Convention Discussion: Swords into ploughshares

BY: David Welden| May 22, 2014

Submitted by David Welden, New Haven, Connecticut

The Framework for Discussion references “new movements to move the money from military spending to human needs” asking “Is there an opportunity today for real peacetime conversion of industries?”  Our work in Connecticut shows that the contribution of Communists toward unity of peace, labor and environment is key.

Introduction. In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower warned against the power of the Military Industrial Complex. “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

In 1967, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., reiterated this theme: “The bombs in Vietnam explode at home; they destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America.”

Despite being at different ends of the political spectrum, both leaders recognized the economic and moral corrosion of the armaments industry and the military maw it feeds.

In intervening decades the Military Industrial Complex has only grown more powerful, destructive, grotesque and apparently unstoppable. In parallel with climate change, with nuclear weapons still on hair-trigger alert, it threatens civilization and all life on earth. Indeed the profits of the fossil fuel industry require destroying our climate even while that industry depends largely on US military threats and interventions to ensure its plunder.

Military production factories and bases exist in every Congressional District. Connecticut’s economy has been one of the most dependent on military production for jobs. As a result, members of Congress are extremely reluctant to vote to reduce the military budget, which now gouges over a trillion dollars a year from our taxes and future, an unimaginable burden.

Because the Connecticut Congressional delegation refused to discuss cutting the military budget some peace organizations sought an alternative approach, reaching out to unions that represent military production workers. Connecticut’s major manufacturing employers, United Technologies and Electric Boat, have slashed the size of their workforce by outsourcing to non-union and overseas locations in recent decades. Even with a large military budget, jobs were not secure.

A common approach was developed emphasizing the need to transition the economy away from military production to manufacturing alternative energy and other civilian needs.

This concept recognizes that the U.S. already has an industrial policy, funding research, development and procurement in certain industries – those that produce weapons to wage wars. Rather than ending the spending, conversion redirects that industrial policy toward human needs.

Background. In the 1980’s an active campaign to convert military to civilian production was led by William Winpisinger, president of the International Association of Machinists. A coalition effort in Connecticut succeeded in getting the state legislature to cut a very large check to General Dynamics Corp., the owner of Electric Boat, which manufactures nuclear submarines in Groton, to study conversion for the civilian sector. General Dynamics tore up the check saying they would produce nuclear submarines or nothing. It preferred its successful, guaranteed-profits relationship with a single customer – the Pentagon.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s there was hope that “the end of the cold war” would create a peace dividend and that demands to take money from the military budget for human needs would be more successful. Yet the U.S. military budget continued to pour our resources and children into warmaking. The lesson that imperialism existed before the USSR and would persist afterwards is still being learned.

More recently. At a symposium on conversion at the University of Connecticut in 2009, the idea arose for a state commission to study and make recommendations on economic conversion. In spring of 2012, the City of New Haven Peace Commission and the Greater New Haven Peace Council jointly urged the Board of Alders (city council) to place a non-binding referendum on the ballot calling for reducing the military budget and using the savings to fund human needs. The referendum received 23,400 yes votes and passed by a 6 to 1 margin. Over 60% of voters who cast ballots for President also voted on the referendum. Based on the success of this referendum, peace and labor leaders jointly drafted a proposal to the state legislature to create a state commission to study transitioning Connecticut’s economy.

The draft urged the necessity to stop wars waged to gain control over people, land, fossil fuels and minerals by constricting the armaments industry. It called to reduce the over $1.2 trillion dollar annual spending on warmaking that is bankrupting our country and reverse the unemployment crisis in Connecticut. It urged redirecting Connecticut’s declining manufacturing base toward unmet human needs with green, civilian products.

The draft referenced the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimous resolution in June, 2012, “Calling for U.S. Leadership in Global Elimination of Nuclear Weapons and Redirection of Military Spending to Domestic Needs.” Like Martin Luther King, Jr., the mayors understood that the enormous amounts spent on war preparations and wars are killing their cities.

Most importantly, the International Association of Machinists (IAM), which represents workers at many military production plants in Connecticut, and the Connecticut AFL-CIO passed conversion resolutions at their 2012 conventions. Machinists have suffered an enormous loss of jobs as jobs are moved to non-union facilities in the South or offshore. They see the necessity of growing green manufacturing in response to the accelerating threats to the environment. In addition, there is increased recognition from many quarters, that growing or rebuilding manufacturing in Connecticut is essential to a future of good-paying jobs and a healthy economy. Thus there is convergence in a set of interests between labor, peace and the environment.

State Senator Toni Harp turned the draft into a proper bill co-sponsored by the entire New Haven delegation. The bill was assigned to the Commerce Committee, which held a single public hearing. Representatives of the Peace Commission, Peace Council, State Council of Machinists and Connecticut AFL-CIO testified in favor. There was some support and some opposition. Testimony by the IAM converted the skeptics. The Commission, including 3 representatives from labor, 1 from peace and 1 from environment, passed the Senate and House overwhelmingly and was signed into law by the governor. The Commission began meeting October 1, 2013, and must finish its work by the end of 2014.

What made passage of this bill possible? The Communist Party’s historic commitment to organize among basic industrial workers in the state led to consistent solidarity with the IAM over decades as they battled the anti-union giant UTC during strikes and job actions to secure and improve their contracts. This was significant in connecting the issues of jobs and peace. CT’s peace movement like the national movement is passionate but not particularly large organizationally. A number of peace organizations throughout the state have over many years developed excellent working relationships with labor and legislators. Nationally there exists a peace majority as evidenced by many polls on bringing our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, in the unprecedented strong popular opposition both to President Obama’s initial decision to attack Syria and then to Senatorial efforts to torpedo Obama’s negotiations with Iran that we hope will avoid another war in the Middle East.

How has the public responded? The Futures Commission is dominated by state government, industry and higher education representatives. The ability to develop a comprehensive plan to transition the state’s economy through this Commission is limited. However the significance of the Commission and the objective need have the potential to inspire public pressure and involvement in hearings or outreach. Supporters are inviting the Commission to hold public meetings around the state.

As the first in the nation, the Futures Commission’s significance goes beyond Connecticut. Peace Action and the National Priorities Project, held a workshop in Connecticut attended by representatives of labor, peace, environment, community and elected officials to develop strategy and tactics for coalition building and grassroots organizing. In several states, using the Connecticut model, work is underway to develop their own state commissions.

Is the outcome of the Futures Commission guaranteed? Hardly. It is required only to produce a report. Alone it won’t generate conversion. But if successful, it will initiate a long overdue conversation and engage the creativity and hope of the public. From that a lot can happen.

The views and opinions expressed in the Convention Discussion are those of the author alone. The Communist Party is publishing these views as a service to encourage discussion and debate. Those views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Communist Party, its leading bodies or staff members. The CPUSA Constitution, Program, and all its existing policies remain in effect during the Convention discussion period and during the Convention.

For details about the convention, visit the Convention homepage
To contribute to the discussion, visit the Convention Discussion webpage

30th National Convention, Communist Party USA
Chicago | June 13-15, 2014



Related Party Voices Articles

For democracy. For equality. For socialism. For a sustainable future and a world that puts people before profits. Join the Communist Party USA today.

Join Now

We are a political party of the working class, for the working class, with no corporate sponsors or billionaire backers. Join the generations of workers whose generosity and solidarity sustains the fight for justice.

Donate Now

CPUSA Mailbag

If you have any questions related to CPUSA, you can ask our experts
  • QHow does the CPUSA feel about the current American foreign...
  • AThanks for a great question, Conlan.  CPUSA stands for peace and international solidarity, and has a long history of involvement...
Read More
Ask a question
See all Answer