WASHINGTON, D.C.—A team of respected academics has concluded that Avondale’s future, like its past, is shipbuilding. In a 26-page white paper released on December 1, 2011, the Avondale Academic Research Project concedes that the Navy’s cutbacks in shipbuilding “make it unlikely that Avondale will continue as a shipbuilder for the Navy.” However, the paper notes, as the Greater New Orleans community has rallied to save its shipyard, new opportunities are opening up that could put Avondale on the cutting edge to meet an emerging demand for some 300 to 500 fuel-efficient commercial ships that would be needed to carry cargo along the newly-designated American Marine Highway.

Because of the efforts of a broad coalition of unions, clergy, small business owners and community organizations combined with elected officials, the authors noted: “money is now available for Avondale’s future, not its closing.”

The team alluded to action by Sen. Mary Landrieu and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond to redirect what had been a $300 million incentive to close the yard, coupled with a $214 million grant from the state of Louisiana—to transform what might have been a windfall for Avondale’s parent company to shut the yard down into a $514 million package that would provide corporate owners with a healthy financial base to “support any joint venture” at the site.

“The fact that we are now talking about Avondale’s future, and not its closing represents a major victory for the workers and Louisiana as a whole,” the paper notes.

Co-authored by Vern Baxter and Steve Striffler of the University of New Orleans, and Ted Quant and Petrice Sams-Abiodun of Loyola, the paper also relates the anxiety, frustration and uncertainty facing Avondale workers and their families as they weigh their employment options. “[T]hemes of economic ruin and relocation were repeated over and over again in interviews with the workers,” the authors said.

Among the worker views, the paper included this insight about the economic independence associated with the good jobs at Avondale:

“Avondale allowed me to support my family … pay the rent…the lights… I don’t get food stamps. I pay for my groceries. I pay my car note and insurance. I pay for school clothes. My kids get all their needs met and some of their wants. That’s what Avondale provides for my kids. My check provides us a life.”

The paper also sheds light on how corporate decisions about profit margins and tax loopholes made far away from the grit and sweat of a working shipyard, can devastate the lives of 5,000 workers directly and a network of thousands more in the greater community. Such decisions have precious little to do with the day-to-day productivity, efficiency and dedication of the rank and file workforce.

A detailed account of Avondale’s 70-year history, first as a commercial yard and only relatively recently as a builder of Navy vessels, lays out for the first time a succinct chronology of the workers’ efforts in the 1990s to organize the first union in the yard—and the dramatic changes that effort produced in reducing racial tensions, improved safety, wages, benefits and an end to favoritism that had permeated decisions in the yard.

The authors of the paper are:

  • Vern Baxter, University of New Orleans, Sociology (vbaxter@uno.edu);
  • Ted Quant, Loyola University, Twomey Center for Peace Through Justice (quant@loyno.edu);
  • Petrice Sams-Abiodun, Loyola University, Lindy Boggs National Center for Community Literacy (psabiodu@loyno.edu);
  • Steve Striffler University of New Orleans, Anthropology (sstriffl@uno.edu).