BATH, Maine — Over 300 spirited strikers, family members and supporters of the Bath Iron Works Shipbuilders strike gathered outside the International Association of Machinists Local S6 union hall, across the street from the shipyard here, for a rally and march July 25. The strike is now in its fifth week.
IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. addressed the crowd, reminding everyone that the strike is the “largest going on in the country” right now, and that “the eyes of the nation are upon us.”
The company’s demand to use more subcontractors, who work for lower wages and threaten union members’ jobs, is the main issue in the strike. The union will not back down, Martinez stressed. He handed a check for $10,000 from the international to Local S6 President Chris Weirs.
Workers marched from the union hall to both the north and south gates of the shipyard.
Company bosses say they’ve already made their “last, best and final” offer and have so far refused any further negotiations with the union. They’re recruiting strikebreakers from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
Both the union and the bosses have held separate meetings with federal mediators, but nothing has come out of these discussions so far.
“This is not about greed on our part, it’s about dignity,” John LaPointe, an HVAC technician who has worked at Bath Iron Works for 31 years, told the Militant as he marched with his picket sign. Like many workers who voted to strike, LaPointe explained how he sees the fight as a knitting of generations. He wants to see his grandchildren have a future, he said. Many strikers told us the company had counted on pitting veteran shipbuilders against new hires, and said with pride that didn’t work.
In an attempt to show that production is taking place, the company posted a letter with a list of “completed jobs.”
Many of the strikers I talked to said the jobs the company is taking credit for were in fact completed or close to completion before the strike began. “They would have to be busing in hundreds of workers to get production going,” said LaPointe. “We aren’t seeing that happen right now.”
“They are just trying to scare people,” said striker Jaimie Bellefleur.
As the march ended many workers stood around and wanted to talk. This Militant worker-correspondent talked to a group of shipfitters, who work together building the structure of the ship from the hull up.
Tiffany Briggs, who has worked at the yard since last September, expressed how grateful she was to be working a union job after having been stuck in several nonunion ones. “This strike is important for working people and I agree we are standing up for future generations,” she said.
“Unions were formed to give voice to the people,” she added. “Without workers nothing will be made in this world.”
“There are signs everywhere you go,” said Nate Graf, describing the support the strike has in the community. “You stand with us, we stand with you,” is how we look at it, he said.
Johnny Johnson, who works as a shipfitter, is a fifth generation shipbuilder and has worked for 10 years in the yard. “This is not my first strike,” he said, recalling how he was on the picket line with his parents during the last strike 20 years ago. “This strike is going to set a precedent for all workers,” he said, adding that they will be out on the picket line “as long as it takes.”
Fifty-year-old Laura Safford is training to be a pipe fitter. “The attack on seniority and hiring of contractors is the problem,” she said, explaining why she voted for the strike.
She said she had made a lawn sign that said, “Stop messing with our seniority.”
Solidarity contributions boost strike
“This really helps our strike,” Local S6 President Weirs said as he accepted letters of solidarity that Malcolm Jarrett from Pittsburgh presented from United Electrical Workers Local 506 in Erie, Pennsylvania; Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ; and teachers from the Pittsburgh School District. Jarrett was also instrumental in getting a $1,500 financial contribution from Local 506. Jarrett had been involved in building solidarity with the UE local’s bitter strike against Wabtec in 2019. “I appreciate you bringing these down,” Weirs told him.
Jarrett is the Socialist Workers Party candidate for vice president, and builds solidarity with the Bath strikers’ battle wherever he goes.
“This is an important fight, we need this for working people,” said Jim Labbe, a member of IAM Local 2740 in Skowhegan. He was part of a delegation of workers from Sappi Paper that presented a $1,000 donation to the strikers at the rally.
Kristi Skhembi, a 26-year-old Walmart worker who joined some of his co-workers from Albany, New York, to come here, said this was his first picket line. The sign he carried saying he works at Walmart and supports their strike was very popular.
“This was a very eye-opening experience,” Skhembi said. He was impacted by the unity of the strike. “It shows how strong and powerful it is when people get together.”
He said he’s eager to get the word out when he gets back to work.
Zak Larrabee, who came with supporters of the strike from the Boston area, also was impacted by the march and rally. He had come to the picket line the previous weekend with a friend, bringing sandwiches they stayed up late putting together. “What for me has always been ideas in books about the labor movement was more real than I had anticipated,” he said.
More solidarity is needed. Come to Bath and 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.
Candace Wagner contributed to this article.