US naval workers all at sea as sequester looms

US Navy battleship in Newport News, Virginia 26 February 2013 The defence industry is a key part of Virginia's economy

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It is an overcast day, and the skies are brooding over the Virginia coast, where two great grey US Navy ships are in dock.

On the deck of one of them, there is a high rectangle of scaffolding, incongruous amid the thin bristling weaponry and communications gear.

This is just down the road from the shipyard where President Barack Obama made a speech, urging workers to contact Congress and ask them to do a deal.

If not, there will be savage cuts across the government, but the military budget will be slashed by 10%.

It is ironic: there is a big sign over the gate thanking the workers for the job they do everyday. Soon, they may not have a job.

Stoic but worried

That I am here, interviewing workers and filming the ships tells you something.

Mark Mardell shooting in Newport News, Virginia 26 February 2013 It is unusual for the media to have access to military shipyards

TV cameras are not usually welcomed inside these gates, but both BAE Systems and the Pentagon want to get the message out - that deliberately savage cuts would do huge damage to this community and the economy.

The Navy has told the company that if the cuts go ahead they would have to scrap planned work on 13 ships.

So BAE has sent out letters to 3,500 workers, here and in the states of Florida, Hawaii and California, warning them they could be laid off.

The mood among the workers I talk to is worried, if stoic, unwilling to contemplate exactly what it would mean to lose their job.

They don't have much time for the politicians - President Obama or Congress.

Economy already damaged?

Tom Ehret has worked here for 34 years and tells me: "I am not going to have the life that I've got now. I'd have to take cuts, tighten up.

"It sucks. It's really bad. It's going to affect a whole load of people, not just shipyard people - uniformed people, McDonald's down the street, Chicken Shack, everybody," he says.

"It's going to destroy this country, put us in a worse depression than the '20s."

Mr Ehret is unimpressed with the politicians: "I think they ain't doing a good job, I won't vote for them again.

Mark Mardell doing an interview with Tom Ehret in a military shipyard in Newport News, Virginia 26 February 2013 Many workers seem fed up with politicians' rhetoric

"They are not doing a job - they didn't vote for anything and then they took 10 days' holiday. They should have stayed and done their job.

"I've got to do my job. I don't do it and I get in trouble - they don't. They get away with it."

I ask: "They get away with it?"

Mr Ehret says: "Yeah, they still get paid."

Others blame the president. One man who didn't want to be named said Mr Obama should be in the White House doing his job and sorting out the mess, rather than making speeches and touring shipyards here.

I am not surprised that people here are fed up with politicians.

There is quite a lot of idle talk about the world not ending on 1 March and that everything will be sorted out in a couple of weeks.

While it is perfectly true that the impact of the full cuts will take a while to bite, what I take away from my visit to Virginia is that the looming crisis is causing a lot of people intense worry - I also suspect it has already damaged the economy.

In January, it turned out that the economy contracted in the fourth quarter due almost entirely to the looming fiscal cliff and a drop in defence spending.

Don't be surprised if the same happens again.

Mark Mardell, North America editor Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    197 DavidUS

    "Places British colonialism in context

    More horrific still were the actions of the British army sent into Afghanistan in 1842 to take revenge for the massacre of troops during the retreat from Kabul earlier in the year. All the villages in its path were looted and torched and the women raped. When they got to Kabul the city was deliberately consigned to the flames


  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    collateral @224

    Don't settle for charity, 'poor basics' for 'warehoused'

    The People, all, today & tomorrow, MUST have parts to play

    Not to be victims, know basic immoral 'numbers game', inherited civil inequality

    Forget 'superior worth' of the champ, 'deserving' command of 'currency for kicks'

    IF for democracy, over dictatorship, CIVIC DUTY is to play our parts as responsible economic EQUALS

  • Comment number 230.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    210 Silver

    "Of course not! It is only your posts that are anti-British or anti-American"

    Only when they are addressed to people who claim their race/civilisation is superior to others.

    It always amazes me the distorted view they have of others and the lack of education that displays. We all know the injustices that have been perpetrated in the name of racial superiority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    Most Democrats and RINOS don't understand that
    Sequestration represents a 4% reduction in the GROWTH
    of the budget! The Federal Budget will be larger next fiscal year
    than it was last year! That is 85 Billion reduction in a 1.3 trillion budget.
    I'm surrounded by European wannabe Union idiots.


  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    You know this whole sequester thing will work to Obama's benefit in another way. He'll be able to take credit for getting federal employee's a 32 hour work week and night have to fight congress for it! The French love it I hear!
    With spring coming just think of all the work they'll be able to get done around their homes without having to hire illegals to do the work!

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    @221 well if it's so well hidden then it doesn't exist, it's mainly digi all that's needed is the delete key. Money is a essentially virtual these days. Still think Swiss banking needs looking into though, their nearly as bad as the libor morrons in London.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    The American government spends *40%* more than it earns.

    They could shut down the entire military and would not be able to balance the books. In fact they could shut down *absolutely everything* except the mandatory social programmes and they would still not be able to balance the budget.

    America is not (yet) a basket case only because the Federal Reserve is printing money to buy their debt.

  • Comment number 224.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    @220 centromere: “ Is attacking an opponent the same as asking the voters “How am I doing?" “

    Nope. Mayor Koch had guts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    centromere @209

    Were you serious in concern for "future generations", saddled with 'our debts'?

    IF serious, unless you mean for the US to repudiate its debts, then you need to 'look somewhere sensible' for the money the US needs to pay its debts

    That money is 'owned' under 'illegitimate (undemocratic) legality' by 'your leaders', the holders of money-power (not just front-men)

  • Comment number 221.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    @201. Scott0962

    Is attacking an opponent the same as asking the voters “How am I doing?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    @212.collateral management
    207 Bumble "But where r the banker's personal assets?"
    Well this is an area where waterboarding may actually do some public good + will help with password and PIN codes, or do we have to invade the Swiss + and put a stop to the privacy laws around their banking system which only really benefit nazi/mafia or royal heirs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    201 ‘A pity Obama doesn't follow the example of the late New York mayor Ed Koch and ask those shipyard workers "How am I doing?" I doubt he'd care for the answer’

    I could have sworn he asked the US electorate that question last Nov. Anyone recall the answer? & AFAIK his poll ratings are healthy – especially compared to the Rep Congress...

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    @214.CastawayCay – “Obama criticized George Bush's debt as being "unpatriotic" ... since he came to power, he's DOUBLED the debt!”

    See? Obama’s TWICE the man GWB ever was.

  • Comment number 216.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    World bank figures for 2012 the US is only 4% of world population. But is using 25% of current resources. UK is 0.8% of population and uses around 4%. Do we really think the the deveolping world will stand up for this or is it just going to be more military action to subdue the poor for the resoruces we claim to be ours. I'm amazed that the healthcare inequality ain't caused a revolution in the US

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    It is staggering to note that even IF these cuts go ahead (and please remember, this was Obama's idea!) the Federal budget will STILL be bigger than last year! Obama criticized George Bush's debt as being "unpatriotic" ... since he came to power, he's DOUBLED the debt!

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    190 collateral management

    obama has imposed new internet law that any one who insults him on a BBC wall will trigger an automatic report of offenders hardware equipment’

    But you're safe as long as you keep your tinfoil hat on...


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