Saint John, Lévis: Militarization of shipbuilding – Jobs for war?

Saint John Shipyard – Before

Saint John Shipyard – Before


This article raises one of the most disturbing developments that has taken place recently. This is the policy of some trade unions to push for militarization of the economy and mobilization of the workers to become advocates of this policy. Of course, this is justified by claiming that it creates jobs. Job creation through war – it is hard to believe anybody could be so selfish to promote such a thing. But why would a worker think in such a manner? Creating a job in one sector while eliminating it in another, and all the while bringing the world closer to war, could not by any stretch of the imagination be in favour of workers. We, on our part, would never support the view that we should be joyous over the creation of any job, no matter what that job is for. | A. ROSNER

A very disturbing scene was played out in Saint John, New Brunswick last week. According to press reports, management, union leaders and workers cheered and applauded Prime Minister Brian Mulroney during his visit to the Saint John shipyard of the Irving empire (Saint John Shipbuilding Ltd. is wholly owned by Irving Shipyard Ltd.). Why such a reception? To hail the Mulroney government for awarding them the contract to construct six navy frigates. It is said that this multi-billion dollar contract
 will provide 15,000 man-years of employment until 1996, besides being extremely lucrative for the shipyard owners. (The ceremony was held just one month after Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and President Reagan finally signed the Free Trade Agreement on January 2, 1988. – TS)

What we are witnessing is another “common front” in the making. Last month it was Quebec CNTU leader Gerald Larose, who sealed such an
alliance with Premier Robert Bourassa when they agreed at the Lévis Shipyards to jointly pursue military shipbuilding contracts for Quebec companies. Now it is Brian Mulroney and the shipyard union* in Saint John, and there are others already in existence across Canada.

What has the Mulroney government bought for its billions drawn from the public treasury? Besides its frigates, and the profits of the company, it has secured the allegiance of the trade union to its militaristic policies. The union also had to promise that the frigate construction would not be disrupted by strike actions. The full price paid by the union was made all too clear by a local union officer, who was reported as saying that the NDP, with its policy of withdrawing Canada from NATO, could expect no votes from the shipyard workers of Saint John.

The local union officer was wrong on two counts. First, the NDP has already declared that if it had its way, it would build even more frigates than are now planned. In any event, it has taken a back seat to no one in advocating the expansion of the armed forces and of military
equipment, as well as the need for closer alliance with the United States for what it calls the defence of North America. Second, it is public knowledge that the NDP is reconsidering its stand on withdrawal from NATO. But a grain of truth emerged from the union officer’s statement. He evidently grasped that the construction of the frigates is the demand of NATO and its leader, the U.S., for their aggressive aims, and not of the Canadian people for the defence of their sovereignty and security. With NATO out of the picture, he is afraid of losing lots of jobs and lots of union dues over the next few years.

Where are these common fronts leading? They are leading to divisions among workers, who are being encouraged to fight over the available Defence Department spoils. And they are leading to war. Workers will have their jobs in exchange for being enthusiastic supporters of
the warmongering aims of the U.S., of NATO and the Canadian government. These common fronts should be publicly condemned by every worker, every trade unionist, and everyone else who cares about peace and the freedom of the peoples.

If a war is just, if it is fought against aggression and oppression, then people will rally to its cause because it is necessary to realize their interests. They will not need to be deceived and bribed, through the promise of
jobs and prosperity. They will
 be united and not divided. But
the fights being organized between workers today over who 
will win military contracts, and
 the shameful displays and statements made by some union
 leaders and the eerie silence of
 others, is a sure sign that what 
is afoot is neither in the interests of the people of Canada nor
 of other countries.

No state can wage war without armies and weapons. Still 
less can it afford to embark on military adventures that do 
not enjoy either the active support or at least the acquiescence 
of its own people. World War I
 proved it amply, when in each
 country the social-democratic parties and the trade union 
leaders of the time found excuses for the workers to line up behind the imperialist aims of 
their own governments and exploiters. Is this not what lies behind the common fronts for 
“job creation” that are being
 organized today? The Mulroney 
government is having trouble
 inspiring popular support for its
 war preparations, for testing the 
Cruise missile, increasing military spending and so on and by
appealing to some noble ideals 
of defending “Western values 
and interests”. Those who 
would permit it to accomplish
 the same aim by holding out the 
lure of a job, are putting the
lives and well-being of people in 
jeopardy. Far from being put 
forward as leaders of the workers, they should be stopped in
 their tracks.

What kind of society is it which produces permanent unemployment, and where war preparations are held out as a way to secure a livelihood?

The workers of Saint John and Quebec, and of the whole country should think over this matter very carefully. What kind of union leaders will adopt resolutions against NATO and the Warsaw Pact, against aggression and for world peace, but shut their mouths or change their tune when their members are 
offered a job? What kind of society is it that produces permanent unemployment, and
 where war preparations are
held out as a way to secure a 
livelihood? All of us, and not 
least those of us who work in 
the trade unions, have a duty to 
the people and the cause of 
peace to deal with these questions and provide proper answers.

What kind of society is it
 which produces permanent unemployment,
 and where war preparations 
are held out as a way 
to secure a livelihood?

Source: This article was originally published under the title “Jobs for War” in New Weekly Magazine, February 17, 1988, Volume 2, Number 5. It also was reprinted in The New Hamilton Weekly, Volume 2, Number 6, February 24, 1988

Note by TS

* The Marine Workers Federation of the Canadian Autoworkers Union, now UNIFOR

Postscript: What happened to those “jobs”?

It was said that this multi-billion dollar contract would provide 15,000 man-years of employment until 1996, besides being extremely lucrative for the shipyard owners.

The Saint John shipyard built nine Halifax-class frigates, which saw the warships built by the early 1990s.

Flush with revenues flowing from this contract, Irving Shipbuilding went on a buying spree of several bankrupt or failing shipyards in eastern Canada as part of a strategy of monopolization and to assist with spreading the work at its overcrowded shipyard in Saint John:

  • The East Isle Shipyard in Georgetown, Prince Edward Island was purchased from the provincial government and used to construct modules for the Halifax-class frigates;
  • Irving Shipbuilding purchased the Shelburne Ship Repair shipyard in Shelburne and
  • The Pictou Shipyard in Pictou to support the Halifax-class project;
  • In 1994 Irving Shipbuilding also purchased Halifax Dartmouth Industries after that shipyard was sub-contracted in 1992 to build the Kingston-class coastal defence vessel as part of the Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel Project by the winning consortium led by SNC Lavalin. SNC-Lavalin sub-contracted HDIL for the ship design and construction of the 12 vessels. The Kingston class Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels (MCDVs) are multi-role minor war vessels with a primary mission of coastal surveillance and patrol including general naval operations and exercises, search and rescue, law enforcement, resource protection and fisheries patrols;
  • By 1996, Irving owned six shipyards in Atlantic Canada.

By 1996, the skilled workforce at Saint John Shipbuilding began to dwindle as welders and engineers and other trades and professionals left for work on other projects in Canada and abroad. Over one thousand shipyard workers were left unemployed,

In 1998 Avondale Industries Ltd. shipyard in New Orleans hired 175 workers from Saint John.

In March 1999 North American Shipbuilding of Larose, Louisiana held a recruiting session in Saint John aimed at hiring 200 workers.

“Anyone here that they would be coming to recruit has at least eight to ten years from the frigate program. They would definitely fit the requirements,” said Terry O’Toole, president of Local 3 of the Marine Workers Union. There were more than 250 steelworkers alone just waiting in the wings at Saint John for a new shipyard contract, he added, just a sampling of the workforce leftover after the multi-billion dollar Navy frigate program ended a few years ago. (MIKE HAWKINS, “U.S. firm hiring in Saint John. 200 shipbuilders needed ‘yesterday’ in Louisiana,” Telegraph Journal, March 25, 1999) The US company hired 80. Another Gulf Coast shipbuilder announced plans to hire a further 300 to 400 Saint Johners.

In 2000 the yard was partially mothballed after it completed its last merchant ship for the Irving-owned Kent Lines.

InSummer 2011 leading figures in the Liberal government such as longtime Liberal cabinet minister Allan Rock and his family are flown by private plane to the Irvings’ exclusive lodge on the Restigouche River for a fly-fishing vacation they didn’t pay for . Defence Minister John McCallum was also on the trip, but was a back-bench MP at the time. In 2002 when the then Ethics Counsellor Howard Wilson discovered that Minister Rock had in summer 2001 accepted a private jet stay at the Irving family salmon fishing lodge, he issued a ruling that Rock was to avoid all ministerial dealings benefiting Irving enterprises for one year. During that blackout year Rock made three significant ministerial decisions benefiting Irving Shipbuilding Inc.

In September, 2002 Saint John Shipyard completed the fourth tug for the Panama Canal Authority, its last contract.

On June 27, 2003 Irving Shipbuilding announced that it had signed an agreement with the federal government for $55 million in economic readjustment funding provided that Saint John Shipbuilding be closed permanently. The Irving Group of Companies announced the intention of permanently decommissioning Canada’s largest shipyard and building a new wallboard manufacturing plant and other businesses on the site. This left Halifax Shipyard Limited as the largest full-service shipyard left on Canada’s Atlantic coast and the flagship facility for Irving Shipbuilding Inc. On investigating , “Wilson said it ‘would have be better’ if a minister other than Rock had signed the $55-million grant, but noted the signature was made by a machine on instructions from Industry officials.”(Ottawa Citizen, November 8, 2003)

Finance Minister and later Prime Minister Paul Martin may never have been to the Irving lodge or flown on an Irving jet, but his Liberal leadership campaign gratefully accepted $100,000 from J.D. Irving Ltd. in July-August 2003.

In April, 2004, the joint support warships contract was announced. It involved more than an initial $3 billion program for the transfer of public funds to private shipbuilding and armaments monopolies. It was originally initiated by the Chrétien Liberals and adopted by Paul Martin as part of the “modernization” and “transformation” of the Canadian Forces, which then U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon demanded from the NATO “allies.”

The three naval “joint support ships” to be commissioned are originally envisaged to be massive state-of-the-art command-and-control warships, unique in the world. They were being positioned to become a principal weapon for offensive operations in the seven seas of the world, wherever the U.S. Empire has need of them. This came at a time The U.S. Navy – Status of the Navy revealed that 92 per cent of its surface ships were obsolete or deployed. The “joint support ships” combine a supply and provisioning role for forward combat operations and a command centre, capable of directing amphibious invasions of coastal and sovereign countries. According to Wikipedia, “The Joint Support Ship will enable a Naval Task Group to remain at sea for up to six times longer than is currently possible.” They were envisaged to be far superior in high-tech electronics and armour than anything afloat.

The Saint John Shipyard was cratered, packed up and shipped to Mumbai, India:


Saint John Shipbuilding.6 Saint John Shipbuilding.5 Saint John Shipbuilding.4 Saint John Shipbuilding.3 Saint John Shipbuilding.2





Filed under Canada, Working Class

2 responses to “Saint John, Lévis: Militarization of shipbuilding – Jobs for war?

  1. Pingback: Hiroshima and Halifax | Tony Seed's Weblog

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