Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

I grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was there that I became a peace activist.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Day 9: Emotion and reaction from BIW today

I handed out seven flyers today at the shipyard.  It was a foggy-misty day that happens when the warm air hits the frozen ground.  A day of emotion for me.

Not so many people were grumpy with me today - I think I am wearing them down.....

The best moment of my shift change vigil came when a young worker walked up to me and said he wanted to talk.  He told me he does not want to build weapon systems for war.  We talked about conversion of the shipyard to build things that would help us deal with the coming harsh reality of climate change.  He quickly noted the mist because of the warmer temperatures - "It's not supposed to be this warm this time of year," he said.  He took my flyer and I asked him where he lives.  Bath, he replied.

A retired BIW executive had an Op-Ed posted today in a couple of the bigger Maine papers declaring his support for the $60 million gift to General Dynamics from our very poor state.

I love the response tweeted by school teacher and activist Lisa Savage (above)  to media throughout the state - right on the money as they say on Wall Street.

Word got around about the Op-Ed, written by Bill Haggett, and one long-time local activist from nearby Brunswick, Selma Sternlieb, replied on email:

Here’s my story about Bill Haggett: About 40 years ago, [now US Senator] Angus King had a program on TV in which he interviewed people. One night, when I was watching, he interviewed Bill Haggett. Angus asked him to predict the future of BIW. Haggett responded something like this: "In the worst possible scenario, peace.…"  I wrote a letter to the editor of the Times Record quoting him. He called me to say, "Mrs. Sternlieb, I am not a warmonger."  I’d like to know what else you could call him.

Also today I got a message from my good buddy in Albuquerque, N.M., Bob Anderson. Bob told me that:

I took Sally Alice Thompson (94) to the ER again today with pneumonia.  She was also there for it last month.  She is tireless, at this age and opening her house to political asylum seekers and doing demos.  The VFP chapter is named for her here.  She is like our mother.  I told her of your hunger strike and why and she said 'well I might as well join Bruce' — but she was in the ER bed trying to breathe.  I told her to get well first and then she could do a sympathy strike with you.  I think knowing what you are doing made her a little more determined to get well soon...
So my heart was touched alot today.  There is more going on than we realize across Maine.  I'm certain that GD did not want to have to engage in debate and a public defense of their corporate welfare bill.  They wanted it to slide quietly to passage without anyone knowing about it.  But now nearly two months later the bill is in amended form (still no damn good) in committee with another work session on February 22 at the capital in Augusta.  There have been more than 65 Op-Eds, letters and radio shows on 20 different Maine media outlets all critical of the bill.

As far as I know Mr. Haggett's piece today was the first we've seen speaking in favor of the corporate subsidy bill.  Likely BIW/GD determined that they needed to call on one of the old whigs to declare the virtues of the shipyard and up the fear ante about possible closure.  He knows the script quite well, they've been recycling it for years.

In the end GD is having to work pretty hard for their welfare check from Maine taxpayers.


Message from grandmother to BIW corporate welfare bill sponsor

Suzanne Hedrick is the woman in brown coat in the middle of the photo next to man in green coat.  She sent this letter today to Rep. Jennifer DeChant (D-Bath) who is the lead sponsor of LD 1781 to give BIW $60 million in corporate welfare.  

Dear Ms. DeChant,

I am 86 years old and have a deep concern for children. I am a retired school teacher and am heartsick over the massacre of children at a high school in Florida.

I am also concerned by the massacre of children by US drones, bombs, and other weapons of war. You are a strong supporter of BIW which makes DESTROYERS which, in fact, destroy the lives of children in many parts of the world. As woman to woman, I must say I find it abhorrent that a woman would give whole hearted support to weapons of mass destruction such as DESTROYERS.

The name of these ships alone should convey to you just what their purpose is. We have children in Maine who go hungry every day. Many lack affordable health care and adequate housing.

A USS Zumwalt costs at least $4 billion to build. That is taxpayer money going for destruction and not for the desperate needs of people here in Maine. A lead article in today's Bangor Daily News, "Already struggling to pay minimum wage, homes for people with disabilities face cuts July 1."

Maine's tax payers should expect our legislators to work for the common good of all its people.

Building DESTROYERS and giving billion dollar weapon manufacturers millions of dollars in tax breaks hardly contributes to the common good.

Please, for once, think of the children who are targets of Maine's DESTROYERS.

Suzanne Hedrick
Nobleboro, Maine

Who has all the military bases?

Monday, February 19, 2018

Day 8: Democrats afraid won't be reelected if reject GD welfare bill

  • I got a call today from a friend who had spoken to one of LD 1781 sponsors - the Maine bill to give up to $60 million in corporate welfare to General Dynamics (GD).  The friend told me the politician, a Democrat, was afraid she would not be reelected if she did not support the bill.  This was the same Democrat who had tweeted against Maine Sen. Susan Collins (Republican) when she supported Trump's corporate tax bill that reduced the federal tax rate of GD to 19%.  So in this case the Democrat state senator rationalizes her way out of this moral dilemma by considering her reelection the most important issue - greater than the reality of 43,000 kids in Maine living in poverty or roads and bridges falling apart.  Why the hell sign up for the job if you are not going to vote for what is right?

  • I went down to the shipyard today at 3:30 pm but the place was mostly shut down due to the Presidents' Day holiday.  I'll be back there again tomorrow at 3:30 pm.  I am going to skip the noon hour vigiling that I did all last week due to my energy beginning to fade.  Today was the hardest day yet for me.  I'm not much of a nap taker normally but this afternoon I fell out for 30 minutes.

  • While I was down at the shipyard I did see some people.  One guy gave me the middle finger and then made a gun out of his fingers and repeatedly shot me as he drove away.  But soon after that another worker walked right up to me and I asked him if he wanted a flyer.  He eagerly took it and said he was opposed to the GD welfare bill.  He said most workers don't like GD - primarily after how they were treated in their last contract.  He said the new contract has a freeze on raises for the next four years, there were cuts in their health care and retirement packages as well as other benefits.

  • So we see GD squeezing the workers while at the same time increasing executive compensation packages and doing major buybacks of their own stocks.  Just last week GD spent $6.8 billion in cash to buy an IT company that does military contracting.  So GD is partly able to spend like that after they have taken money from the workers and from states like Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Kentucky where the politicians are too 'afraid' to say no.

  • I want to thank two folks for their extraordinary efforts in this campaign.  Mary Kate Small (Camden) has sent a letter all over Maine inviting people to join the hunger strike and she is now keeping a log.  She reports that every day is covered through March 17 with someone in Maine joining the hunger strike.  I know of at least three that were fasting in solidarity today. Quite amazing.  Also thanks to Bob Klotz (South Portland) who is a leader in the climate change group 350 Maine for his daily efforts to build this campaign.  Today he put up an online petition that you can sign here


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Day 7: Update video by Regis Tremblay

Thanks Regis and all the peeps out there working to save Mainers $60 million.

You can reach your Maine member of the state legislature here 

Please sign the petition that Bob Klotz from South Portland has started to oppose GD corporate welfare in Maine

The Legislature, GD/BIW Need to Wake Up — Maine People Are Not Stupid

By Orlando E. Delogu

Most Maine people know that GD/BIW does not need another $60 million dollars of taxpayer’s money to keep the doors open.  They are scamming the Legislature and the public with veiled threats of closure and job loss if this subsidy is not provided. In fact GD/BIW is one of the wealthiest corporations in America. 

Here are 10 reasons all of which suggest that this latest round of corporate welfare is unwarranted. Badgering the state for another $60 million is an abuse of corporate power; giving in to this demand is legislative dereliction of duty—a duty owed to Maine taxpayers. 

1. Past and ongoing state tax subsidies to GD/BIW total more than $220 million. Maine taxpayers have already done enough for this corporate entity.

2. GD/BIW (on the Fortune 500 list) is the 90th largest corporation in the nation. In FY 2017 alone GD/BIW generated $31 Billion in revenues (five times Maine’s annual budget) and $3 Billion in profits. This rate of profitability goes back over a decade. Given this level of wealth, squeezing Maine for another $60 million cannot be justified on economic grounds.

3. The CEO of GD/BIW is paid $21 million annually; four other employees in the corporate hierarchy annually earn a combined total of $20 million. At public hearings on LD 1781, BIW’s corporate leadership refused to disclose their levels of annual compensation—but they had no qualms asking Maine for $60 million scarce tax dollars.   

4.  Beyond enriching management, the extraordinary level of GD/BIW profitability has in recent years allowed $12.9 Billion to be returned to shareholders in the form of stock buybacks.  They currently have $2.7 Billion of cash on hand.  The assertion that they need another $60 million from Maine taxpayers is ludicrous.

5. The claim that GD/BIW is in competition with the Ingalls yard in Mississippi for navy contracts is also ludicrous.  Both yards make this argument in their respective states in order to extort legislative subsidies; these subsidies inflate corporate profits at the expense of taxpayers.  The fact is the navy, for strategic purposes, needs/wants both of these yards to succeed.  For decades it has almost evenly divided shipbuilding contracts between these two yards and it builds into ship contracts both worker training programs and generous profit margins.  

6. The veiled threat that the failure to grant the requested $60 million will cause GD/BIW to rethink its presence in Maine is pure posturing.  Recently six vessels were simultaneously under various phases of construction; BIW has a nearly ten-year backlog of work; they have over $500 million dollars invested in the present plant, and a trained workforce in place. No corporate entity in their right mind walks away from a profit-making engine of this size and continuing potential.

7. The recently passed GOP tax bill reducing the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% pours even more money into GD/BIW’s retained earnings—but they still want $60 million from Maine taxpayers.

8. The recently passed budget bill staving off a government shutdown removed long-standing caps on defense spending. The President/Congress is committed to raising this spending sharply. Given events in Southeast Asia navy procurement of next-generation vessels will certainly increase. BIW will get its share of this spending; it does not need $60 million dollars from Maine taxpayers.  

9. To further enhance profit margins, GD/BIW recently acquired CSRA Inc., one of the largest systems research and information technology companies in the nation, for $9.6 Billion. The Departments of Defense and Homeland Security are CSRA’s biggest customers—this completed deal is further evidence that GD/BIW does not need $60 million from Maine taxpayers.  

10.  Finally, the proposed amendment to LD 1781 breaking it into two $30 million dollar subsidies, each running 10 years, is a total sham.  LD 1781’s employment requirements are low and will be readily met. And the $100 million of so-called “new major investment” is defined so broadly that it too will be readily met in the normal course of building the ships already contracted for, or that will be contracted for, as navy defense budgets increase. The present BIW facility will not be altered significantly.       

In short, Maine people understand most of the above points; so too do most members of the Legislature. We know that $60 million is “chump change” for GD/BIW—but for the people of Maine this is real money needed to address real needs outlined daily in newspapers across the state—the opioid crisis, underfunded schools, dangerous roads, funding health insurance expansion, and more. 

Maine is a poor state; the needs of its people should count for more than marginally increasing profits for one of the wealthiest corporations in America. Shame on GD/BIW for insisting on this $60 million dollar subsidy. If it capitulates to this demand, shame on the Legislature.
~ Orlando Delogu is emeritus professor of law at the University of Southern Maine and specializes in government relations and tax policy.  He also writes a regular column for The Forecaster.

Sunday Song

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Day 6: Maine can't afford to give $30 million to GD/BIW either!

Here are a few thoughts I have about the amendments offered to LD 1781 by Rep. Jennifer DeChant (written by BIW and lawyers at Preti Flaherty):

  • The amended bill would reduce the subsidy amount from Maine from $60 mil to $30 mil over 10 years.  But the kicker is that BIW/GD would then renew for another $30 mil for a 2nd 10-year period.  So it’s just an accounting trick to still give the same $60 mil over 20 years.  Do they think we are that stupid?  Answer is yes they do.
  • Don’t give them $30 million either – Maine can’t afford $30 mil anymore than it could afford $60 mil.  Listen to the people – we are being squeezed from every end. 
  • GD pays state taxes for BIW.  They add the tax amount to their contract with the Navy reimbursing those costs.  It’s a racket.
  • GD still refuses to show the real need – they’ve been asked by members of the Taxation Committee to go into closed-door confidential session and look at the books.  BIW/GD refuses.  Who needs this money more – 43,000 children living in poverty in Maine or GD?
  • Adding requirements for end of year reports to the state?  A nice touch to the bill, would be nice if BIW had been willing to disclose how money was spent and how many jobs were created in the years since 1997 – but they were not.  And the state does not have a functioning program to thoroughly review and contest BIW’s annual reports.  It is a sham and a sop to ‘compromise’.
My recommendation is to continue to oppose the bill.  Stay the course – full speed ahead to defeat LD 1781.  Keep the letters to local papers going.  As best I can tell so far we’ve had opposing views aired at least 63 times in 20 different Maine media outlets since this campaign began.

My hunger strike enters Day 6 and we had the first Lenten vigil for disarmament at BIW this morning.  The vigils will continue every Saturday through March 31, for an hour starting at 11:30 am.

We will be at the next Taxation Committee Work Session at the State House (room 127) in Augusta on February 22 at 1:00 pm.

Happy Chinese New Year to all.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Day 5: Words from some workers at BIW

It was a dreary day weather wise at BIW during the noon hour but the action was swift, furious and very exciting.

I was joined by Blob Klotz from South Portland (along with his dog who had a sign on reading 'Dogs against corporate welfare!).  Bob is a leading climate change activist in the state with 350 Maine.

We walked down toward the south end of the shipyard where the Navy crews are HQed.  Once the ships are near complete they come to start to learn how to operate them.  So in addition to BIW workers we were able to hand out flyers and talk with the sailors.

Best of all were conversations I had with three BIW workers.  One told me, "Friggin GD don't need no more damn money."  A woman said, "I'm with you.  Fuck GD."

The most interesting of all was my conversation with a worker who told me not to continue with the hunger strike.  Nodding his head toward the river he said, "Don't hurt yourself. They ain't worth it man.  You would not believe all of the waste and fraud going on in there."  I asked him to define the word 'fraud'.  He replied, "Getting paid for doing the same thing twice.  I see all kinds of shit."

The author of LD 1781 is Rep. Jennifer DeChant (D-Bath) and today several papers across Maine ran an Op-Ed she wrote trying to sell her amended corporate welfare bill.  Responding to obvious and growing opposition, she offers a compromise of $30 million instead of $60 million for the mega-weapons corporation in 10 years rather than 20.  But the kicker is that at the end of 10 years General Dynamics could come back in and ask for a renewal.  By then most of us will be dead and gone.

We should be confident that our opposition is indeed being felt in the halls of the state capital in Augusta.  Now is not the time to relax.  Now is the time to step up our calls and emails to our local legislators and tell them - NO $$$$ for General Dynamics.  They don't need it but the state of Maine surely does.

You can contact your Maine state legislators by clicking here

Don't wait - do it today.


Why couldn't we do this at Bath Iron Works?

The Gulf of Maine has the most wind in the U.S.

Instead of endless war, which is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases and climate change, we could be doing something else and still create jobs for Maine workers.  But we must collectively demand this change.