Some peace activists question tactics of weapons-plant protest
Boston — A dedicated group of peace activists is claiming victory following two days of protest outside one of New England's largest builders of components for nuclear missiles.
But others active in the region's peace and disarmament movement are questioning if the tactics employed on Sunday and Monday by the New England Campaign to Stop the Euromissiles might ultimately do more harm than good to the peace movement.
The criticism concerns the plan by the group - a coalition of 75 peace organizations - to target their activities specifically on the Avco Systems Division plant in Wilmington, Mass.
The plant, located about 20 miles north of Boston, manufactures arming devices for the Pershing II missile and components for the MX missile.
The group staged the demonstrations, including a ''nonviolent civil disobedience action'' involving trespassing on Avco property, to make known to New Englanders ''that these weapons are made in their own backyard,'' according to group spokeswoman Judy Freiwirth.
''I think that the march and the rally were very successful,'' Ms. Freiwirth says. ''Our goal was to raise the issue of the production that is going on at Avco and the deployment that is going on in Europe.''
During the demonstration, an estimated 350 protestors marched through Wilmington to the Avco site, where they were met by about 170 state and local police officers with 11 guard dogs. The group had publicized in advance its intention to trespass on Avco property to establish a ''peaceful presence'' on the Avco site and symbolically ''take back the land.''
By the end of the demonstration, 71 protestors were arrested - three of them with dog bites, according to Ms. Freiwirth. The event made the evening news on all three major Boston stations.
The demonstration did not disrupt operations at the plant, according to Avco spokesman John Fouhy.
Although many of the protestors announced that their action was not intended as a moral condemnation of the workers in the Avco plant or as an effort to put them out of work, some peace activists in Boston question whether such demonstrations aimed at specific production facilities might actually alienate the plant work force and the surrounding com-munity.
''You put workers in a very difficult position because you are attacking them on moral grounds and you are not presenting any alternatives,'' says Suzanne Gordon, a local peace activist.
Ms. Gordon is organizing a conference this weekend at Boston College on how to work toward the conversion of military weapons-production facilities into civilian, nonmilitary facilities without a loss of jobs. European and Japanese representatives, as well as delegations from 17 international labor unions will attend the conference.
The issue has arisen within the peace movement as an answer to the concern that disarmament has become politically difficult in the United States because any cutback in military spending would require significant layoffs of American workers.
The concern is that jobs may have gained equal stature with national security as a reason to maintain various military weapons-production plants.
''If you don't give that worker or that assembly line or that community an employment option, he and his community are going to be forced to oppose any disarmament measure or proposed cutback in military spending,'' Ms. Gordon says.
''At a time of great unemployment, you can't expect people to be willing to look with an unbiased eye at American policy, if they are going to lose their jobs by doing so,'' says peace activist Louise Bruyn of the Bay State Center for Economic Conversion.
Jan Williams, one of the Avco protestors, stressed after the demonstration, ''We have no grievance with the workers but with the destructive work they do on that property.''
Ms. Freiwirth says the group asked two months ago to meet with Avco officials to discuss the possibility of converting the plant to nonmilitary production. ''They refused to talk to us,'' she says.