BATH, Maine — Thousands of Machinist union members went on strike here June 22 against concession demands at Bath Iron Works. They are fighting moves by the bosses to extend the use of subcontractors to further attack their jobs, wages and working conditions. This is the first walkout at this shipyard since a 55-day strike in 2000.
The day before, members of Machinists Local S6, which represents 4,350 of the company’s 6,700 workers, voted by 87% to reject the bosses’ “take it or leave it” three-year contract. In addition to expanding the use of subcontractors, the bosses seek to undermine union seniority and increase health care costs. Hundreds set up picket lines as the strike began.
“This is not about money, it’s about respect,”
Jamie Bellefleur, a younger worker in the paint shop who has been at the shipyard for seven years, told the Militant. “They underestimated my generation.” A third of the workforce is newer, younger workers. The bosses are attempting to pit these workers against those with more seniority. The company hired close to 1,000 workers in the last year. “They thought they had this in the bag, but we surprised them,” she said.
“We ‘put the hammer down,’” she added, describing how workers showed their support for the union. “Every hour on the hour for one minute we banged on scrap metal” for two weeks straight leading up to the contract vote.
The company tried to discipline workers — and suspended a few — but were forced to allow them to return to work with back pay.
“They want to get rid of people with seniority and top pay,” Laurie Door, a preservation tech who has worked at the plant for 32 years, told the Militant. “We explained to the younger workers that there will be no job security if we lose seniority.”
“If you had asked me three years ago if I would go on strike, I would have said no because I could not afford it. Now I understand what it means to stand for something,” said Max Snell, a shipfitter for the last three years.
The shipyard, a subsidiary of General Dynamics, builds warships, mainly destroyers, for the Navy. Production continued through the government-imposed shutdown, as war preparedness is deemed an essential industry.
The strike comes as the company is six months behind in its contracts, due to retirements, training bottlenecks and a slowing of production caused by coronavirus-related conditions.
This strike, which is against Maine’s largest employer, takes place as capitalist bosses across the country are trying to place the burden of today’s capitalist crisis on the backs of working people. “All over this state and country the essential people are rising up to demand respect, justice and a fair share of the wealth we create,” Cynthia Phinney, president of the Maine AFL-CIO, said June 21.
In Bath — a city of a little over 8,000 people — there have been at least three Black Lives Matter demonstrations prior to the strike.
“Around the country you are seeing more people standing up and fighting for their rights, we are doing the same,” said Tyler Cardillo, a tin knocker who is on strike for the first time.
Help get the word out about the strike at Bath Iron Works. Join their picket lines. Get messages of support from your union, church or your co-workers. Send messages and contributions to IAM Local S6, 722 Washington St., Bath, ME 04530.