Labor Unrest, Global Military Supply Chains, and the Chokepoints of Just-in-Time War

Corey Payne, Johns Hopkins University

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed significant vulnerabilities in global supply chains. While disruptions to consumer industries have received considerable attention, the US military’s just-in-time networks face similar challenges. An analysis of labor relations can help us better understand these supply chain vulnerabilities. Using new data on work stoppages in the armaments and military logistics industries, this paper examines twenty-first century labor unrest in historical perspective. It argues that recent labor disruptions in the US military’s global supply chains stem directly from the decades-long embrace of neoliberal restructuring: Since the 1970s, the US military and its industrial base reorganized armaments production, privatized logistics services, embraced flexibilization and just-in-time networks, and racialized its workforce. On the one hand, this restructuring successfully reduced the power and cost of US-based logistics workers—who had demonstrated their disruptive capacity during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. On the other hand, the transformation of the US military’s global supply chains has yielded a new class of local and migrant (i.e., non-US citizen) workers at the chokepoints of military operations. These workers often face poor working conditions. The data shows that they are both able and willing to stop work in struggles to improve their conditions. While the official response to twenty-first century disruption has thus far been to double-down on cost-cutting flexibilization, this has only yielded more conflict. The enhanced structural power yielded to workers by just-in-time war-making arrangements thus provides an opening for those interested in organizing for workers’ livelihoods and against endless war.

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 Presented in Session 77. Carework, Health, and Labor