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When I was working as a machinist in the Marine and Steam Turbine Division of General Electric in Lynn, one of the last civilian projects we had in the early 1980's was called simply "IRAQ." Our job was to manufacture equipment for an electric power plant to be installed somewhere in Saddam Hussein's Mesopotamia. The deal was financed, I learned later on, by a USAID program. I didn't know much about Iraq in those days and the media wasn't cultivating much hostility toward Iraq in the 1980's. It was those crazy Iranian Ayatollahs we were supposed to worry about along with the Nicaraguan Sandinista Communists pouring over the Rio Grande to invade Texas. Anyway, I was happy to work on a civilian project when most of the plant was rapidly morphing into an exclusive supplier for Reagan's naval warship building program. (When I started at GE in the late 1970's we had a large contract to build high-speed gunboats for Iran but after the overthrow of the Shah the ships were eventually sold to Saudi Arabia. . . but that's another story.)
Periodic lay-offs were a fact of life for workers at GE in Lynn. When the Turbine Division began to decline after 1985 I lost my job along with many other union members. But I was luckier than some. Because I had enough seniority, I was able to get another machinist job in the company's Lynn jet engine department. Most of the work there was military for attack helicopters and assorted fighter planes. One of our mainstays was the production of jet engines for Navy F-18 fighter-bombers. Many of these carrier-based aircraft were very effective in bombing Iraqi industry and infrastructure targets from US aircraft carriers during the First Gulf War. So, a few years later, I gained the patriotic satisfaction of knowing I had done my bit to help destroy the electric plant we had recently built for the evil Saddam Hussein.
Of course, by the time of the Gulf War in 1991 I had been permanently laid off from the shrinking Lynn plant. The IRAQ project was one of our last civilian jobs because shortly afterward GE licensed its turbine designs and manufacturing technology to companies in Korea and Japan. Soon the Lynn Turbine Division was permanently closed. Now Hitachi and Hyundai continue to make GE-designed power plants for the robust Asian market, paying a handsome royalty to the friendly corporation that "Brings Good Things to Life." But the US turbine workers are history. (Light bulbs aren't made here any more either. The company's lighting production has moved to Mexico and plants in the former People's Republic of Hungary, which were purchased at bargain-basement prices.)
Today GE is universally admired as one of the best-managed corporations in the world. Saddam Hussein may be facing war crimes charges in Baghdad, but GE's fabled Chairman, Jack Welch, enjoys a kingly retirement in New York City -- on a $9 million annual pension, with company-provided mansions and limos, plus a lifetime skybox at Yankee stadium. In Iraq, Welch's company made handsome profits on both ends Con-struction and De-struction. GE, and other corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton are once again cashing in on Iraqi cost-plus "Re-Con-struction" projects, including new power plants that never seem to actually deliver electricity to Iraqi homes.
A Triple Play! Don't you just love Free Enterprise?
Now, ON TO IRAN! ...
Jeff Klein can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org