NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – There was a time when just about every family in New Britain had someone working at Stanley Works. Now, New Britain, once known as the machine tool capital of the world, is ground zero in the national fight against corporate thievery. Stanley Works’ attempt to move its address off-shore to Bermuda and evade paying $30 million a year in taxes has sparked mass outrage and calls to outlaw such re-incorporation.

Just before AFL-CIO President John Sweeney opened his speech to a spirited noon-time rally in front of the plant last Monday, the company called to ask for a meeting. “They’re feeling the heat,” Sweeney said, “and you’re the ones making that heat.”

Stanley Works management undoubtedly didn’t anticipate a national spotlight on corporate corruption when they planned their dirty deed. Before the stockholders vote in May they shamelessly harassed workers and retirees to approve the Bermuda re-incorporation. They argued it was “patriotic to keep the company competitive.” They won a “yes” vote by a narrow margin. However, confusing information to shareholders forced the company to nullify the results. They are seeking a new election.

Four International Association of Machinists (IAM) members went to court Monday to file suit charging the company illegally pressured them to vote their 401(k) shares in favor of the move. The state’s Attorney General and Treasurer, who attended the rally, have also called for an investigation.

“When the giant money managers betrayed their investors and voted to go to Bermuda, you stood up to the foremen with their clipboards and the executives who forced you to go to their meetings and you did what was right,” Sweeney told the workers. “Our country could stand a few more heroes like all of you. That’s because the battle of Stanley Works is part of a much bigger war, a war between working families and the corporate crooks.”

Echoing Sweeney’s remarks, IAM president Tom Buffenbarger told the crowd, “We have a fight for the future on our hands. This is where we take our stand.”

The struggle to make Stanley Works “do the right thing” has become a major election issue. New Britain, once the heart of the 6th Congressional District represented by Republican Nancy Johnson, is now part of the newly drawn 5th Congressional District represented by Democrat Jim Maloney.

The bitter election battle is playing itself out in Congress. A bill introduced by Maloney to make Stanley Works’ action illegal is being blocked in favor of a weaker bill introduced by Johnson.

“The Republicans only want to make what Stanley Works is doing illegal until election day,” declared Maloney. “The future of our families is at stake. New Britain is on the front line. We’re going to win here and around the country.”

“Last year 400 Stanley Works workers lost their jobs while Chairman John Trani put $350 million in his pocket,” charged IAM Regional Director Warren Mart. To loud applause he concluded, “I say to (Republican) Governor Rowland and Congresswoman Nancy Johnson, if you can’t help the people, then get out of the way.”

The author can be reached at joelle.fishman@pobox.com

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