Conversion of the Arms Industry: Time to Cut the Pentagon Budget
Every year, the story is the same. Congress looks at the Pentagon budget, briefly debates the merits of decades of skyrocketing spending, and then pads it with tens of billions dollars more. And every year, they do it in my name.
I’m a defense industry worker. I live and work in an area of Alabama referred to as “the Pentagon of the South.” I’m a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM&AW). And I say throwing money at the Pentagon doesn’t help workers like me.
It’s time to cut the bloated Pentagon budget and use those resources where they will actually serve my fellow workers: funding good, green, union jobs.
Bi-Partisan Support in Congress
In September, the House of Representatives passed legislation authorizing an astonishing $778-billion 2022 Pentagon budget. That’s a $37-billion boost from the year before, and more than twice the per annum size of the $3.5-trillion reconciliation bill that has become the center of a storm of Beltway scrutiny. But because it was for the Pentagon, rather than the people, few even batted an eye.
About half of this exorbitant sum is destined to go directly to corporations in the lucrative defense contracting industry. There, executives will fill their pockets and spend a chunk of the remainder lobbying for even more the next year. The majority of Congress, swayed by the industry’s influence, eyeing a cushy board position, or even directly profiting from contractor stocks, will comply. And they’ll justify this decision by invoking the magic word: jobs.
Despite the public’s opposition to unrestrained Pentagon spending, despite the fact that the Pentagon is notoriously wasteful, despite many politicians’ claimed commitments to ending our country’s endless wars, the limitless funding of an overpowered war machine is deemed necessary because it supposedly helps create jobs like mine. It doesn’t.
Study after study has shown that spending on the military industry is one of the least effective ways to create jobs. For every seven jobs created by military spending, investments in clean energy would make 10 (and in healthcare and education, even more than that). Those who are using our names to excuse their votes for corporate interests are, in effect, stealing jobs that could be ours.
Meanwhile, it is workers who suffer the most from our misplaced budget priorities. It is everyday working people, not the executives at Raytheon, who are sent to fight and die in our nation’s global forever wars – and everyday people in places like Afghanistan and Yemen who pay the price of our failed interventions. It is working communities whose schools are failing, working families that can’t pay their medical bills, and the working class who disproportionately suffer the impacts of the climate crisis.
The reality is that, as in any industry, Pentagon spending is used to fatten the profits for the few, while the workers get pushed to the side. Unfortunately, the leaders of my union have traditionally gone along with it. Rather than having the vision and courage to fight for what we workers need in the long term, they have decided it’s easier to work hand in hand with industry bosses to try to maintain a failing status quo. We deserve better.
Cut and Transition
It’s time to cut the Pentagon budget. But when we do, we workers can’t be left behind. Our skills, our talents, from engineers to machinists, should be put to work on the urgent task of building a green economy.
The transition may be difficult at first. But in the long run, it’s a clear win. More jobs means not only less precarity but also more bargaining power, and a stronger union for all of us. Beyond helping workers in our industry, a green job transition is a key step toward ending our nation’s permanent war footing and confronting instead the greatest challenge of our time. That’s a public good for generations to come.
I’m not advocating getting rid of the defense industry entirely. Just cutting it down to the real size that’s needed for our actual defense, and spending the rest to help make sure we’re safe from the imminent threats of climate change, unemployment, and an economy that caters to the interests of the few.
My fellow workers don’t need a fatter Pentagon budget. We need good-paying, green, union jobs, and an economy that works for the many. The next time a politician claims that they’re funding endless war for the sake of jobs, we defense industry workers must stand up and say, “Not in our names.” •
This article first published on The Nation website.