NOVEMBER 1983 - VOLUME 4 - NUMBER 11
The Pentagon and the South
A History of Exploitationby Roger Walke
In August 1983, the Defense Department put out a booklet for state and local officials entitled "Defense Procurement and Economic Development." Issued by the Pentagon's little-known office of Economic Adjustment, the study claims that defense dollars can "invigorate our communities" and rebuild American industry. Its anonymous authors assert that rising defense spending will stimulate local economic growth, help relieve economic problems, and be a source of new jobs for years to come.
These claims are thoroughly debunked in a new study called Our Own Worst Enemy: The Impact of Military Production on the Upper South, published in September by the Highlander Center, a research and organizing center in New Market, Tennessee.
Our Own Worst Enemy details the painful results of relying on military spending to spur local development. In the eight southern states covered by the book-Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia-the authors find that defense contracting has caused boom and bust cycles, introduced new occupational health hazards, damaged the environment, subsidized union busting, rewarded runaway shops, kept wages low, encouraged assembly line speed-ups and other dismal working conditions, and failed to mitigate the structural unemployment endemic to so many southern towns.
The authors point out that, as one of the largest federal contractors, the Department of Defense (DOD) could be a positive force for decent employment conditions, environmental care, and civic responsibility. But as the book makes clear, DOD acts like a corporation. "With our money," the authors note, "DOD puts the seal of approval on conduct and costs the private sector otherwise undertakes at its own risk."
Detailing the conduct and costs is what most of Our Own Worst Enemy is about. The authors go beyond the widely acknowledged view that defense industries create fewer jobs than most civilian industries and social programs, and instead meet defense contractor enthusiasts on their own ground. That is, they depict-in great detail-the high social and political costs of defense contracting in both laborintensive and high technology industries.
The book comprises six core chapters, an excellent appendix with state-by-state statistics and defense contractor profiles, and comes with a valuable supplement describing how to research defense corporations.
Each core chapter examines a sector of the defense industry in one or more of the eight states under study. Commercial ordnance-explosives, ammunition, and rockets-is the first section covered. Three plants run by Martin Marietta, Hercules, Inc., and General Tire and Rubber Company are used as case studies. The book exposes severe environmental problems and union busting activities, and shows that defense contractors do not provide a tax base for local services-a practice the DOD condones.
Labor-intensive industries are the next focus. The Pentagon, the authors have found, buys more non-weapon goods from the South than any other area. The two industries studied-apparel manufacturing and C-rations-are marked by sweatshop conditions, broken unions, and the reinforcement of the South's pattern of low-wage jobs.
Strategic minerals are not resources usually associated with the South. But the authors' chapter tracing the 200-year history of a Tennessee manganese and iron mine illustrates the environmental costs and boom-and-bust cycles that war-related mining entails. While strategic minerals are not a major defense industry in the South, the authors warn that the current hysteria over U.S. mineral "vulnerability" could lead to uncontrolled exploitation of Southern deposits of zinc, cadmium, titanium, and lithium.
The South is associated with energy, however. One chapter of the book analyzes the role of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in military production. "Between 1942-1945," the authors assert, "three quarters of TVA's power was used for war production. Estimates suggest that one-tenth of all the power generated in the U.S. for war purposes came from the TVA system." Another chapter lays bare the environmental and economic costs of the Oak Ridge, Tennessee uranium enrichment and nuclear development plants, where careless operation by the DOD, the, Department of Energy, and Union Carbide Corporation have caused serious radioactive waste spills and job hazards.
The last of the six core chapters reveals DOD's single-minded subsidization and promotion of automation in manufacturing, and the role that Georgia Tech and other southern universities are playing in the process. Several long interviews with workers help sketch the impact on labor of the automation U.S. tax dollars subsidize.
In the concluding chapter, the authors raise three basic questions for future public consideration: why do defense contractors violate environmental and labor standards? Are the costs of DOD's defense contracting unavoidable in the present structure? How can the defense industry be changed?
Part of their answer to the last question is represented by the supplement, "How to Research Your Local Military Contractor." Packed with sources, suggestions, and a clear description of how to get the research started, the supplement is a good beginning toward helping people acquire the information they need to make fundamental changes in their lives and communities.
As organizers, however, the authors do not stop with research. "To be able to do something with their information," they write, "people must strategize and organize-in this case around the idea that national security begins with healthy workers and communities at home." Citizen actions and strikes for health and safety regulations, higher taxes for military contractors, and more attention to the environment, they conclude, "remind us that all politics begin locally and that enduring change at the top has only been achieved through these types of action at the bottom."
Because Our Own Worst Enemy goes beyond the traditional analysis that emphasizes the capital intensity of military contracting, the book will be a boon not only to researchers and conversion activists, especially in the South, but also to weapons control and nuclear freeze advocates, defense workers, unions-and possibly the state and local officials lured by the promises of the Department of Defense.
Roger Walke is a member of the Pacific Northwest Research Center in Eugene, Oregon. He now works in Washington, D. C.