The Guardian July 28, 1999


US Navy: strikebreaker

On July 23, striking Steelworkers from Newport News Navy shipyard in 
Virginia, supported by members of other unions and community groups 
converged on Washington to spotlight the role of the US Navy in 
strikebreaking and fostering racial inequality in the military shipbuilding 
industry.

The strikers marched to a rally on the steps of the Capitol.

Workers at Newport News, which exclusively builds or refits ships for the 
US Navy, have been on strike since April 5 to protest against the company's 
violations of US federal labour laws and to improve their wages and 
conditions.

Like the other three military shipyards in the US South  Ingalls, 
Avondale and Norshipco  Newport News has a largely black workforce. 
Workers at the two Northern shipyards  Electric Boat and Bath Iron Works 
 enjoy substantially better wages and benefits than the workers in the 
Southern shipyards.

The largely African American workforce in the Virginia shipyard ends up 
with pensions only half those of their mostly white counterparts in the 
Navy shipyards in the North, for doing the same work.

The workers are members of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) which 
is standing up to this issue on the basis of class solidarity. The USWA 
recognises that racism is not only unjust, it's also a corporate strategy 
for dividing worker from worker.

Navy strikebreaking

The striking steelworkers have been angered by the Navy's financial support 
for the company's efforts to break the strike by employing scabs. This is 
not the first time the US Navy has reimbursed shipyard managements for 
their efforts to either break a union or break a strike.

The Navy has also given the company new work in spite of the fact that the 
shipyard has missed three major deadlines because of work being done by 
inexperienced scab labour.

It's hardly surprising that the Navy would be acting as a strikebreaker in 
Virginia. US corporations rely on the military to oppose the rights of 
working people around the world.

The US Army School of the Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia, trains 
the worst human rights abusers in the hemisphere.

Among the victims of the SOA's graduates are thousands of unionists who 
were disappeared, tortured and murdered in countries throughout Latin 
America. 

US military aid has backed dictatorial, anti-union regimes in Indonesia, 
Central America and many other countries.

Corporate Southern tactic

Global corporate strategy is to roll back the gains that working people 
have made and bust the unions which empowered them to make those gains. In 
the US, the corporate tactic has been to shift production out of the 
industrialised and unionised Northern states and into the Southern states, 
where anti-union "right-to-work" (for less) laws prevail.

The corporations are looking for low-wage, anti-union havens in the South. 
Their move to the South also is part of the tactic of playing workers in 
different parts of the country against each other, to compete for jobs in a 
downward spiral of wages and conditions. 

Steelworkers' solidarity struggles

Since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the 
USWA has been in the forefront of US and Canadian unions showing active 
solidarity with independent union struggles in Mexico.

The steelworkers understand that one of the best ways to protect their own 
future is to stand in solidarity with workers in other countries.

The decline of the US steel industry is but one of many corporate-driven 
changes in the global economy  changes which routinely maximise profits 
at the expense of working people.

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