BATH, Maine — Some 4,300 shipbuilding workers here are fighting union busting by the bosses at Bath Iron Works as they enter their fifth week on strike. Local S6 of the Machinists union is organizing a rally in front of the union hall this Saturday, July 25, at 9 a.m.
The union calls on “strikers, family, friends and supporters” to send “a strong message of solidarity to our members and tell Bath Iron Works to negotiate a fair contract NOW!”
The company’s “last, best and final” offer further expands the use of nonunion contract workers in the shipyard and chips away at gains won in struggle defending seniority rights in job assignments. Giving the company a free hand on contractors and job assignments would be a big blow to workers and their union. Bath Iron Works, which is owned by General Dynamics, builds destroyers for the U.S. Navy.
The bosses are using the Mississippi-based Craft and Technical Solutions company to recruit strikebreakers, luring workers to cross the picket line from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas for pay of up to $28 an hour, plus paid lodging, air travel and $60 a day more for meals.
Starting wages at the shipyard are $15.97 an hour, workers say. The far higher pay for strikebreakers shows the company’s willingness to spend large sums today to break the union to increase their future profits.
Neither Craft and Technical Solutions nor Bath Iron Works had returned the Militant’s request for comment as of press time.
The company claims it is the Navy that wants them to bring in more contract workers, to speed up work. But, the union says, if they need more workers, just hire them. The union will be happy to take them in.
“We are more together this time round than 20 years ago,” the last time the union was forced on strike, Bill Cullivan, a sheet metal mechanic at Bath Iron Works for 34 years, told the Militant. He was referring to the strong 87% vote by workers, young and old, rejecting the concession contract.
“A lot of us were skeptical at first,” he said, as they feared the newer, younger workers might not back the strike. “But they did support the union.”
Cullivan described how workers hammered on scrap steel daily for a minute every hour on the hour leading up to the contract vote, to show their determination to fight against the bosses’ union-busting demands. “The company hated it,” he said, smiling.
He pointed to tents inside the shipyard visible from the union hall parking lot. That’s where the company sent many workers involved in the “hammer down” actions to “detention” while they waited for disciplinary hearings.
“Lots of people don’t realize the jobs we have today are because of the fights by unions,” he added.
The company gave out flyers saying workers should be happier with lump-sum contract bonuses rather than a pay raise and urging them to agree to increases in the cost of health insurance.
“They were condescending and assumed we were uneducated,” pipe fitter Jeremy Meadows, who is a newer worker with one year at the shipyard, said. “It made me angry enough to want to strike. They underestimated us.”
Zak Larrabee, 28, a reader of the Militant from Boston and his friend, Damon Ely, 20, accompanied this worker-correspondent to the picket line July 18.
“I had been reading the articles in the Militant about the Asarco copper miners’ strike in Arizona and Texas and the fruit-packers strike in Washington state,” said Larrabee. “I realized that we were close to the largest strike action in the country and decided to go.”
The two stayed up all night and made dozens of chicken and veggie wrap sandwiches to bring to strikers, and a handmade sign saying, “Solidarity with the strikers.”
“The company wants to starve the workers out, so I decided to make a contribution and did not want to go empty handed,” Larrabee said.
“We were well received. And especially the sandwiches,” he said. “It opened up a conversation immediately about how the solidarity of young people was so important in the strike.”
After hearing about the strike at a recent Militant Labor Forum in Albany, New York, Charlie Murphy, a 35-year-old sign maker, decided he wanted to “join workers who were standing up for what they believed in.”
He also visited the strike and walked the picket line. “The strikers are very sensible, hard-working, and obviously being taken advantage of,” he said.
At a gas station on the way out of town after walking the picket lines, we ran into William Murray, a maintenance technician who works at Bath Iron Works’ Harding facility.
“The future of coming generations relies on what we fight for today,” he said.
Strikers are proud of the solidarity they are winning. Support messages for the strike are posted at the union hall. These include messages or contributions from the United Mine Workers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, as well as postal workers, actors, musicians and transport workers.
More solidarity is needed. Come take part in the July 25 rally! Walk the picket lines. Send messages and contributions to the strike fund at: IAM Local S6, 722 Washington St., Bath ME 04530, or donations through PayPal at https://www.paypal.me/LocalLodgeS6.
Laura Anderson contributed to this article.