here in Huntsville, my backyard, announced that they’re closing. They can no longer afford to produce solar panels in the United States. And the reason that is, is because in around 2014, it was found that China was called dumping. Dumping solar panels into the US, they were manufacturing and selling them cheaper than they could actually manufacture them for to keep the business to themselves. Tariffs went into place – This was during I believe the Obama administration – Some tariffs went into place on the Chinese manufacturing.
The Chinese immediately swapped manufacturing to Malaysian plants, to the Thailand plants to get around those tariffs. And I’m going to say something that’s very rare, but one of the good things that Trump did when he came into office was put into place those tariffs on those factories as well so that American workers could compete with these solar panels that were coming in. Unfortunately, one of the people that I voted for, President Biden, as soon as he came into office these tariffs were set to expire, and he allowed them to expire. It’s killed business in the United States, LG’s already announced they’re done. They were more diplomatic about it and said there was not a whole lot that the administration could do. And we all know that LG’s lying because they’re going to need some help from the administration in other places. So that being said, the same as in what’s happening in Courtland is the same thing I’m sure if anybody’s been following the Ukraine war, you’ve seen the missiles that are being supplied are pretty much coming from Alabama.
Our largest local in the state is in Daleville, Alabama. A city of about 5,400 I think was the last survey, the population. The membership at Local Lodge 2003 in Daleville is about 5,600, so it’s basically the size of that city. They work on the Fort Rucker Air Force base or the Fort Rucker Army Base doing helicopter refurbing, maintenance. Our membership trains the army pilots that go out into the field. Also another, coincidentally – Or not coincidentally, I should probably say, another Lockheed plant that is developing missiles, they’re right outside of Daleville as well, completely subsidized by the federal government. I struggled coming tonight because it’s difficult for me to say we should give jobs away. But my entire reason for coming is I’m one generation removed from the new deal that happened in our state. For anybody that’s old enough to remember, they developed TVA, the Tennessee Valley Authority, out of the New Deal.
It provided power to the Southeast region. It also helped dam up some of the rivers, maintain them, created just beautiful lakes. Some of the best fishing spots in the nation are right here because of it. It was fully funded by the federal government, it completely pays for itself. There’s not one penny of tax dollars that is spent to support TVA right now. Not one penny. And they cover millions of work, millions of homes in electricity out of that. Also sprung up my electrical cooperative is Joe Wheeler Electric, we own the cooperatives. I live in extremely, extremely rural Alabama by choice. I like to be out in the middle of nowhere. I’m next to the last house that actually has cable, so we’re able to get internet.
Most of the people – And I know this is probably hard for a lot of people to believe that live in the city – Most of the people have satellite internet. Joe Wheeler Cooperative, because it’s owned by us, the membership, we’ve decided to invest money in running fiber optics throughout the entire coverage area and make it reasonably priced, it’s going to be $20 a month for high speed internet. These are the things that I would recommend as you go out and talk to defense workers about how we need to move away from the defense industry into green industry, or into any industry. I would ask you to discuss where we’re moving. And not where we’re moving after the fact. Not if we can shut this down, I promise… Because for my entire lifetime living under Carter, Reagan, Bush, Obama, and all the neoliberal presidents, we’ve heard promises our entire life as they’ve offshored jobs to every slave labor nation that they can. So private industry has not benefited anyone except for the stock market and those shareholders in the elite.
I’m begging for people to talk about investing in the local communities, in cooperatives, shifting instead of… The plant that I make rockets at. We are in space exploration, we launch satellites. There’s a lot of work that could be done as far as wind turbines, as far as making the fans, we have humongous… You could imagine, to build a rocket you have to have humongous equipment. We could make all of this. What I would ask is that you don’t give it to private industry, that you give it to the community. Because when the community owns this equipment, for one, they’ll pay their workers fair wages that will come back into the community, just like our cooperative does here. For two, they’ll take care of the local environment. They’re not going to destroy the resources, the natural resources that we have around, like what you see with coal ash being thrown into the rivers and things like that, because they have to live here.
The folks that own this facility right now are in Denver. They could give a shit less whether they destroy our natural flora and fauna, anything like that. So as we move forward and we talk about these things, I know this sounds like a… You know, a Bernie Sanders show or what have you, but I would really like for you to talk to people and explain to them how transitioning and how transitioning to community-owned businesses that benefit the communities would help them as opposed to these corporate oligarchies, as we’ve been hearing a lot of here lately. Nobody wants to point their fingers at the Walton family and at the families like that. They’ve been destroying the blue collar work in the United States for far too long. So it’s kind of my take on everything and I certainly appreciate y’all giving me the opportunity to speak.
Ken Jones: Yeah, thank you so much, David. By the way, in the chat you’ve gotten a lot of cheers for your comments about community and investing in community rather than the oligarchy and the corporations, so thanks for bringing that voice. All right, so we have some time, if you’re willing to stick with us here a little bit, for Q&A. The way we might handle what’s in the chat, maybe I asked Colleen if she would keep an eye on it. Maybe there’s some there in the chat already. But if you have a question, if you would use the reaction button down below to raise your hand, and we’ll just get people right in a row. When your hand goes up, we’ll go right down the line. There’s a couple already. All right, Jonathan King, go ahead, unmute yourself.
Jonathan King: Well in the first place, thank you very much for this excellent program. Very, very important. So traditionally the conversion campaigns have been focused on the workers who are going to lose… Who are employed in the military industry. But of course, a far larger group of people are unemployed, poorly employed, because of the failure to invest in the civilian side. So here in Massachusetts, one of the things we’ve done is try a little bit to focus on the other side. So we had a campaign, Subways, Not Submarines. We didn’t go to the GE plant and say, you shouldn’t make turbines. We went to the union machinists and the car drivers and the workers who… There are no trains produced anymore in Massachusetts, they’re imported from China, but we need trains. There’s a market for trains. And so we said to those people, why aren’t we building trains here?
So we’re trying to build the political will to shift the Pentagon money. It is a little different than going to the defense workers and saying, you should give up your jobs. We went to the people who didn’t have good jobs and tried to build a constituency there. And I think that has to be a key component of conversion campaigns, the people who are being screwed by the misuse of the funds.
One other quick thing while I’m on, we have two campaigns in the state legislature. One directed at Raytheon, the other directed at nuclear weapons campaigns, nuclear weapons manufacturers, where we ask the state legislature to divest the state pension fund from companies that manufacture nuclear weapons or are selling missiles to the Saudis as a way to reveal to the general public the misuse of their tax dollars. And it doesn’t take that many people to get a bill introduced into the state legislature and then you can mobilize quite broadly. So Brian, maybe you could put the two bills in the chat. We didn’t get at a committee, but you have public hearings and it’s an opportunity to talk about how our tax dollars are used and misused. Thanks a lot.
Ken Jones: All right, thank you Jonathan. I’ve been given a heads up that we have with us this evening a former defense worker who briefly worked in a bomb plant and was let go after trying to a union, and this is Dr. Vivian Price. I saw your face there, Dr. Vivian Price. Could you speak to us a little bit about your experience? And unmute yourself. You’re muted, Vivian, can you unmute yourself?
Vivian Price: There we go. That was a long time ago. I was working in an electronic plant during the Vietnam War and we tried to form a union. It was my first attempt at organizing, and we got exposed and people were fired. And we tried to fight back, it wasn’t successful. However, I’ve also been working on a report with the British Academy, listening to workers in defense plants in the United States and in the UK talk about how they feel about climate change, decarbonization, demilitarization, shifting to civilian goods, as well as just transition. So that report will be coming out shortly and I look forward to sharing that with other people. So that’s my experience, and now I think it’s important to do research about what workers think, and whether they’re consulted, and whether there’s a place in their union to talk about these issues. Thank you.
Ken Jones: I wonder, David, do you have a response to that, David Story?
David Story: That is a difficult task and one that’s going to take years to… It’s not something that you could, it’s not something that’s going to happen quickly. When I laid out the story, when I talked about my father’s plant going away and Lockheed coming in, the point was to say we’re going to have to create industry prior to talking about defense going away. There has to be a shift and it has to be a prior shift. The American worker for the last 40 years has been told I don’t know how many promises, so we don’t believe anybody any longer.
We’re all from the show me state at this point, build it and people will come, and I think that’s how you’re going to transition. It’s not going to be defunding the military or the military support systems. It’s going to be putting in industry that will provide the worker a path to move out of and shut down that industry. Because the only reason that industry’s here is because of some Senator just like in Courtland. They lost all those jobs and the Senator had enough pressure from his constituents that he brought in some work. And if more jobs come into that area, that work will go away, I can guarantee it.
Ken Jones: Yeah. Okay, I see a hand. I see Nick Hunter has his hand up. Nick, you want to ask your question?
Nick Hunter: Yeah, thank you. Thanks to all the speakers tonight. Tonight, I guess we’ve been talking a lot about shifting away from the war industry in communities that may have a plant there building weaponry or aircraft. I’m wondering if any speakers have some insight into how that conversation about shifting away from a war economy works in a university setting. For example, here at Iowa State University, we have a subsidiary of Raytheon, Collins Aerospace, who have a large presence on campus. They host many events, bring in speakers, fund a lot of academic buildings, scholarships. How do you have that conversation? Because then it’s about, oh, you’re taking away money from the university by trying to get them off of campus. Just wondering if you have any examples or tips for that fight?
Ken Jones: Yeah, go ahead, Taylor.
Taylor Barnes: I have just some really anecdotal comments, and I think one of my very first ones is just that I think it’s really important that these company names become your “kitchen table issues,” that these become recognizable. I don’t think Raytheon has the recognizability as, for example, a Facebook or an Apple, because consumers don’t interact with them. And I remember even one of my first sort of wake up calls in this area, one of the first things that stimulated my interest was a college career fair where Raytheon was recruiting. And I went to Brown, and several students draped themselves in fake blood and laid out in front of the table for a while. I thought, well, what is this company? Why are they doing that?
Another sort of anecdotal example is, as I do this beat, I do what I can to, like I said, turn this into a kitchen table issue. Make this accessible, make this not sound big and scary and foreign. And I had a friend who did a “Social Impact MBA program” in Massachusetts and, big surprise, Raytheon started recruiting in her class. And she told me she was touring the career fair with another classmate, and the classmate was like, hey, let’s go there. And the friend said, I don’t remember exactly what but I know my friend Taylor told me not to go there. And this is very anecdotal, but I even think name recognition starts to help in the same way that an ExxonMobil has a sort of maligned reputation, I think, amongst our generation, amongst young people. So that’s sort of an anecdotal and incomplete answer, but I think a very small starting point.
Ken Jones: Good. Thank you. Colleen, Go ahead.
Collen: Oh, okay. I wasn’t sure if I was unmuted. First of all, I just want to say thank you all so much. Taylor, we’ve interacted a lot online, I do a lot of the Veterans For Peace, I’m their communications director, so appreciate all of your work. And David, I also read your piece too, so I’m really excited that y’all are here talking about this. I really think that this is a really important conversation. And I think as someone who has been doing organizing for the last 20 years on issue-based stuff around antiwar issues and foreign policy issues, worker organizing is very different than issue-based organizing. And I think that’s something that issue-based organizers need to learn a little bit more of what it means to organize workers and what that job thing is. And so I have a couple of questions and I’m sorry, I’m kind of taking advantage of picking y’all’s brain, and I’m really excited that Vivian Price is here too, who I haven’t met, but I just think that this conversation is so rich and I would love to have some further trainings around this in the future.
But I noticed, Taylor, and I’m sorry if I missed it, I was multitasking with work. But when we saw that reduction in defense industry jobs, is that because of technology and the computerization? And then my second question is, I was really interested, David. I work for Veterans for Peace and so a big recruitment thing is that you’ll get hired outside after you join the military. But often what we’re finding now is that companies are not actually hiring veterans because they don’t transfer into industry now, including factory work. They’re different skill sets and they’re not always equal. And I’m curious, anecdotally, what are you finding in your factories now? Like, do you notice that there are a lot of vets still being hired? That’s just kind of a side note out of curiosity. And then I would love to hear any more around messaging, David, that you think would work.
And I’m curious as to how it plays out. I know that we’re really living in a point in time where everything is very binary and people aren’t seeing a lot of gray in the world in terms of opinions. But I’m curious if a reduction in Pentagon spending, does that still say to them, even if we’re not talking about a particular industry, does that still say to workers, you’re going to take my jobs? Rather than, do they see that as just trillions of dollars being spent enriching billionaires as opposed to being focused on workers? So, sorry. That was a lot. Apologize.
Ken Jones: Who wants to go first?
Taylor Barnes: I think my answer may be a little more straightforward. Thank you so much for the question. Those figures I had on the slide are from a group called the National Defense Industrial Association. This is sort of an advocacy group that does lobbying on behalf of the defense industry. And so even though they’re kind of on the opposite side of the political coin from many people on this call, they’ve got some good resources including an annual report about the state of the defense industry that includes labor force figures. That’s where I got those from. And it’s a dramatic drop. You saw 3.5 million jobs related to private defense industry in 1985 compared to just over 1 million in 2019. And I think there are several factors going on. One of course, what you mentioned, automation, outsourcing. Another thing that David and I can see on the ground, which is the transfer of plants to “right-to-work” states here in the South.
One prominent example of that was the transfer of an F-16 plant from a unionized shop in Fort Worth to South Carolina, which has the absolute lowest unionization rate in the country. And as a side note, after about a month, I was successful. I once tried to reach out to workers at that plant and it was so extremely difficult, as David knows. When you’re in a union, it’s not just about are you getting pay raises? It’s not just about the financial issues. It’s about protecting your free speech rights and protecting your right to speak out about whatever issue you may want. And I had a beast of a time getting those workers to speak with me because of the climate of fear in that plant.
I think another thing that can start to account for that drop in jobs, of course, is the astronomical rise in corporate profits going to defense contractors. There’s a really nice post from a colleague of mine named Steven Semler who runs the Security Policy Reform Institute in which he looked at SEC filings for the ratio of highest paid person, The CEO at defense contractors versus median worker. And at places like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, that number’s routinely 200 to one, 300 to one. It’s something that’s routine nowadays in corporate America, but it’s pretty absurd when you think of these as federally funded jobs. So I guess those are three points I would think of as to why that number has dropped so significantly. Automation, moving to right-to-work states, and that corporate profit ratio.
Ken Jones: Go ahead, David.
David Story: So that you were asking about the transition to veterans, I would say that you are probably correct in a large majority of manufacturing. What I see at our facility is veterans unfortunately do not transition well at all. The skillset required to do our work is extremely technical. I’m a journeyman electrician and also have a degree in computer technology, so I do a lot of programming. But the manufacturing environment has, since the automation has come to play, has created an environment for extremely technically minded people. The programming skills that it requires to maintain equipment nowadays is unbelievable. We have a hard time. A matter of fact, a few years back, to give you an example, we actually lowered our… We have a qualification test in order to get hired on as an electrician in our facility. We lowered the, I don’t want to say we dumbed down the test, but we dumbed down the test.
Because we as union members were pushing the company to hire furloughed workers out of a local IBW plant. We could not get one journeyman electrician out of the IBW plant that could pass that test, and these are people that have gone through more training than a bachelor’s degree as far as hours go. So the skills to transition are impossible in manufacturing, not impossible, but close to it. As far as like what I was talking about at Fort Rucker where they do the maintenance on the Black Hawk helicopters and things like that and they transition well, that’s probably, if I had to guess, I would say 60% to 70% veterans that are in that private industry down there, they’ve came out of the army or the air force and transitioned well. And then your second part of that question, could you repeat that? I’m sorry.
Ken Jones: Colleen.
Colleen: Sorry. I wasn’t able to unmute. Yeah. I just was curious, a lot of the language of Pentagon spending in antiwar movement work is around reducing the Pentagon spending. And I’m curious… And we try to use a lot of language that it enriches rich folks and it takes away from regular working people just because that’s definitely what works and is what’s true. But I’m curious if folks are here that also hear, we’re taking away your jobs, if we’re talking about reducing Pentagon spending. We very specifically do not use defund the military, one, because it’s appropriation of other movements’ language, but two because… I mean, that’s mostly why we say cut the Pentagon.
David Story: Yeah. So I’m no longer… But a couple years back I was elected as a secretary treasurer of the state council, the state council of machinists oversees the legislative body of the entire state union. And part of my job was being a lobbyist in DC. So yes, that is absolutely the case when people here call for cuts and defense spending, every person in our facility knows that we’re going to lose jobs. Not only that. And that’s why earlier I argued for turning businesses over to the community as opposed to the private industry. We’re used as pawns, many times, leading up to defense spending bills, to where the companies will furlough 100, 150 workers under the auspices that they need more money to keep these workers employed. So they play both sides of the fence very well.
Miriam Pemberton: Maybe I just throw in, I loved David’s focus on local cooperatives as an alternative to the big mega-corporations. I just offer one resource. There’s an organization called Democracy Collaborative and they have all sorts of resources about local economies and having an anchor that would grow local businesses out of one anchor institution. That kind of thing. It’s just a vast repository of great resources for the kind of work that you’re talking about, I think.
Ken Jones: Oh, okay, we’re coming up on about an hour and a half for this webinar, which is a long time for you all who are still with us. And thank you for being here. I see one more hand raised, John Lawrence. Why don’t we take that question and then we’ll wrap it up. Go ahead, John.
John Lawrence: Yes. David mentioned that one of the attractions to military jobs is the fact that they’re protected against the international labor market and the race to the bottom. And I wanted to know, is there a conversion kind of Keynesian plan for the whole world in which we would interrupt this race to the bottom labor market that could stabilize an industrial labor market here at home?
David Story: You know, that’s so far beyond my capabilities of answering. As much as I am about as far to the left on the political spectrum, I’m still very much a nationalist and protectionist when it comes to American jobs. So unfortunately, I would probably call for a 500% tariff on everything that’s manufactured out of the US coming in, but that’s not reasonable. So, like I say, it’s well beyond my knowledge to know how to affect change there. But I do believe that, going back to the same thing I preach the whole time, I do believe if you start doing a community, bringing the community in, they will protect those jobs themselves. They’re not going to let those jobs go. They recognize the benefit of it as opposed to private equity firms or capital venture firms that will exploit us to the nth degree and when they can’t exploit us any longer, they’ll outsource it to slave labor in a foreign country.
Ken Jones: Okay. Hey Brian, you want to –
Brian: My question is kind of related. Up here in Massachusetts, our demand for a long time has been for Raytheon technologies to stop providing weapons to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. We’re also very concerned about the facility that Raytheon has in Saudi Arabia and how they’ve now given them the technology that they need to build their own high-tech bomb parts. And I was wondering how laborers who work at defense contracts feel about outsourcing some of these jobs that are usually done in America to countries like Saudi Arabia. We’re very worried about that kind of high-tech technology being in the hands of authoritarian governments overseas.
David Story: Yeah. I know what you’re talking about, and I just recently, I want to say within the past couple of weeks, read about that and I was amazed that ITAR has not kicked in and protected the international trade. I can’t remember exactly what it is. I have to take training on it every year. So if my company’s on here watching, I know exactly what it is, but I can’t recall. But it’s basically some protections there to keep other nations from being able to utilize our technology. I mean, I myself cannot even make a phone call to a Canadian person that built a machine in my factory. I can’t make a phone call to them without having security listening in. So the fact that they’re outsourcing is amazing to me, but there may be something there. I mean, for whatever reason, as oppressive as the Saudi regime is, several presidents for the past numerous years have been in bed with them. So it wouldn’t surprise me to see them giving that up.
Ken Jones: Okay. Well, I see one more hand. There’s Paul Shannon. Let’s give Paul a chance. Go ahead, Paul.
Paul Shannon: Yeah. I’m sorry to come in so late, but I hate to let the speakers go. I think Miriam and David kind of, at least I heard them saying something similar, that before you’re talking about moving jobs out of military into civilian, you have to create the jobs in that sector first so that that sector can kind of serve as a magnet to people that are going into military jobs. And so I think that has some implications as far as we talk about how much money goes into the military and how much into non-military stuff that… And certainly, when we’re talking about green jobs and all that, we have to figure out a way to create jobs, community centered jobs, certainly, but also larger scale enterprises that can actually offer good-paying jobs and be attractive to people that are going into the military now. And it especially would be attractive if we could get that military budget to drop so that people actually know there’s something out there for them as opposed to going to them now and saying, well, we could do this instead. You could do this work instead, but that work doesn’t exist.
And people that are working in the defense industry know that and they know they have a job right now and that if it didn’t exist, there’s all these other great ideas out there, but they don’t exist. And so I think that gives us some guidance in terms of an overall national strategy on conversion that we should think much more seriously about. And I’ll just say the other thing is it would be great for us to set up a mechanism for us to stay in touch with our speakers and to stay in touch with David, for instance, in terms of how our messaging and what we’re asking for resonates with actual people in the military industries.
David Story: I’ll put my email address in the chat. It’s pretty well available. If you search my name it should show up on Google fairly quickly but I’ll drop it in there as well.
Miriam Pemberton: Yeah, I was going to say –
Ken Jones: I’ll vouch for… Sorry, go ahead, Miriam.
Miriam Pemberton: Sometimes you think of conversion as sort of a chicken and egg problem, you know. You need to cut the military budget so that these other things will be attractive, but until you have those things, you can’t really cut the military budget. So work on budget priorities. We have a budget and if it transfers resources seriously to what I would call an industrial policy to really go after climate catastrophe and what needs to be done. I’ve always said back in the Cold War period, I said we need a new national mission to take the place of winning the Cold War, and it’s pretty clear, to me, what that mission is. And it’s big enough to absorb the talents and the resources of this giant military establishment. And it’s hard to make that shift, and I would have to say it’s gotten quite a bit harder in the last month, so. [crosstalk]
Ken Jones: Thank you, Miriam. Thank you, David. Thank you, Taylor. Wonderful program. This is a good time. Good place I think to call it quits for the evening. And I want to give one more shout-out about our organization War Industry Resisters Network, WIRN. Brian put in the chat the link to our website that’s on Veterans for Peace platform, and join us. You can go to that link and you can just click in and sign up and you’re on our mailing list. So yeah, we got to stick together. Thank you. Don’t forget our next webinar is April 13. It’s about demilitarization, decolonization, and decarbonization. So join us again. Come to our meeting March 16, if you can, at 6:30, and yeah, let’s stick together. Thank you for coming, everyone.
Miriam Pemberton: Thank you.