Opinion: Boeing Deal

Boeing Deal

A Defeat for Us All

by Andy Piascik
Re-blogged fro Counterpunch

In a move that strikes yet another blow to democracy and the living
standards of working Americans, Boeing forced major givebacks on its
30,000 union employees in the state of Washington while simultaneously
pulling off what may be the biggest welfare rip-off in the nation’s
history. Confronted with company threats to move production of a huge
new project out of state, workers reluctantly voted by an extremely
narrow margin to give up defined pensions in exchange for risky 401(k)
retirement plans. Thus Boeing, which earned $3.9 billion in profits in
2012, joins the long and growing list of major corporations around the
country that have successfully eliminated defined pensions in order to
dramatically increase profits.

Boeing

Photo by Piergiuliano Chesi

In addition to the pension takeaways, the agreement includes a new
stipulation that allows the company to contract out union work. The
national office of the International Association of Machinists joined
the company in a classic case of “vote and vote again until you get it
right” by forcing the second vote even though the local union and 67% of
those who voted in November opposed the deal. Moreover, the IAM national
scheduled the second vote on January 2-3 when many workers were using
vacation days to tack extra time off onto the end of the annual
Christmas/New Year’s shutdown. Predictably, turnout dropped
precipitously as there was no possibility for in-plant discussion of the
company’s demands and possible strategies for resistance because of the
shutdown.

The aerospace industry is one of the last in the United States where
workers are able to make wages to enter the most-trumpeted, rapidly
disappearing “middle” class. With this move, however, Boeing has
announced that it is determined to see that aerospace workers knuckle
under to its every demand or see their jobs moved elsewhere. It is the
same strategy corporate elites used against steel, rubber and
autoworkers, with disastrous consequences. In many instances, employers
forced one concession after another while dangling the threat of job
flight overhead, then closed up shop anyway. With the added clause in
the revised contract about non-union outsourcing, it’s perfectly
reasonable to conclude that Boeing also has a not-so-long-term plans to
bust the union.

What makes this case all the more galling is that the takebacks worth
billions to Boeing came at the same time the company was extorting $8.7
billion in handouts from Washington’s governor and state legislature.
This, too, was accomplished with threats of relocation and follows a
long tradition of state welfare to Boeing worth tens of billions of
dollars. It is one more of countless examples that underscore how the
philosophy the Super Rich and their government and media flacks espouse
of “free markets” and “market discipline” is a colossal sham. The Super
Rich love welfare as long as it’s exclusively for themselves and they
abhor markets except when applied to the 99.9 percent.
The disgraceful conduct of the IAM national office cries out for Boeing
workers and the working class as a whole to confront serious questions
regarding collective bargaining and the union bureaucracy. Bureaucrats
like IAM president Tom Buffenbarger who earn in excess of $300,000 per
year have interests that conflict with those of the workers they purport
to represent and often mesh nicely with those of corporate elites. In
addition, the fulcrum of the union bureaucracy’s political strategy
remains, even after so many beatdowns, supporting the Democrats –
Democrats like Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the majority of the
legislature that approved the $8.7 billion Boeing handout and pushed
hard for the takebacks.

Perhaps of greater significance for building the kind of militant
movement we need, workers have for decades been saddled with no-strike
clauses in their contracts, no-strike clauses that union bureaucrats who
wholeheartedly share the business class’s desire for a tame workforce
happily agree to. The no-strike clause in the Boeing/IAM contract came
into play because the company’s demands for pension surrender came in
the middle of a contract, thus depriving the workers of their most
potent weapon. In a society with a long history of violent repression of
workers by the business class, strikes and other forms of labor
militancy are most responsible for the advances made. Surrendering the
right to strike has dramatically hastened the decline in the reversal of
many of those advances.General Strike??
There is nothing immutable about no-strike clauses; they can be
bargained out of collective bargaining agreements as sure as they were
inserted. That will take some doing but one certainty is that it will
never happen until we begin to push the question. It’s also time to
revive the issue of plant closure legislation to protect both workforce
and community, an issue that arose in many places in the late 1970’s and
quickly died. Given the burgeoning worker-owned coop movement, such
legislation could be linked to promoting the idea that it’s both
reasonable and beneficial to push for the right of communities and
workers to assume control of plants that employers deem not sufficiently
profitable. Among other examples from history, we can take inspiration
from how little national discussion there was about wealth inequality
prior to Occupy.

Green, socialist and other radical parties and candidates can make plant
closure legislation part of their campaigns while within unions, rand
and file activists can challenge continued inclusion of no-strike
clauses. In many ways, history is on our side, not against us. We can,
for example, draw inspiration from the heyday of the Industrial Workers
of the World when the Wobs recognized that most every sentence that’s
added to a collective bargaining agreement serves, and is designed to
serve, to restrict worker self-activity. Militant workers of the 1930’s
who lay the foundation for the CIO such as thosewhose stories appear in
Alice and Staughton’s great book _Rank and File_//likewise bitterly
opposed restrictions on strikes that John L. Lewis and the Roosevelt
Administration forced upon them.

If the people of the United States are going to turn back the relentless
class warfare the Super Rich are waging against us, we are going to have
to organize on many fronts. Within unions, rank and filers are going to
have to go beyond workplace contractualism and add eliminating no-strike
clauses, management prerogative clauses and perhaps even exclusive
representation to the agenda or union reform will continue to end up
looking like Arnold Miller and Ron Carey. Such demands are a perfect
complement to direct action, where we again have a wealth of history on
our side, what with the Freedom Riders of 1961, the sit-down strikers of
1936-37 and so many more. The Occupy movement that so electrified the
country and brought awareness about corporate class warfare to millions
of people was a start; we must now find ways to bring that approach and
spirit to higher levels and into workplaces and communities everywhere.

Re-blogged from Counterpunch

Andy Piascik  writes for Counterpunch other publications and websites. He
can be reached at andypiascik at yahoo dot com

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