On March 8, more than 7,000 workers at defense company Northrop Grumman’s Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard went on strike.
The strikers, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, are demanding wage increases and
The defense company wanted to give workers a four-year contract with no pay increases and increased healthcare costs. The workers voted down this contract by 90 percent in late February.
The strikers immediately set up pickets at the shipyard entrance. Even on March 12, more than 2,000 strikers marched six miles from the shipyard into Pascagoula. The picket lines have been very militant as many workers are striking for the first time.
Pascagoula was heavily hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Many workers note that since the hurricane, their cost of living has increased dramatically.
According to Shane Buckhalter, a pipe welder at the shipyard for the past two and a half years, Katrina “wiped several towns along the coastline completely off the map. Insurance has gone up, housing has gone up.”
“Since Katrina, you can’t get housing,” said Nick Mariakas, an electrician at the shipyard. “People raised the rents up so high, they pretty much price-gouged. … All we’re saying is, let us have some pride and dignity. … We’ll keep fighting for that until we get what’s fair.” (Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, March 25).
Since Katrina hit the Gulf region, tens of thousands of workers have been facing anti-worker measures by the U.S. government and corporations. “Right-to-work” states have cutback workers’ wages and even their right to organize in trade unions.
The huge Northrop Grumman defense corporation pulls in billions of dollars a year in profits. Nearly all comes from selling products and technology to the U.S. imperialist war machine.
Northrop Grumman is an essential part of the military-industrial complex—a mainstay of modern U.S. capitalism. It is responsible for massive death, destruction and exploitation around the world. The fact that workers labor for such companies is contradictory—workers sell their labor to survive; their labor creates products used to repress other workers. But workers are not to blame for this contradiction. The capitalist owners are entirely at fault.
Workers for Northrop Grumman or any other corporation have the right to strike for better wages and health care. The working class remains the producer of all wealth. The strike—withholding labor—is an effective weapon in the arsenal of the working class.
Supporting workers’ struggles in the Gulf region is especially important at this time. The U.S. government has focused almost entirely on generating profits for big corporations like Northrop Grumman, and not on rebuilding the area, subsidizing housing or meeting any other basic need.
But workers ultimately must realize that they can withhold labor to meet more than simple, immediate strike demands. Raising class consciousness is an important goal that reaches far beyond support for the Nortrhop Grumman workers’ strike.
Realizing that workers’ interests lie in a fierce struggle against the entire capitalist system and its racist wars is both necessary and possible.