In the largest labor conflict in the country, over 4,300 shipbuilding workers, members of Machinists Local S6, at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, continue to win support and solidarity from area unions and local businesses as their strike enters its fourth week.
The bosses have refused all further negotiations with the union, insisting their “last and final” concession contract is the best it can get. The contract would allow the bosses to continue increasing the number of nonunion contract workers in the shipyard, strike blows at seniority job protection, and force workers to pay more for health care.
The key issue is contract workers used to threaten shipbuilders’ jobs and the strength of the union.
Local S6 organized a Solidarity Cornhole Tournament and Chili and Ribs Cook-Off outside the union hall July 10 that drew some 200 of the local’s members, their families and supporters.
In an attempt to get production going and to increase pressure on workers on strike, Bath Iron Works has been recruiting subcontractors to scab and urges workers to quit the union and cross the picket line.
“This isn’t new, the company has been sending out notices since around the time of the ‘hammer down actions,’” striker Jaimie Bellefleur told the Militant July 12 after distributing strike benefits to workers for six hours. “They knew a strike was coming.”
Bellefleur was referring to how workers stopped work every hour for one minute and hammered on steel on the plant floor. This went on for the two weeks leading up to the strike, and helped unify the workers and strengthen their resolve to stop the bosses from pushing their takeaway contract down their throat. Eighty-seven percent of the local’s members voted to strike.
The bosses are banking on economic pressure to divide the local. And they hope to play younger workers with less union experience against plant veterans who are concerned about defending seniority in jobs. So far they’ve failed.
Andrew Reeves, one new member of the union, a sandblaster, told the Portland Press Herald on the picket line that he backed the strike and those who had fought for years to win the benefits they all enjoy. “Without them, I don’t have this job,” he said. “The only reason I’m making a decent wage is because of this union.”
“We are fighting for our future,” Bellefleur told the Militant. “For the most part, people are in it for the long haul.”
She said that area workers have joined their picket lines and financial contributions are coming in. Unionists, including members of Postal Mail Handlers Local 301, and others in the community have walked the picket line. A $2,640 donation came from International Association of Machinists Local 264 and $2,000 from the Maine Education Association. The McAdams law firm sent in $1,000.
More is needed! Solidarity donations can be made through PayPal at https://www.paypal.me/LocalLodgeS6
Bosses press workers to cross line
In a notice posted online, the local advises union members not to fall for company propaganda and cross the picket line. Some 20 workers appear to have done so. The union encourages strikers who are having trouble finding work to check in with the local, which is handling job requests from sympathetic area businesses.
Strikers get $150 a week as long as they sign up for one four-hour shift of strike duty. The picket line is staffed 24/7.
Bath Iron Works, which makes destroyers for the U.S. Navy, is owned by General Dynamics. A union strike update on its website July 13 points out that while the bosses say they need concessions to keep going, General Dynamics gave “nearly $2.9 billion to their stockholders in 2018 alone.”
“Power concedes nothing without a demand,” the update concludes, quoting well-known 19th century abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass. “It never did and it never will.”