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Mississippi workplace murders

Racism & Lockheed Martin

By Heather Cottin

Doug Williams assassinated six co-workers in Meridian, Miss., on July 9 and injured eight others before shooting himself. Five of the dead workers were African American. It was the worst workplace shooting in the United States this year.

Williams worked in a Lockheed Martin plant that made stabilizers for the newest U.S. fighter plane, the F/A-22 Raptor. Williams was a known racist. The company on several occasions had sent him to "anger management" classes.

He recently dressed up in something that looked like a Klan hood. When a Black worker objected, he was asked to remove it or leave. He left. It was well known among his fellow workers that he believed "Black people had a leg up in society." They said he was angry that he had been passed up for promotions at the plant, where he had worked for 19 years. (Associated Press, July 9)

Williams was an angry worker whose understanding of the economic system was twisted by racism. Rather than seeing the bosses as his enemy--as the class that keeps the entire working class separated, in competition, poor and oppressed--Williams thought that Black people were the cause of his poverty and unhappiness.

Legal segregation ended after heroic struggles by the civil rights movement, but Mississippi is still a racist state. The old ruling class still owns most of it. The Ku Klux Klan still operates openly. And racism has kept both wages and organization low.

In 1998, when 25.4 percent of non-agricultural wage workers were unionized in New York State, only 5.6 percent were organized in Mississippi. Other Southern states like South Carolina and North Caro lina had even lower figures. (Bureau of Labor Statistics) In 2002, average weekly wages in New York State were $909, in Mississippi $538. Mississippi has no minimum wage law.

Around the country, women and people of color have been leading the most successful union organizing drives. Organ ization is strongest in areas where white workers recognize the need for solidarity against racism and accept the important role of the nationally oppressed.

Racists like Doug Williams fall into the bosses' trap when they reject worker solidarity against big capital. He could have joined the International Association of Machinists, which had organized the plant. But instead, Williams built his life around his guns and racist ideology. On the day of the murders, he was carrying his 12-gauge shotgun, 22 magnum Derringer, mini-14.223 semiautomatic rifle, .45 Ruger pistol, and a .22 rifle with a scope and a lot of ammunition. (Amsterdam News, July 10)

After the murders, the Lauderdale, Miss., county sheriff's office hastened to assure the media that there was no indication Williams's crimes were racially motivated. The coverage of the shootings in the Mississippi newspapers barely whispers the word "racism." But Hubert Threatt, an IAM union shop steward who had worked with Williams for 15 years, had heard many complaints about him. And Aaron Hopson, a Black employee, told the Associated Press that he had filed a complaint with management in Dec ember 2001 after Williams threatened him personally. Hopson said Williams used a racial epithet, threatening to shoot Black workers and kill himself.

Lockheed Martin management was well aware of Williams' explosive racism. But they kept him on.

Lockheed Martin is the largest manufacturer of weapons of war in the United States. It began to produce the F/A-22 Raptor in 2000. This plane was used to murder people of color in Iraq. Lockheed Martin profits from war and murder of Third World people on a global scale. This is the company that claims to have taught Doug Williams how to control his violent impulses.

Reprinted from the July 24, 2003, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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