Destroyers into Windmills

April 2nd, 2005 - by admin

Christie Toth / Potland (Maine) Phoenix – 2005-04-02 22:54:27

MAINE (April 1, 2005) — A year ago, when activists at Peace Action Maine began planning a campaign to end Maine’s economic dependence on military industry, converting those industries to environmentally sustainable, non-military manufacturing sounded pie in the sky. A year ago, Bath Iron Works, Maine’s largest private employer, had a contract to build seven DD(X) Destroyers for the United States Navy.

Now, the president’s budget proposal has slashed the destroyer order by more than half, and the Navy is considering giving the entire contract to a shipyard in Mississippi. As the Maine delegation fights what may be a losing battle on the Hill, economic conversion is beginning to look like more than an idealistic pipe dream. It is beginning to look necessary for Midcoast Maine’s economic survival.

With more than 6200 employees, BIW is Maine’s largest private employer; however, despite a robust shipbuilding schedule, the yard has been hemorrhaging jobs for years. Over the last six months, with 51 layoffs here, another 137 there, BIW has eliminated nearly 500 positions. And those layoffs barely register compared to what the company, a subsidiary of the Virginia-based General Dynamics Corporation, may be facing in the near future.

Rumors about drastic cuts to the Navy’s shipbuilding budget began circulating before Christmas. It became official on February 7, when the President announced his 2006 budget proposal: The order for 12 DD(X) Destroyers, which had already been reduced to seven last July, was further pared down to five.

A few weeks later, the Navy announced that, given the reduced destroyer order, it was exploring the possibility of awarding the entire contract to a single shipyard, rather than splitting the order between BIW and Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, as it had originally planned.

Industry analysts believe that the Navy has been looking to move destroyer production to the Gulf of Mexico for some time. Conspiracy theorists wonder whether Maine isn’t being punished for going to Kerry in the 2004 election. Navy officials simply cite the changing needs of the military in a post-9/11 world.

“We are moving to a smoother, lighter, more agile ship. Rather than a few larger and very expensive ships, we are building more ships that are smaller and more lethal,” said Navy Secretary Gordon England at a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing earlier this month. “The Navy is changing and the industrial base needs to change with the Navy.”

The new vessel that has captured hearts and minds in the Pentagon is the Littoral Combat Ship, a small, speedy shallow-water craft with interchangeable modular weapons systems. It is ironic that BIW has done much of the design work on these ships, but the LCS building contracts were awarded to other shipyards.

The Navy’s shipbuilding budget has been nearly halved since 2001, but it wants to commission more than 50 LCS vessels over the next few years. It appears willing to sacrifice seven Bath-built destroyers to do so.

The Maine congressional delegation is doing everything in its power to push against the carrier-like momentum of Donald Rumsfeld’s vision for leaner, meaner armed forces. Senators Snowe and Collins warn of the grave dangers of single-source destroyer construction in Mississippi, citing everything from terrorist attacks to hurricanes.

Congressman Tom Allen rails about the costs of the Iraq war, which he says could purchase a destroyer a week. None of Maine’s elected representatives has been above a little fear-mongering about China.

Regardless of whether the delegation manages to get more made-in-Maine destroyers back on the budget, the protracted wrangling and changing timelines are likely to disrupt BIW’s transition from the nearly complete Arleigh-Burke Destroyer program to its next set of projects, and that could cost thousands of BIW workers their jobs. In the long term, the shrinking military shipbuilding industry no longer provides enough work to sustain all of the nation’s shipyards.

As the senators themselves wrote to President Bush this month, “The US shipbuilding industrial base has already endured a 75-percent reduction in employment during the past 15 years.”

The Writing on the Wall
Perhaps it is time for the Maine delegation to read what activist Bruce Gagnon calls “the writing on the wall.”

“Go out there to the Iron Works,” says Gagnon. “Take a look at the administrative building, the warehouses. The paint is peeling, broken windows are boarded up with plywood. It’s a sign of disinvestment. General Dynamics has had one foot out the door the whole time.”

The General Dynamics Corporation, which purchased Bath Iron Works in 1995, deals almost entirely in military industry.

“We’ve taken a look at what General Dynamics and other corporations have done with these facilities when the military contracts dry up,” says Greg Field, Executive Director of Peace Action Maine. “They’ve moth-balled the places, laid everybody off.

“The issue,” says Field, “is whether Maine will be proactive, rather than reactive . . . For two decades, Maine has been reactive to the loss of jobs across all manufacturing sectors. We need to develop a healthy Maine economy, and get off the boom and bust of military contracts.”

From Military Contracts to Peace Action
Peace Action Maine (PAM) is a nonprofit activist organization working to provide “a voice of education and a center for all people committed to disarmament and creative responses to conflict.” On April 1, they will launch a two-year campaign to shift Maine’s manufacturing base away from reliance on military industry.

While PAM would support the introduction of any socially responsible, ecologically sound nonmilitary manufacturing in Maine, their most treasured vision is to make Maine a national leader in the production of sustainable energy technologies, such as solar panels and wind turbines.

Economic conversion is not a new idea. “In the 1980s and early 1990s, during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there was a big push among activists to convert military industries to civilian manufacturing,” says Gagnon. “The Machinists Union led the way. Then George the First invaded Panama, and there was the Gulf War, and conversion talks disappeared.

“Now the peace movement has realized that we will never end war until we deal with the jobs issue.”

Maine is certainly facing the jobs issue. Over the last 35 years, the state has faced a 46-percent decline in manufacturing positions, which pay an average of $7000 more per year that the primarily service-sector jobs that are replacing them.

From 2000 to 2003, the state lost 5,000 manufacturing jobs a year. “And what we’re seeing,” says Field, “is that even when military contracts are running high, employment is declining in all military industries here in Maine.”

The value of shipbuilding contracts in Maine has risen by billions of dollars over the last decade, but since 1994, BIW has reduced its workforce by nearly 3000.

Non-military Spending Creates More Jobs
“We know,” says Gagnon, “that nonmilitary manufacturing creates more jobs per dollar spent than military industry. Military manufacturing is incredibly capital-intensive, where other kinds of manufacturing are more labor-intensive.” He cites a series of studies for the National Commission for Economic Conversion, conducted by Columbia University’s Seymour Melman.

The idea of developing the green energy manufacturing industry in Maine may be more than wishful thinking. Denmark invested early on in windmill technologies, and currently produces more than half of the world’s wind turbines. One of Denmark’s largest manufacturing sites is a converted shipyard in Copenhagen.

Here in the United States, officials in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, recently announced plans to build a new manufacturing plant in neighboring Ebensburg. This facility will provide windmill blades for the Spanish wind-energy company, Gamesa Corp.

The plant is expected to create more than 1,000 permanent jobs in the region over the next five years, in an area that has long been depressed by the relocation of manufacturing jobs overseas. Officials attracted Gamesa to their location through an instructive combination of state and local grants, loans, and tax incentives.

With a wind farm in development in Mars Hill, and projects springing up across the gusty Midwest, domestic demand for windmill equipment is growing. “Maine’s going to be left behind,” says Gagnon, “because the Maine delegation is clinging to a sinking boat.”

PAM’s economic conversion campaign is working on many fronts. It will officially kick off the two-year project with a “Fools No More Parade” in Portland on April 1.

War Flowers — Swords to Plowshares
Another major component of the campaign is a traveling art show, “War Flowers: Swords to Plowshares,” which opens at USM’s Area Gallery in Portland on April 8 (see sidebar). Over the next two years, the exhibit will be on display in locations across the state, including the University of Maine at Machias, the College of the Atlantic, and several public libraries. Says project coordinator Jessica Eller, “War Flowers will create the opportunity for discussion in every community where it is displayed.”

Another group of PAM activists is putting together a series of presentations on economic conversion in Maine, geared toward a variety of audiences and communities.

Perhaps most important for the long-term credibility of PAM’s campaign is a two-tiered feasibility study currently being developed by a team from Economists for Peace and Security.

“The first tier,” says Field, “is looking at the manufacturing capacity that Maine already has. We’re looking at issues of unused capacity with the military contracts, in terms of machines, tools, and skilled labor. We want the experts to give us an overview of the skill sets and capacities available, and examine what kind of retraining would be required and what kind of materials needs we would have. Basically, we want to find out what it would take to begin pilot projects in green energy.

“The broader study would look at how investments in the civilian sector create more jobs than military manufacturing, and what we can expect to see in green energy growth. We want to have real numbers before approaching the state.”

To date, PAM organizers have had only informal conversations with Maine state officials. Field expects the figures on Maine’s manufacturing capacity by late spring, at which point he can begin talking to state agencies. More troubling, perhaps, is the absence of labor voices in PAM’s conversion movement. The organizers acknowledge this weakness.

“Ultimately,” says Field, “this won’t go anywhere if Peace Action Maine is the only group working on it . . . This is not about taking any happiness in the slow decline of jobs, or in the loss of jobs at Bath Iron Works. And we don’t see this as bringing the answers to labor groups. We have some ideas, and we think they will create better jobs for everyone. We would like to sit down with labor representatives and come up with some ideas together.”

Michael Keenan, president of Local S6, BIW’s largest labor union, emphasizes the importance of keeping the destroyer contracts in Bath. Citing the same national security issues that the Maine delegation has raised, Keenan says, “It’s hard to see a future in anything other than Navy shipbuilding, just because the workers here are so damn good at it. They’re the best in the world.”

Still, Keenan says that he has never been asked about commercial shipbuilding or conversion before. “Everyone in this yard is working very hard, to support families, and for the insurance. We all want to feel secure in that. Absolutely, we would be interested in anything reasonable. There’s nothing these workers can’t build, nothing they wouldn’t build. The men and women here can build anything, any time, any place. They’re craftsmen.”

Commercial shipbuilding would be the most obvious conversion for BIW, and General Dynamics does do some large commercial shipbuilding internationally. However, GD’s director of strategic planning and communications Dirk Lesko is doubtful about the prospect. “We would look at any contracts we think will be profitable,” he says, “but the international market is at capacity. We see nothing on the horizon in the commercial sector.”

Senators Are Sticking with the Bath Iron Works
Meanwhile, the Maine delegation is sticking to its guns on the issue of military industry at Bath Iron Works. When asked whether they would support conversion efforts at BIW if the yard lost the destroyer contracts, senators Snowe and Collins issued a joint statement: “We remain committed to working with Bath Iron Works in their mission to enhance our Navy’s fleet strength and size.”

Congressman Allen also stresses national security needs, but welcomes any efforts to expand Maine’s manufacturing base. “I believe it’s important to bring manufacturing jobs into Maine, and to protect the manufacturing jobs we have. Bath Iron Works is so important to this region. For both the employees and the contractors in the area, there is no substitute, nothing Bath could bring in, that would be on the scale of BIW.

“In terms of finding other work, if we lose military contracts in Kittery, Bath, or [the Naval Air Station in] Brunswick, we will need to find other forms of work. I’m not clear on what kind of legislation would support that, since it’s private companies coming in, but we need the manufacturing jobs in this state and in this country.”

If BIW does not recover any of the destroyer contract, Lesko says General Dynamics would look to secure other Navy shipbuilding options. And if BIW cannot secure another Navy contract?

“I’m not sure any of us are speculating about what we will do if there is no contract. We are committed to structuring ourselves as necessary to compete.” When Lesko says “we,” it is unclear whether he is referring to Bath Iron Works and the 6200 Mainers it employs, or the General Dynamics Corporation and its shareholders.

If General Dynamics holds true to its history, it will close the shipyards before it converts them, and the Bath waterfront will end up like so many former manufacturing sites in Maine: derelict.

However, even Congressman Allen concedes that the renewable energy industries are experiencing increasing demand in the United States. State and local governments have only time to lose, and the salvation of the entire regional economy to gain, by heeding the zeal of the converted.

Christie Toth can be reached at
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

The Art of Conversion
Christie Toth / The Portland (Maine) Phoenix

MAINE (April 1, 2005) — “Artists are alchemists. They can turn one thing into another thing. It’s easy for artists to play with new ideas, and they can help people envision other ways. That’s the goal of this exhibit.”

So says Nathasha Mayers, who, as artist-in-residence for Peace Action Maine, is not just a painter and muralist. She is also an activist. Mayers is the organizing force behind “War Flowers: From Swords to Plowshares,” an art installation exhibiting more than 70 Maine artists’ interpretations on the theme of conversion from military to non-.

The show opens in the Area Gallery, at the University of Southern Maine Portland campus, on April 8. This exhibition, which will travel to other galleries and libraries throughout the state after the USM show closes on August 18, is part of Peace Action Maine’s two-year campaign to free Maine from economic reliance on military industry.

“We are turning away art that is just about war,” says Mayers. “This exhibit is about transformation.”

Originally conceived as an exhibition of work by members of the Union of Maine Visual Artists in Portland, Mayers and Peace Action Maine soon realized that military industry was a statewide addiction, and opened the show to submissions from all over Maine. Artwork poured in from across the state, including communities like Hampden, Presque Isle, Skowhegan, and Brunswick, as well as the Greater Portland area.

Most of the works on exhibit are flat or three-dimensional pieces that hang on the wall: a painting of a family sitting around a woodstove made from a converted bomb; army tanks transformed into light projectors; depictions of detonating “karma bombs.”

The Blossoming of ‘War Flowers’
“One artist called me and said, ‘My dog just died. Can I turn a bomb into a dog?’” says Mayers. “The art can be silly or humorous, or deadly serious. We can provoke a dialogue. It’s a beginning.”

Mayers’ own contribution to “War Flowers” is a sample book of “upholstery for armchair warmongers.” The book features a variety of camouflage swatches, but not the traditional abstract blotches of green and khaki. This camouflage is patterned with real images of war. “You choose which images of war you’d like to bring into your home as a fashion statement.”

“Art is an important tool in peace work,” says Mayers. “It’s important to bring people together at times like this. Artists have a role to play. They’re not afraid to say the emperor has no clothes.”

“War Flowers: From Swords to Plowshares” opens at 6 p.m. on Friday, April 8. A spoken word performance, featuring poetry readings by Mark Melnicove, Martin Steingesser, and Silvana Costa, begins at 7:30.

Several of the works featured in “War Flowers” will premiere on April 1, at the “Fools No More Parade.” The parade, which officially kicks off Peace Action Maine’s conversion campaign, begins at 5:30 p.m. in Congress Square, and coincides (not coincidentally) with Portland’s First Friday Artwalk.

Groups participating in the parade include the Shoestring Theater, Seacoast Peace Response, Code Pink, Women in Black, Veterans for Peace, several church groups with families, student organizations from USM, and Portsmouth’s Leftist Marching Band.

“Some groups will have banners, or music, or puppets and costumes,” says Jessica Eller, program coordinator for Peace Action Maine. “We want to show transformation over the course of the parade. It will begin with the Women in Black and dirge drummers, the realities of war. The center of the parade represents human needs, and where we need to go. Then it will end with the Leftist Marching Band and dancing, and be celebratory.” Eller even promises a kazoo band and a stilt walker.

“Individuals can join the parade wherever they feel. We’ll have signs and puppets available for people to use.” Eller stresses that nobody has to carry a puppet unless they want to.

The Parade will begin after the Women in Black’s weekly vigil at Congress Square. The rally starts at 5:30 p.m., with speeches by Greg Field, executive director of Peace Action Maine, and Jesse Vear, leader of the poor people’s advocacy group POWER, followed by readings from poets Martin Steingesser and Judy Tierney. Folk singer Tom Neilson, “the Bard Insurgent,” launches the parade, which will proceed to Monument Square.

“The idea is to get people thinking,” says Bruce Gagnon, activist and organizer. “We’ll be handing out leaflets on conversion and advertising the ‘War Flowers’ art show. The movement to break Maine’s addiction to military spending has to start with people of vision, and art is visual.”

The parade will be followed by a potluck dinner at the Chestnut Street Church.

For those wondering what to do with all of this vision, USM’s Woodbury Campus Center will host a “Conversation on the Art of Conversion” on Tuesday, April 12. This symposium is an opportunity for students, artists, scholars and activists in the field of economic conversion, and the general public, to discuss the “War Flowers” exhibit and the movement to demilitarize Maine’s industrial base.

Art-show curator Carolyn Eyler will moderate the symposium. Panelists include Greg Field, Natasha Mayers, art history professor Donna Cassidy, and visiting artist-in-residence Allan deSouza. Planned as a discussion and presentation of projects, the symposium will last from 4 to 6 p.m.