by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
We have the familiar old story playing out up in Everett Washington as the Boeing Corporation, and the leadership of the Union that represents its blue collar workforce have joined forces in an effort to force a disastrous contract down workers throats.
Boeing is the largest exporter in the US and is threatening to move production to North Carolina if workers don’t vote to accept an 8-year concessionary deal that would go in to effect after the present agreement ends in 2016; Boeing workers are represented by the International Association of Machinists. (IAM). The Union hierarchy loves long contracts as long periods of labor peace mean less work for them, barring wildcats like the Boston SchoolBus strike which they readily condemn.
The Wall Street Journal’s headline on the piece today reads, “At Boeing, Contract Vote Is a Test of Union Strength”. The paper of the 1% has it partially right; it’s a test of the Union leadership’s strength as the agents of the 1% in the workers’ organizations. Will they be successful in ensuring no opposition arises that can derail the plans of their labor/management partnership?
The reader can guess what is being demanded of the workers; it’s nothing new. Lower wages, fewer rights and job protections are on the chopping block. The defined benefit pension plan will be a thing of the past replaced with a defined contribution deal. The bosses are applying the carrot and the stick offering a $10,000 signing bonus/bribe on the one hand and threatening to move to North Carolina if workers vote no. Either sell out the future generations or we’ll throw you on the dole queue, thanks for all the loyalty.
Naturally, workers see the negative aspects of this deal with the devil but confronting a powerful combination of the bosses and their own leadership is a daunting thought. Plus, with the ideology of the strategists of the labor movement consisting of mere parroting of the bosses ideas, the gut instinct to reject is not enough, an alternative has to be offered and that is lacking.
The IAM’s national leadership is defending the deal as a means of defending jobs, and of course, it may keep or even increase jobs in Washington State at the expense of North Carolina. But they’ll be jobs at lower wages, with fewer benefits and less security in old age. The Union officials are OK with that as their jobs are fairly secure until a movement from below breaks through the logjam and the rotten fruit at the top falls for the tree.
Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of the state signed legislation giving Boeing almost $9 billion in “extended tax incentives, workforce development and permitting reform, all aimed at ensuring the 777X will be built locally”, the Wall Street Journal writes. I wrote about our communities being held hostage and having to pay this blood money to corporations earlier in the week. If there is one lesson learned from the era of concessionary bargaining it's that it doesn’t work. Boeing signed a four-year contract with the union in 20ll which was supposed to guarantee its new 777X airliner would be built locally but the bosses are back for more.
The IAM leadership locally and nationally is not openly supporting the deal apparently, a deal, which shouldn’t have even been brought to, the members' for a vote. What they often do in situations like this is vacillate and always present no alternative so workers are left with only two choices, vote yes and take a hit, or vote no and take a hit. Here in the Bay Area IAM leaders took an auto dealership's workers out on strike for two weeks then took them back for a 30 day cooling off period; what a disaster. Presenting a Fight to Win strategy and tactics that would energize and inspire workers at Boeing and throughout the country is beyond the officials as they are solidly in the bosses’ camp ideologically.
One official from the IAM International has advised workers, "to think with their heads, whether that's a no or a yes [vote],” and that they should remember that the decision they are about to make is "bigger than just [Local lodge] 751" one that will "affect generations" of jobs in the area. In other words, vote yes. By not officially saying so, the hierarchy can blame the members for not fighting.
“Local IAM President Tom Wroblewski last week joined Gov. Inslee and Boeing's Mr. Conner at a news conference announcing the proposed tax incentives and the tentative contract agreement.” The Wall Street Journal reports, “…then at a meeting with hundreds of union members Thursday, where criticism of the deal was rife, Mr. Wroblewski tore up a copy of the contract proposal, acknowledging its faults, according to people who were present. He then appeared again on Monday with Mr. Inslee and Mr. Conner at the signing of the legislature's bill endorsing the tax cuts for Boeing.”
Mr. Wroblewski pointed out that by building some 1.5 million square feet of factory space "the company has shown its commitment to invest in our future. This could be a game changer, job growth is what Washington needs and it's what our families need."
What sort of leadership is this? He doesn’t endorse it but endorses it as a spokesperson for the corporation. This reflects the crisis within organized Labor. It is not that we are weak; we are potentially very powerful, our ability to wreck their gravy train is considerable as the recent fiasco in the Bay Area around the transit disputes showed. What we have is a crisis of leadership. The traditions and history of struggle that constitutes US working class history has been eroded with the help of the Labor hierarchy.
One machinist at a rally on Monday pointed out that if Boeing needs to make some changes in benefits "then let's have that debate and lets have that discussion and have a true negotiation, but don't hold a gun to my head and tell me it's a good deal.”.
Unfortunately, the situation has changed over the last 40 years and with increased globalization the competition has heated up. The bosses are intent on taking back all the gains that we have won over the past hundred years or so; they have to put the US working class on rations. So many of us (workers), though we may understand it in general, do not fully grasp the extent or level that we have been driven to where manufacturers are now looking at the US as a low waged alternative. Caterpillar shut down its plant in London Ontario crushing a strike there and moved to the US Midwest where wages are 50% lower.
There is no debate, there never really was. The room for manoeuver has gone and the officialdom has moved to open class collaboration in their efforts to help the bosses compete with their rivals and keep profits coming in. Workers' pensions, wages and other details of our economic lives are always on the table but not profits. Lets open the books. In no contract between capital and labor will you see an entry stating the rate of unpaid labor of the working class. Profits have their origin in a section of the working time that is unpaid, yet this is never mentioned.
At the rallies last week there was considerable opposition to the contract; who wouldn’t oppose it other than officials who are not forced to work under it. The division is significant enough that the IAM’s local leadership in Seattle told the WSJ that they were not permitted to talk to the media and questions should be directed at the national IAM leadership.
But this division has to be built on and take an organizational form. Simply rejecting contracts is not enough, the leadership’s policies and world view are the problem and they will eventually wear us down, use the courts to force us back to work or the increasingly popular strikebreaking tool, the “cooling off period”.
To demand the corporation opens the books is appropriate but even if they show they’re broke we have to have an answer. Jobs and living standards whether in Washington State of North Carolina are not for sale. The Union officials' acceptance of the Team Concept and that we must compete leads us down a slippery slope as we are forced in to competition with each other for the right to a decent life and to live as productive human beings. The Union official’s position in this example pits workers in Washington State against workers in North Carolina.
We cannot organize nationally with policies like these. We cannot build the solidarity and subsequent movement necessary to drive back this offensive of capital.
There is a possibility Seattle will have a socialist mayor. This reflects a major change in the mood among workers in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Seattle was the home of the 1919 General Strike when workers controlled that city for five days and Everett WA was the scene of the famous Everett Massacre in 1916, the anniversary being November 5th.
The opposition to this contract should form a fighting opposition caucus that can put forward an alternative to the Union officialdom’s capitulation and begin to transform the direction of the Labor movement nationally. They should vote down this insane 8-year deal and demand and fight for:
No concessions on wages, defined benefit pensions and workplace safety, expand them to all workers.
A 32-hour workweek without loss in pay
A $20 an hour minimum wage
Increased hiring, jobs for all
Organize the unorganized; organize the South
No to the Team Concept
In a capitalist economy, the owners of capital are afforded certain rights. One of them is to do what they want with their capital and to control the labor process. Workers are also afforded certain rights. We can sell our labor power to the capitalist and, in many instances, legally organize collectively to get the best price for it and to have some control over the conditions under which it is used.
In a situation where forces of equal rights meet in the marketplace the outcome of their negotiation is determined by force, might determines the outcome; that’s why we got unions in the first place.
Rather than negotiating with Boeing for a slightly less offensive deal, or basically a slower death while undermining the security of future generations; the demand and goal must be to take Boeing and the entire airline transportation and manufacturing industry in to public ownership under workers’ control and management. The success of such a struggle depends on the balance of forces and the tactics we apply. What is certain is that fighting always makes more progress than passive acceptance.
There is no other solution and we have no alternative but to fight.