How to Convert!

By Richard Sanders

In September, a National Conversion Network was organized in Ottawa. It will campaign to convert military facilities to socially and environmentally productive uses. Here's Lesson One for new conversion activists.

I START LOCALLY

First, create local conversion committees. Include representatives from unions, local labor councils, social change groups, employees or ex-employees of military firms and bases, academics, scientists, local and regional government and the public -as well as the managers of companies.

Try to assist local companies to convert. Making them into adversaries would only impede the working relationship between your local conversion committees and the unions and company management.

The Network will communicate through the publication Press for Conversion. For a copy, contact me.

II RESEARCH AND REDESIGN

A. Do your research. Find out what your local military industries produce, where they sell it, what government grants they receive, what parties they donate to. Information is available from the Ploughshares national office (ask about their Canadian Military Industrial Database) and COAT.

B. Focus on a particular company. Pick one that the public probably would like to see converted. Or pick the one that is most likely actually to consider converting.

C. Compile an inventory of the company's human, technological, and material resources.

D. Brainstorm: What useful products and services could this military industry potentially provide?

E. Create a short list. Consider which potential production lines would require: (1) the least personnel retraining; (2) the least expensive research and development; (3) the least new capital investment in machinery and facilities; (4) the fewest marketing problems; (5) the least destruction of the environment.

Also, consider which can provide: (1) the most benefit to the community and the society; (2) the best employment; (3) a reasonable profit.

F. Publicize your ideas. Prepare pamphlets, information kits, research papers. Organize public meetings. Send a press release to local media. Try to get the research results published in local bulletins and newsletters. Send reports to unions, local labor councils, social change groups, schools, and the municipal government.

III PRESSURE THE GOVERNMENT

A. Lobby. The National Conversion Network should pressure all levels of government to encourage legislation and funding for economic conversion.

  1. Urge enactment of bylaws requiring local companies to plan for conversion. Economic development committees should be asked not to support military, but rather civilian, companies.
  2. Pressure provincial governments to enact conversion legislation and to stop subsidizing participation in military exhibitions.

B: Ask the federal government to:

  1. Transform the Defence Industry Productivity Program (DIPP), which gives $300 million per year to companies producing military technology for export, into an Economic Conversion Productivity Program.
  2. Fund municipal research into alternate uses for military companies and bases.
  3. Legislate a requirement that all military industries establish conversion committees with union, management, and community input.
  4. Reduce military expenditures to 50% of current levels and channel the peace dividend to socially useful and environmentally safe programs.
  5. Create a National Economic Conversion Resource Centre to assist companies and bases to find socially useful and environmentally safe alternatives.
  6. Legislate reducing military research grants to universities [0% per year.

IV ALTERNATIVES

There are numerous alternative uses for high-tech military production facilities. Work is desperately needed on very real problems, such as producing:

Richard Sanders coordinates the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade and edits Press For Conversion, 489 Metcalfe St., Ottawa K1S 3N7. (613) 231-3076

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1992

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1992, page 6. Some rights reserved.

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