Since 2011, BAE Systems has been managing production over the Radford Army Ammunition Plant. While the British multinational is not responsible for building RAAP, it does play an integral role in the continued production of explosives and propellants at the RAAP site for almost a decade now. “The Arsenal,” as locals commonly refer to it, has been in operation since the 1940s as the US built up its military infrastructure in the leadup to World War II. It has been in operation continuously since then.
BAE Systems and the Arsenal both play a destructive role, not just for the local population via pollution, but also on an international level with the production of propellants and explosives used to destroy anyone who gets in the way of BAE Systems’ clients and the US military. Right here in our own backyard, both BAE Systems and the Arsenal are directly responsible for the suffering and murder of countless humans around the world.
BAE Systems – A Profile
BAE Systems was founded in 1999 as a merger between British Aerospace and Marconi Electronic Systems. Over its history as a British multinational corporation, BAE Systems has engaged in what can only be considered evil acts on a mass scale. Some of the most notorious include: the direct funding of the Chilean fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet to the tune of over two million dollars for half a decade, defrauding the US and UK governments in billions, bribing politicians around the globe, and directly aiding the Saudi Arabian state in their war crimes against the Yemeni people as they bomb hospitals, schools, and target civilians.
They have ripped off other states for overpriced equipment and contracts and as a result of exposure on this the corporation has even made investigators worry for their lives, as well as send in spies to undermine community groups who’ve tried to hold BAE Systems accountable. Despite the vileness of this corporation since its creation, it retains and expands its contracts in the US, the UK, and around the globe with regimes that routinely violate human rights. This corporation is inherently linked to western militaries and cannot be rooted out through reform.
Business Unionism Serves US Imperialism
United Steelworkers Local 8-495 is the union which has contract representation between BAE Systems and the Radford Arsenal workers. BAE Systems, the US military and USW 8-495 have formed a joint team which have a shared vision as to their role at the Arsenal. They state:
Team Radford is a management initiative to bring together the forces of the Radford Army staff, the BAE Systems Ordnance Systems staff, and the leadership of the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 8-495 under common mission, vision, and values statements. The U.S. Army, the facilities contractor, and the union all embrace this concept. To provide our warfighters with world class propellants that provide “First Round on Target,” while manufacturing them in a safe and environmentally sound workplace…To sustain our current Army’s world class propellant manufacturing capabilities and to be the U.S. defense industry’s best national and international value in production, development, and research of propellants and related components that give warfighters “First Round on Target.”
This is the typical business unionism we see from mainstream unions – a shared partnership between the bosses and the union to the detriment of workers, locally and internationally. These particular workers are manufacturing the propellants and explosives which BAE Systems and the US military use to sell their war commodities and wreak havoc across the globe under the pretext of “peace and security” and to “support our troops.” All the while these workers take the risk of exposure to toxins and the regular occurrence of injuries and death.
Yet we have been stuck in impasse after impasse for decades interfering in other countries domestic affairs, undermining their sovereignty, and attacking democracies – all actions which would justify a war of defense against an aggressor nation. The US would never tolerate such actions being carried out against it. These slogans of “peace,” “security,” and “defense” are nothing more than propaganda and lies spun to these workers, the local populace, and the national population to rationalize the continued production of propellants and explosives used to maintain US military presence across the globe with no end in sight. The Arsenal directly props up US imperialism.
The Strategic Role of The Arsenal in the US Imperialist War Machine
As stated by the 2009 report conducted by the National Defense University, the Arsenal
is the Achilles heel of the industry. As the sole domestic producer of nitrocellulose energetics, tracing virtually any munitions’ fabrication thread back to its component constituencies leads to Radford. The production of small, medium, and large caliber ammunition is all tied to this single point of failure. There is no domestic redundancy or substitute for the nitrocellulose produced at Radford.
Further, unlike other single points of failure, Radford products are incorporated into a plethora of essential weapons and ammunition that the U.S. military relies upon. Comprised of aging infrastructure, Radford has been incrementally improved as repairs were required enabling the plant to meet or exceed the defense requirements yet also providing a false sense of security—so far the band-aids have held. That said, it is important to note that RAAP is literally one accident or intentional attack away from being unavailable. The consequences of this loss would be difficult, if not impossible in the near term, to overcome.
This statement shows how crucial a role the Arsenal plays within the military-industrial complex and US imperialism. One question that has been debated by workers in the US for a long time is, “How do we show real, tangible solidarity with workers of the world who struggle against the imperialist system?”
The lead-up to the Iraq War saw the largest mass mobilizations in history against the lies used to justify the invasion, yet all those people in the streets and assembling at the US and other world capitals did nothing to stop an unjust war the US is still waging. Symbolic protest is not enough to stop the trillion-dollar war industry. We have to have a real impact that stops the production of war in our communities.
This is how we live up to the idea of anti-imperialism and worker internationalism. Our allegiance, as workers, is not with our national governments – which are nothing more than the regimes of the rich. Our allegiance is with the global working class which seeks to abolish exploitation and oppression. It is our duty as workers to stop the war machine and actually be pro-life. Shutting down production at the Radford Arsenal would be a major blow to the war machine and is what we must do, not just for our community and it’s health, but for the global community – to which we are inherently tied.
What to Do?
The objective of all pro-life people is the closure of the Radford Army Ammunition Plant. It toxifies our community, and it us used to destroy the lives of millions of families around the world, while these corporations and their executives rake in billions in annual profit. We have a unique position as workers in the New River Valley and surrounding areas to practice real worker internationalism, real solidarity, and real anti-imperialist action by shutting down the Arsenal.
The infrastructure and land of the Arsenal should be used for the benefit of workers, not to our detriment as a class. We demand the Arsenal be shut down, and that the site should be transitioned into socially-useful production. We can look to the British workers who created the ‘Lucas Plan’ where their site also relied on military contracts, but devised a way to not aid the military-industrial complex, while creating goods our communities need.
Whatever happens at the Arsenal requires a local democratic, mass movement of workers to find a solution. We’re the ones who keep everything functioning and operating across the NRV every day. We should be the ones who get to decide what our labor will be used for. Our labor should be used for the common good of all workers of the world, not to help a small minority of rich men stay rich men at the expense of workers locally and internationally. Staying the course is not an option. Our community CANNOT stay complicit in war crimes.
This article originally appeared on the New River Workers Power site on October 24, 2019 and has been edited for this republication.