The labour movement has a long history of partnership with the peace movements, as it has with other movements of national liberation and social justice. In recent years the peace-labour connection has weakened, for a variety of reasons. The Global Campaign on Military Spending offers an opportunity to renew the collaboration.
The Global Campaign has major implications for jobs – for that reason alone the labour movement has good reason to be engaged with this issue. But of course the issue of military spending touches many other topics, for example the economic development strategy of each nation; its security and international alliances; its policies regarding science and technology research; and the contributions it makes to tackling climate change and other environmental challenges. All of which are important questions for trade unionists and workers more generally.
Fear of job loss
Naturally there is a fear among those employed in the military or related sectors such as arms production that jobs will be lost if the national military budget is cut. What those fears ignore is that MORE jobs can be created if the money is spent differently. The classic study in recent years is the one by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier of the Political Economy Research Institute University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA:
“This study focuses on the employment effects of military spending versus alternative domestic spending priorities, in particular investments in clean energy, health care and education. We first present some simple alternative spending scenarios, namely devoting $1 billion to the military versus the same amount of money spent on clean energy, health care, and education, as well as for tax cuts which produce increased levels of personal consumption. Our conclusion in assessing such relative employment impacts is straightforward: $1 billion spent on each of the domestic spending priorities will create substantially more jobs within the U.S. economy than would the same $1 billion spent on the military.”
The challenge is to ensure that when cuts occur, they are not simply used to mop up the debt or reduce taxes, but instead the money is actually reinvested in productive and useful projects creating sustainable employment. Thus the political strategy requires partnerships with advocacy movements in a number of other sectors – and close cooperation with parliamentarians and media.
The term ‘economic conversion’ – implying converting military-related work to civilian oriented production and services – is often regarded as out of fashion. There are echoes of the famous Lucas Aerospace struggle of the 1970s UK. It was failure, but a heroic one which left behind practical ideas and a bold vision of change.
Recent examples can be found in the USA: in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Wisconsin. And in Germany there have been successful examples of converting military bases left over from the Cold War to civilian purposes – as also at Clark Air Base in the Philippines and elsewhere.
The US experience
While Pentagon spending has over the last 15 years risen dramatically, creating large numbers of new jobs, it is also true that the curve has flattened in the aftermath of the downturn of 2008. Job conversion is thus once again a live issue, as the following citations explain:
“Since the 1970s a small office within the Pentagon, the Office of Economic Adjustment, has offered planning grants and technical assistance to help these communities develop their own strategies to capitalize on existing economic strengths and adjust to postwar economic conditions. Once these strategies are in place, the OEA serves as a point of contact for impacted communities in accessing resources from other federal agencies to help with implementation of their plans.”
“It makes sense for defense-dependent areas to devise plans to diversify their local economies now, before more shifts in Pentagon spending leave them with few viable alternatives. A more diversified local economy is better in any case, since it shields communities from the inevitable ups and downs of Pentagon contracting. And economic development specialists agree that it is far better to plan before a crisis hits than try to scramble at the last moment when a key program is reduced or scaled back….The all-eggs-in-one-basket economic strategy needs to be a thing of the past. So does a strategy that pins its hopes on a prolonged war.
“In the face of federal legislative dysfunction, more and more progressive initiatives are coming from the state and local levels. The effort to build a peace economy, following the longest period of war in our history, is taking its rightful place in this constellation of progress from the bottom up.”
Miriam Pemberton, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington DC.
The work ahead
The following tasks set out ahead of a training workshop in May 2014 in Madison could serve as an agenda for work in this field almost anywhere affected by military jobs cuts:
• Strategize for passage of legislation to convert from defense contract dependency to long-term sustainable jobs and community benefits.
• Get clarity on how to bring federal budget issues and defense transition framework to a local focus.
• Discuss ways to save high skilled jobs, improve workers rights, and move towards a green economy.
• Build connections among organizations, issues, and between labor, peace and racial and economic justice.
• Share strategies for organizing around local, state and federal budget issues and defense industry transition.