Irving’s new Halifax shipyard and the militarization of life and the economy

NATHAN J. FREEMAN on one of the central issues in the Nova Scotia Election October 6. Photo: At the gates of the Halifax Shipyards – one of many anti-war actions in Halifax opposing imperialist war and militarization of the economy. (Courtesy Halifax Media Co-op)

TML Daily (September 20) – BLASTING WORK has been under way this summer at the Halifax shipyard. This construction activity was announced as a necessary stage of preparing before actually building some newly-contracted naval vessels.

One resident of the neighbourhood telephoned the CBC to announce that she and her neighbours have had enough.

The noise from the shipyard is just part of the problem. People who live in the area also believe the work is driving rats and other pests into the public housing community.

“It’s been rough here. The blasting has brought out rats and raccoons around our area. The blasting has taken pictures off my walls and broken them. It’s hard living on Barrington Street right now,” she said.

“One morning I got up to go in my yard to shoo a cat out of my yard and the thing turned around and it was a rat and it wasn’t afraid of me. So I had to go back into my house to get a broom to shoo it out of my yard. It was big. I thought it was a cat, I really did think it was a full-grown cat and it just turned around and it’s teeth – it was horrible.”

Meanwhile, the shipyard’s owner, Irving Shipbuilding, is barrelling ahead with rebuilding the shipyard’s offices and workshops on modern lines.

“Modern” here has a double meaning.

The first meaning emerges from having almost doubled the shipyard payroll from more then 400 to about 900 workers after the winning of the multi-warship, 20-years-plus-long contract was announced in the autumn of 2011.

2007-april-4-harper-protest-naval-dockyardscrThe second meaning emerges from having set the previous President of Irving Shipbuilding Steven Durrell the task of bullying through a collective agreement absolutely unacceptable to the members of the largest single unionized component of the shipyard from Local 1 of the Canadian Auto Workers (now UNIFOR). Durrell’s failure led to his departure at the end of June 2013, to be replaced by “retired” U.S. Navy Vice-Admiral Kevin McCoy.

In addition to looking after the interests of the U.S. armed forces regarding the construction of this particular batch of specially-tasked warships that will formally belong to the Canadian Navy, president McCoy is tasked with completing the bargaining to reach that unfinished collective agreement. He has jumped into the task by supporting the layoff of about one-third of the workers now in the yard.[1]

To blow smoke in the workers’ eyes, these layoffs have been announced without any reference to the ongoing struggle over the contract. On the contrary, we are supposed to believe that, suddenly, the shipyard has to divert from starting actual ship construction to first constructing “modern” office and workshop facilities for managing and completing the eventual ship construction tasks.

The north-end Halifax community of Mulgrave Park is immediately west of the shipyard. It is one of several 40-plus-years-old mostly African-Canadian public housing projects in the Gottingen-Barrington corridor of the city’s North End. Metro Housing, the civic agency responsible for maintaining these residential projects, has become increasingly hard-pressed by government budget cuts to keep these structures liveable and their communities viable. Unlike the local vermin, Mulgrave Park residents have far more limited re-housing options. Pictures have appeared online at the CBC News website confirming residents’ complaints about “rats the size of cats” roaming the area.[2]

Is this a sign of things to become “normal” as part and parcel of the process of militarizing the livelihood and lives of the civilian population?[3]The other side of the lying propaganda in the monopoly media about war and war preparations providing a source “jobs” is an oppressive daily propaganda about the war danger propagated and crafted to infuse a spirit of submission to an illegitimately-asserted “authority.” If and when the government actually has to smash and take away hard-won rights – to unionize, to defend their wages and working conditions, to protest police brutality, etc. — the idea is that the police and/or other guardians of “order” will meet only isolated pockets of resistance.

Map showing the location of the Halifax Shipyard (A) and the surrounding areas. Click to enlarge.

Many features of daily life in the area around the shipyard are already feeling the effects of “adjustments” being inserted by private capital and government social agencies. These adjustments are being imposed in the service of agendas that were launched before the shipbuilding project was even a gleam in the Irvings’ corporate eye. Thus:

  • During the mid-2000s housing boom, which eventually imploded in 2007-2008 in the subprime mortgages scandal, developers in Halifax eyed the Barrington Street corridor as an ideal zone in which to develop high-rise buildings full of nothing but condominium units. At the same time, the extremely low rate of population increase in Halifax over the entire decade (compared to greater Montreal or greater Toronto) determined
    Saint-Patrick's Alexandra School | Moira Peters, Halifax Media Co-op

    Saint-Patrick’s Alexandra School | Moira Peters, Halifax Media Co-op

    the resistance of the city’s entire community of lending institutions to risking their capital on such schemes.

  • As government finances, even down to the municipal level, were enabled to take higher levels of bonded debt onto their books than ever before, the Halifax School Board took under consideration various proposals to close a number of elementary schools in the North End and consolidate their student bodies in a single modern, geographically central institution. These closures were widely opposed throughout the entire North End of the city that was served by the existing elementary and K-9 schools.
  • Back in 2010, the moment the prospect of Halifax Shipyard getting any part of the Harper government’s combined Coast Guard and warship fleet construction projects became apparent, the Halifax School Board entertained a motion to close the Saint Patrick’s-Alexandra K-9 School. Meanwhile, Jono Investments, a local developer, began beating the drum for special exemption to erect condo high-rises that would violate the city’s ban against buildings erected near the harbour that exceed the height of the view-plane from the top of Halifax Citadel. Many of the social collectives of the greater North End community – including an extensive community health clinical services group, social support organizations for impoverished youth and single women, a popular church in the African-Canadian community and others – have joined the campaign to keep the school buildings and the property they occupy intact. Meanwhile, the developer and his allies on city council have been unable to overturn an initial court injunction stopping them from taking further action.

The rights of the working class and people are being challenged as never before by the growing militarization of the Canadian economy. It must not pass!

Public right must not be permitted to be extinguished though the expansion of monopoly right. The people in North End and its associated communities are not  disposable people. They are not surplus humanity to be sacrificed on the altar of Irving’s private interests. A new direction is required for the economy! Monopoly right no! Public right yes! No to the militarization of the economy and all of life!


1. The naval expansion project is being synchronized with the interests of the United States. McCoy’s installation as the President of Irving Shipbuilding marks a new stage in the processes of militarization extending into civilian society — processes flowing out of the shipbuilding contract. Already, however, as this latest news about Mulgrave Park discloses, the superficial attractiveness of steady employment for hundreds of tradespeople for tens of years into the future is a veneer. The only new jobs for the moment are short-term construction jobs unconnected with actual shipbuilding. The blasting and vermin outbreak are just the latest example of how the negative costs of militarization are shifted onto the general population.
2. Throughout the 19th century, vermin infestations in populated districts beyond the perimeter of Halifax’s port side areas were not uncommon. These were largely eliminated during the “modernization” of the Port of Halifax as a North American base of the British Admiralty during World War One. This summer brought these infestations back for the first time since the end of the Second World War.
3. During the Second World War, various aspects of civilian life across Canada were militarized. In central and western Canada, this took the form of vigilance checks for “suspicious” activities among communities incorporating residents of Italian, German or Japanese descent. Internment camps for Japanese residents of British Columbia were set up following the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941. In eastern Canada, from the beginning of the Battle of Britain in the spring of 1940 until VE Day five years later, daily life would become subordinated to the demands of the Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy in the context of heightening civilian preparedness against possible enemy attack. Thus, in the urban centres and surrounding areas of Saint John and Halifax, permanent vigilance was organized and promoted against the possibility of attacks of Nazi U-Boat crews roaming close to the entry to the Bay of Fundy, the mouth of Halifax Harbour and the Cabot Strait between Nova Scotia and what was then the British colony of Newfoundland.

Related Article

Shipbuilding yes, but not the militarization of shipbuilding,, May 16, 2011

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Halifax Weekly Anti-War Pickets

Oppose Imperialist Intervention in Syria and IranFriday, September 20 – 4:00-5:00 pm(weather permitting — or replaced by action below) Corner of Spring Garden Rd. & Barrington St.

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Emergency Anti-War Rally

The day any bombing of Syria starts – 4:00 pm

Victoria Park, Corner of Spring Garden Rd. & South Park St.

All Out to Oppose the 5th annual Halifax War Conference (Halifax International Security Forum), November 22-24, 2013

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Filed under Canada, No Harbour for War (Halifax), Nova Scotia Government, Working Class

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