There are plenty of banks in the world that do bad things. There are banks that steal from their customers. There are banks that launder money for cocaine cartels.[i] There are banks that ruin economies.[ii] PNC Bank, the 7th largest bank in the United States headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, chooses to invest in nuclear weapons to make money.[iii] PNC is certainly not the only financier of the war industry, nor is war profiteering the only sin they commit. However, if nuclear abolition is ever going to occur, banks like PNC need to understand that they cannot support nuclear weaponry without receiving pushback from the community they claim to love. To teach PNC this lesson, a coalition of activists in Pittsburgh started a campaign called Stop Banking the Bomb (SBTB) that is quickly spreading across the country.
SBTB began when peace activists in Pittsburgh began to ask questions about how we could genuinely prevent world war III from occurring. No longer could we just hold rallies outside of federal buildings or write letters to corrupt congressmen asking them to sign a petition. And we certainly couldn’t wait for the NGO’s to get the coveted ban on nuclear weapons they promise year after year. We needed real change and we needed it fast because Donald Trump has access to nuclear weapons and is legit fucking insane.
After doing a moderate amount of research, the answer of how to stop a nuclear war became very clear: banks. Without banks, there would be no credit for defense contractors to fund their ambitious billion-dollar projects that make the world safe for capitalism. Banks also play a crucial role in funding the campaigns of pro-war politicians because those same politicians support repealing financial regulation that allows banks to make more money with more risk. Without these two components of finance capital and political authorization, the military industrial complex would not be able to survive.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has produced several reports called “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” that measure the involvement of finance capital in the nuclear arms industry. The report lists over a hundred banks that provide loans to defense contractors who service and maintain nuclear weapons.[iv] The 2018 report listed PNC as providing loans for over 600 million dollars to seven companies involved in the nuclear arms industry.[v] Those companies included: Aecon, BWX Technologies, General Dynamics, Huntington Ingalls, Jacobs Engineering, Orbital ATK, and Textron. The 2016 report quoted PNC’s involvement at close to 900 million because they included other factors such as bonds and financial services that PNC provided to the contractors.[vi]
Right now the contractors listed above and other players in the defense industry are feeding off of projects such the Ground-Based Defense Deterrent program and the Trident II submarine warhead which represent the efforts at nuclear arsenal “modernization” that many have probably heard about on the news.[vii] These “delivery systems” are two parts of the U.S. “nuclear triad” which includes intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched warheads, and air-based bombers (e.g. B-2s and B-52s).[viii] Contractors that PNC has financial ties to work on things like maintenance of silos, missile guidance systems, production of nuclear material, propulsion systems, and missile design. [ix] Wonderful things with innocuous names that will cause terrible destruction for the innocent people they will be eventually used against.[x]
PNC Bank, whose official title is PNC Financial Services, plays a key role in the Pittsburgh oligarchy. Not only does PNC have its name on the stadium that the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team plays out of (PNC Park), but they also have several skyscrapers in downtown Pittsburgh and sponsor numerous community festivals. Every student ID for the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, and Carnegie Mellon University has a PNC logo on the back because PNC handles student financial aid accounts for all those universities. In short, PNC is the face of banking in Pittsburgh and what they do reflects on Pittsburgh. So when people in Pittsburgh ask PNC to stop investing in nuclear weapons, we would hope they would at least listen.
In the beginning, the campaign made a good faith effort to meet with a delegation from PNC to discuss how they could begin the process of withdrawing from these companies. What the campaign soon discovered was that PNC only wanted to stall the campaign from any escalatory tactics, mislead us into thinking that PNC wasn’t the bank they should be going after, and ultimately keep the campaign built around backroom lobbying sessions that describe what many NGO’s and community groups do in these situations. When SBTB decided to hold a planned picket outside PNC Tower (the aptly named downtown headquarters in Pittsburgh) and when an SBTB member wrote an article on the action in the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s paper Liberation, the PNC delegation withdrew from any future talks with SBTB and labeled us as too rigid to deal with before even making an offer for us to turn down.
Since PNC has written us off, we have done pickets in front of their bank branches across southwestern Pennsylvania and in Morgantown, New York City, and Washington D.C. Our last major action was at the PNC shareholders meeting where people inside publicly questioned Demchak about the bank’s involvement in nuclear weapons while protestors outside decried PNC actions to the public. Our local newspapers incorrectly cited the action as the product of “faith groups” without mentioning the larger campaign that we have repeatedly cited in both in person interviews along with press releases, flyers, buttons, and signs. The mainstream media which will often cover spectacle does not want to explain the larger reasons for why movements do what they do.
While the campaign does include members of the faith community, along with members of hardcore communist groups that are difficult to get along with at times, there are also members of other socialist, peace, anarchist, and community groups that make up the campaign. This work belongs to no individual or group. The campaign is a Frankenstein of organizations that for a long time have been ignored by the U.S. Left who embraced war under Democratic presidents like Obama and Clinton in favor of other issues given higher priorities. Only this time, the movement that is forming now under Trump isn’t going to stop when he leaves the White House.
Stop Banking the Bomb is now endorsed by close to 40 different organizations from around the country and it is quickly growing. The reason why is because there is no barrier to entry. People who want to join do not need to subscribe to any tendency, religion, or affinity group. There are no leaders, there is only the idea that nuclear weapons are a threat to mankind and that we must prevent their usage at all cost. Some people chose to write letters, speak at events, some hold pickets, some do banner drops…do what you want….but don’t allow the banks to get away with the end of the world.
Visit stopbankingthebomb.org to read about our campaign and to find out how you can join us in pressuring PNC to Stop Banking the Bomb.
Also check out the Don’t Bank on the Bomb report from ICAN and PAX to see if your local bank is on the list of organizations giving money to the nuclear arms industry: https://www.dontbankonthebomb.com.