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Commentary: Drones in the Sunshine State will bring more war and poverty, not jobs

By Dave Schneider

Jacksonville, FL – Last month, the United States Navy announced the construction of a major command center for surveillance drones at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station (NAS), pending approval by Congress. According to the Pentagon, the center would cost an estimated $22 million and would make the North Florida city one of two new sites for drone operations in the US. The Navy will construct the other new command center on the West Coast.

This announcement is the latest development in a larger push by Florida’s local and state governments to make the Sunshine State into a hub for drone manufacturing and operations. The City of Gainesville now hosts the corporate headquarters for Prioria Robotics, a major drone manufacturer. In southwest Florida, United Drones, a smaller manufacturer whose logo features a human skull inside of an airplane propeller, operates out of the city of Naples.

Since coming to power in 2008, President Barack Obama steadily increased the use of drone strikes in imperialist wars abroad, particularly in the occupation of Afghanistan and attacks on neighboring Pakistan. These drone strikes are terrorist attacks, which kill approximately 10 civilians, including women and children, for every one resistance fighter, according to a report by the Brookings Institution in 2009. From June 2004 to September 2012, as many as 881 Pakistani civilians were killed in drone strikes, 176 of whom were children, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Increasingly though, drone surveillance and repression are also threats to people in the U.S. In Florida, the city of Miami’s police department used surveillance drones in January 2013. This outraged people across the state, who viewed it as an invasion of privacy and a tool of repression.

Now, big business and many Florida politicians hope to cash in on the Obama administration’s drone strikes against the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other oppressed nations, along with increased surveillance on U.S. citizens. The city government of Jacksonville welcomed the NAS announcement. Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is the loudest voice pushing for Congress to quickly approve funding for the NAS drone command center.

With Florida’s persistent 7.9% unemployment rate and a 14.7% poverty rate, the war-makers in Washington D.C. and corporations play on the real economic struggles of working people in the state when they claim that drone manufacturing will bring more jobs to Florida. This argument is a dishonest ploy to enlist support for an agenda of greater war and poverty that only benefits the banks and corporations.

In 2010, the federal government enacted a series of unnecessary budget cuts to NASA’s space program that cost hundreds of Florida workers their jobs at Cape Canaveral. Many of these workers were union members in the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, who rallied against the cuts. The former workers at NASA certainly look with anger at the tens of millions of federal dollars that used to fund their jobs currently being pumped into defense contractors for drone development.

Space Florida, the pro-corporate state economic development agency for aerospace, joined the push for drone manufacturing and operations in Florida to allegedly compensate for the federal cuts to NASA. Last June, Space Florida President Frank DiBello announced a campaign to make Florida one of the six federally approved drone testing sites across the U.S. This included a request for $1.4 million in congressional funds to creating a drone program in Florida. Ominously, DiBello said in a presentation to aerospace professionals, “The skies over Florida will look dramatically different in the years to come.”

Politicians and corporate managers greatly exaggerate the economic benefits of drone industry for workers. For instance, United Drones in Naples employs a small staff of only ten full-time employees. Prioria Robotics’ investment of an additional $2 million in manufacturing will create a mere 30 additional positions in Gainesville. In Jacksonville, the massive $22 million investment in drone operations by the Navy is expected to only yield about 250 new positions between now and 2016, according to Senator Nelson.

Rather than guaranteeing every worker a well-paid job or making investments in public transportation, like light-rail systems, the U.S. government pours massive funds into the continued occupation of Afghanistan and state terrorism in the Middle East and Africa. Between the war in Iraq, the occupation of Afghanistan, and the illegal military operations in Pakistan, the U.S. spent at least $3.7 trillion on war, according to a 2011 study from Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies. The oil companies, banks and defense contractors fear that workers in the U.S. will ask themselves the simple question: “After 12 years of war and occupation, am I better off?” A quick look around at high unemployment and low wages for workers on one hand and record breaking profits for corporations on the other makes the answer simple: “No!” Florida’s workers need an end to war, not more of it.

Both Republicans and Democrats are forcing austerity and deep budget cuts to pay for these imperialist wars. The few jobs created in the drone sector in Florida will not come close to offsetting the misery of workers in the U.S. created by more than a decade of continuous war. Nor can it ever justify the death and distribution abroad.

Many of the same politicians clamoring over job creation in Florida repeatedly vote to destroy U.S. jobs to boost corporate profits. For instance, in 2005, Senator Nelson was one of ten Democratic Senators to vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which cuts union jobs in the U.S. and allows multinational corporations to exploit and oppress workers in Colombia and other nations. The expansion of drone industry in Florida has nothing to do with creating jobs and everything to do with expanding the violent empire of the richest 1%.

The U.S. government takes serious measures to cover up and lie about the deaths of civilians from these brutal attacks. A ground-breaking 2012 report by the Stanford International Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic called ‘Living With Drones’ found that the Central Intelligence Agency classifies all military-age male casualties of drone strikes as ‘militants’ unless they find evidence to the contrary after their death – a kind of ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ that allows war-makers to hide their crimes against civilians. Further, the report found that U.S. government officials have encouraged media outlets to call the victims of drone strikes ‘militants’ in order to build support for their horrifying pro-war agenda.

In the face of this blatant expansion of the war machine, a strong, anti-drone movement can start in Florida. Florida workers and activists must unite all who can be united to oppose the expansion of drone industry in their state. They should reject the half-baked claims of job creation through drone industry, and instead they should demand well-paying jobs that invest in our infrastructure. Furthermore, they must resist the butchery of people, including children, through drones in other countries and oppose repression of targeted activists in the U.S.

Ground the drones now! Keep Florida'a skies clear! Fund jobs and education! Not war and occupation!

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