Since the 1950s and the start of the Cold War, there has been a consistent placement of military bases and military and atomic production facilities in the Southwest. The Southwest region, comprised of Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Nevada, was especially suitable for this development because of the sparsely populated areas and wide use of lands, and also because, historically, these states were low-wage states.
The combination of Air Force bases, weapons production facilities, airplane parts and space weapons facilities, plus atomic and chemical weapons testing facilities is playing an important part in the economy of each of the states. In some instances, in order to further the ability to use the territory for government purposes, the U.S. Corps of Engineers even went so far as to build huge irrigation projects and dams that served to accumulate water not only for the benefit of the population, but specifically for these government projects.
As a result, in each of these states close to 30 percent of the workforce is employed in government facilities, and another 30 percent in service facilities. The people employed in government facilities obviously make a higher wage than those in the non-government facilities.
By using the Keynesian multiplier effect of wages in relation to the service sector, one can see that the population working in the service sector are directly and indirectly dependent on funds poured into the economy by the U.S. government. Therefore, the policy of U.S. military spending for armaments, bases and weapons development becomes at this moment a major economic concern to these states.
An important social byproduct of this military policy is the fact that all of these facilities have no-strike clauses in their basic work rules. When one connects these work rules to the fact that many of the support facilities in these states are organized into unions, one can understand the predominance of a no-strike policy within many sections of the labor movement in the Southwest. The exceptions to this feature are the needletrades workers in El Paso and San Antonio, Texas and the workers in non-U.S. government facilities in Colorado and New Mexico.
It is there that one sees traditional resistance to corporate exploitation. The fight of the needletrades workers in El Paso and San Antonio resulted in a major organizing drive by the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) and a militancy of Latino workers that became a guide to other workers in the territory. We also must not forget the fightback of the Texas and New Mexico state and county municipal workers for better conditions, with AFL-CIO Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson playing a leading role in this matter.
Still, the heavy weight of U.S. government policy plays an important role in the manipulations of the far right in the electoral process. It is no accident that the largest number of Air Force bases, testing facilities and manufacturing plants are located in Texas, and it is no accident that the domestic minimum wage for Texas is $3.15 an hour.
There is no politician who, when it comes to military spending in their particular state, does not give partial or full endorsement to such a policy, if for no other reason than this would lead to jobs and economic development for their state.
From this basic policy of the U.S. government comes the further cancer of Right-to-Work states. The only states that do not have Right-to-Work laws in the Southwest are Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma. The reason for this exception is the fact that in these states, there have been historic fightbacks by union and community forces to keep the Right-to-Work laws from being enacted.
In the past, the U.S. peace movement has conducted a number of protests against this military policy on humanitarian grounds. Major demonstrations have taken place in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. The problem with these demonstrations was that they usually involved people from outside the area, and did not either seek to dialogue or involve persons living near those facilities. The result has always been a standoff between the local population and the protesters. Nowhere has there been an attempt to begin a major dialogue about the transfer of U.S. government spending and development from wartime to peacetime uses based on the fact that the Cold War is over.
A small beginning without any apparent political push has been started by the New Mexico Sandia National Laboratories in doing research and development of peacetime medical projects such as instant digital blood pressure testing and glucose testing instruments.
These features of the Southwest are precursors of future developments of runaway industries. They will go where land and labor are the cheapest and most oppressed in order to maximize their profits. Organizing under such conditions becomes a greater challenge. Changing “swords into plowshares” in the Southwest will further the struggles of workers towards a better and peaceful life, here and beyond.
Emil Shaw is a reader in Albuquerque, N.M. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org