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Conversion planning a must

David Collins — August 1984

“If we ‘peacemakers’ finally prevail against the ‘warmakers,’ we must be prepared for that peace, for peace is not an abstract concept, but a living reality, with security, budget, production and employment priorities of its own.

The first price of peace is the responsibility to plan cooperatively and in coalitions for the coming economic domain. “

- Angus Archer, NGO Liaison for the UN, February 1984

If we are to understand and oppose the arms race, we must realize that it is as much an economic phenomenon as it is political or military. The arms race continues and expands primarily in order to create profits for multinational corporations out of our tax dollars. Military production is the most sure and steady profit-maker for these companies; they know it and love it. Many military producers (that is, almost every large multinational) are now divesting themselves of their civilian sectors or moving them to the third world, leaving a smaller ratio of civilian work to be performed by highly-skilled and expensive North American labour.

In particular. high technology weapons, such as the cruise missile, have an economic reason for existing long before a military strategy has been invented to incorporate them. The US Pentagon is still trying to decide whether the cruise is a first-strike weapon and how it fits into their different scenarios. For, in fact, the order was not placed from the Pentagon to McDonnell Douglas, but rather vice versa. Much of our sophisticated weaponry is produced simply because it can be produced. The military function of the weapons has become secondary to technological and big business advances.

Another economic reality of the arms race is public’ and government support, which is given only under the threat of unemployment and economic hardship. The most constant public support for the arms race cvmes from’ many of those workers involved directly in the industry. For the military-industrial complex to survive, the assured support of these workers is required. William Winpisinger (US national president of the International Association of Machinists, the union most involved in producing for the arms race) has described the military workforce as ‘hostages,’ and the ransom is jobs.

It is well known that funding for the MX missile was recently approved in the US Congress because of the job pay-offs in many representatives’ home districts. A report was peddled around Congress by the pro-MX lobby (the producing contractors) during the funding debate, showing the number of jobs “won or lost” in each of the congressional districts by the decision on MX funding. With their re-election so dependent upon the local economic health in their district, the representatives were willing to sell out for the temporary economic benefits of MX production; So, yet another highly-criticized and expensive new weapon has been pushed through government channels by the big business interests that will directly benefit.

We must take a look at these two realities, examine them, accept them and then work against them. They are two of the strongest reasons why the arms race continues – equalled only by anti-Soviet hysteria and the interests of maintaining a system of economic dominance over the third world.

Conversion planning is an effective organizing strategy. for addressing these economic realities. By planning for alternative production at military sites, and through effective protest against financial interests, we can build alliances with unions and workers, and directly address the economic forces which fuel the arms race. With a coalition of the labour and peace movements, we can meet directly the economic realities behind the arms race. Together we can challenge the war profiteering of multinationals such as Litton or OM. We must address government involvement. in the arms race, but we must also realize why that involvement has been repeated time and time again. Surely part of the support comes from a false idea of ‘security,’ but much comes from the economic realities of military production.

What’s involved

Three main job areas must be involved in conversion organizing – alternate use planning, worker support, and labour issues. We must first begin the task of proposing an alternate line of civilian production. The importance that these proposals be feasible and site-specific cannot be overstressed. In order to win the support of workers and unions, conversion must be proven practical by showing concrete example after concrete example.

Planning in the peace movement must include people who have technical expertise – economists, engineers and labour analysts. We need to penetrate one of the most conservative bastions remaining — the engineering school. An alternative message must be heard along with the recruiting drives of military industry. Technical people must be inspired to address the real problems of hunger, health and housing, not “how low you can fly a missile into the Soviet Union.”

Secondly, we must build support systems and sentiment within the peace community for these workers. While we stand firm against the products they manu~ facture, we must hold out a supportive hand helping them to find safe alternatives. It is surely not just for a middle-class movement to ask these workers to take all the risk alone. The industries in which they are involved hold little security and! or alternatives in the civilian sector. Financial and social support structures must be available to these workers before many of them will dare to speak out against the military and for conversion. We will need their support, and they need ours.

Lastly and probably most importantly, the peace movement and the labour movement must embrace each other’s issues, for they are the same. Labour will never be able to achieve full employment in the present war economy, and they will never be able to unionize a healthy proportion of the ,Workforce while multinationals control the economy. The peace movement will never be able to turn swords into ploughshares if the people who build the swords cannot feel the need and the opportunity to convert their capabilities to positive production.

Unions must be willing to take on the difficult task of organizing military sites – for without an organized voice, military workers stand little chance in converting.

The peace movement must show more support for union efforts, within the military and without~for without a strong unionizea labour force in this country, the multinationals will maintain their control over industry and the military. We must work together to take the decision-making power away from the multinationals and give it back to the community and the workers.

Toronto’s Cruise Missile Conversion Project is working in all three of these areas as they pertain specifically to Litton Systems in Rexdale. Others in Ottawa, Vancouver and Montreal are involved in similar efforts, both locally and nationally. CMCP has an office at 730 Bathurst Street in Toronto, and they can be contacted at 416/xxx-xxxx.