The strike by over 4,300 shipbuilders, members of Machinists Union Local S6, against the bosses at the Bath Iron Works in Maine is the most important labor battle in the U.S. today. Workers there deserve the solidarity of working people everywhere.
The unionists voted overwhelmingly to go on strike June 22 against the refusal of the shipyard bosses, a division of giant military contractor General Dynamics, to back off from their “last, best and final” concession contract offer. At issue is the company’s intention to bring in more contract labor, threatening workers’ jobs; to cut back seniority protection on jobs and shifts; and to force workers to pay more for health care.
The union organized a “delay their ride home” reception for strikebreakers, Jaimie Bellefleur, one of the striking union members, told the Militant. She described how some 40 strikers circled the gates very slowly in their cars for three hours, interrupting scabs’ attempts to get out of the plant July 31.
Bellefleur also reported that no more strikebreakers have crossed their picket lines in the last week.
For the first time since the strike began, union negotiating committee members and company officials met, along with a federal mediator, for contract discussions Aug. 3. Another session took place the following day. Committee members reported to the members some progress was made.
The bosses had counted on being able to divide union members between longer-term workers with more seniority and newer members with less union experience. But this hasn’t been the case.
Both newer and veteran workers came together to vote overwhelmingly to strike and have joined together in picketing, rallies and other activities.
General Dynamics is also counting on its size, profitability and weight with the military brass to wear down the union fighters. Its headquarters is close to the Pentagon and Bath Iron Works sits on a backlog of 10 years of military orders.
In its 2020 issue reporting on the companies with the highest profits, Fortune magazine said General Dynamics was climbing in the rankings. Its revenues rose last year to $39.4 billion, including $3.5 billion in profit. For each of the last three years General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic, a former CIA operative, took home $20 million.
The workers have their power to shut down production, which they have used. The bosses say they’re hiring strikebreakers and claim things are going well in the yard. But “they would have to be busing in hundreds of workers to get production going,” John LaPointe, who has worked in the shipyard for 31 years, told the Militant.
The other thing the workers have — and need more of — is solidarity from fellow workers across the country. Salty Boyz Food Truck in Bath, with financial support from some other local small businesses, brought food for over 100 picketers on the line. And two area food banks are bringing provisions to the Bath Senior Center on Aug. 10 for strikers to pick up when they come to get their weekly strike pay there.
A local bar is organizing a solidarity event with a live band Aug. 7.
You can help. Get the word out about their fight to your co-workers, your union, church or other groups. Come to Bath and walk the picket line. 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.
Ved Dookhun in Albany, New York, contributed to this article.