The Honeywell Project

A case study on a nonviolent campaign against war profiteers

The Honeywell Corporation was based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.

Honeywell produced cluster bombs (bomblets), small steel ball bearings embedded in a steel shell. When this antipersonnel weapon explodes, the steel ball bearings shoot out 2, 200 feet per second. Honeywell also made other weapons and civilian products.

Several things inspired people to focus on this corporation. In 1967 the Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal which took place in Stockholm, condemned the use of cluster bombs against Vietnamese civilians. The October 1968 issue of Liberation Magazine Staughton Lynd wrote an editorial urging people to take on the corporations that were involved in producing weapons, particularly those involved in the war on Vietnam.

In December 1968 people in Minneapolis started the Honeywell Project. From the beginning, they were clear about their goals:

  • Stop research, development and production of cluster bombs and other weapons
  • Peace conversion with no job loss

There was a commitment to nonviolence from the beginning. The founders also had a class analysis, believing it was important to put pressure on the people who profit, recognizing they are the decision-makers not on the workers. Marv Davidov, one of the founders, encouraged the group: "Let's not do it unless we can do if for 5 years."

They began by doing research for 6 months to find out everything they could, mapped offices and plants, met with workers, focused on the lie that cluster bombs were used against fighting forces not civilians.

In the spirit of nonviolence, organizers met with Honeywell Board Chair Jim Benger, who formed a relationship with Marv Davidov, Honeywell Project coordinator.

The Honeywell Project started leafleting the two plants where the cluster bombs made.

In April 1969 fifty activists demonstrated outside Honeywell's annual shareholders meeting, making visible the horrible reality of cluster bombs. They were given10 minutes to speak to the meeting, the corporations' response was that "the government comes to us, it's our citizenly duty." Publicity from that resulted in a union executive and progressive people contacting the Project.

Honeywell Project created an organization of 14 local and regional groups. People bought stock to get into the Shareholders meetings. In April 1970 Honeywell Project organized 3,000 demonstrators outside and inside the Honeywell annual shareholders meeting, which lasted only14 minutes as a result. The national press corp was there to cover this new strategy in the antiwar movement.

Speaking tours inspired other corporate campaigns. In 1971 two national groups entered the campaign to stop Honeywell's production of cluster bombs. According to Marv Davidov, "We were organizing locally while doing outreach globally." The local organizing included students demonstrating against corporate recruiters on campus, and a Professor doing research on peace conversion possibilities.

The focus on cluster bombs created a situation where some people quit working for Honeywell. The corporation got more sophisticated, They produced a 4 page pamphlet responding to every issue the Honeywell Project was raising and distributed it to their 100,000 workers worldwide. They sent memos to workers encouraging them not to talk with demonstrators, claiming they were threatening their job. Honeywell began to give more donations to the community. They created ads that said they "do good things". They were clearly feeling the pressure.

In April 1975 the Vietnam War ended. From 1975 through 1980 the campaign was dormant except for a lawsuit. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Honeywell and the FBI for conspiracy to deny constitutional rights of members of Honeywell Project and other local peace groups. The FBI had informants in their group from 1969-1972, they admitted it but never admitted they did anything wrong. The case was settled in 1985, $70,000 was awarded. Honeywell Project gave money to Shovels for Laos which enabled peasants to dig slower so that when they hit the metal cluster bombs they could stop.

In 1981 Honeywell Project regrouped. At the 1982 Shareholders meeting opposition to the MX missile contracts dominated the discussion. In 1982 the Honeywell Project also discovered that Honeywell manufactured the cluster bombs used by Israeli forces shelling Beirut. That year 36 people were arrested at a nonviolent action at corporate headquarters. The Honeywell Project created a participatory structure to organize large demonstrations.

Nonviolence training was important. Rallies included a cultural component. In 1983 577 people were arrested before the deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles to Western Europe, shutting down the headquarters for a day. The trials were part of the strategy. They were able to raise the issue of the damage caused by these weapons and tied up the court for a year .

From 1982 through 1990, twice a year Honeywell Project organized nonviolent civil disobedience actions. They wrote shareholders resolutions to stop the making of cluster bombs and for economic conversion. Their strategy was based on local organizing, while doing regional, national and international networking. National and international pressure was important.

They raised their visibility during the 1980's with the participation of well known people. Media coverage was good, although it focused more on human interest stories than the issue of economic conversion. "60 Minutes", a popular US TV news show, filmed a segment on Honeywell Corporation but submitted to pressure to cut the focus on the Honeywell Project.

Jim Benger was Honeywell's Chairman of the Board from 1968 to 1975. However, meetings with Honeywell officials ended when he left. The new CEO recognized that worker's morale was low because of decades of protests, and refused to meet with the group.

In 1984 Honeywell Corp did a forum on "Prospect for Peacemaking" to show they were interested in peacemaking. They met with other peace groups, and refused to meet with Honeywell Project.

A boycott of Honeywell consumer products was not called for, although many choose not to buy products made by weapons manufacturers.

In 1989 Honeywell tried to sell the weapons division but no one would buy it. When it could not sell its weapons division they created another corporation: Alliant Tech Systems.

Honeywell said selling off their weapons division was due to a combination of economic factors including the "end of cold war". Yet rather than disbanding that division they created a successful new company. Alliant Tech is the biggest producer of land mines and bullets in the world. Honeywell said that demonstrators had no effect, but their actions contradict that. In 1995 Alliant Action was created.

The Honeywell Project can claim a number of successes - everyone knew what a cluster bomb was, these weapons were no longer invisible. This fueled opposition to the use of such weapons and to the wars they were used in. Honeywell Project helped make the corporate role in war visible, became a model for other anti-corporate campaigns, particularly in its use of nonviolent direct action. The organizing gave rise to a strong progressive movement in Minneapolis that remains today. But despite those successes, production of cluster bombs continues. Our challenge is to find successful ways to stop these merchants of death. According to Honeywell Project founder Marv Davidov, "Given the permanent war economy, the movement must be local, regional, national and international to be effective."

Joanne Sheehan