Thursday, November 14, 2013

Boeing workers' reject contract. What's next?

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Machinists at Boeing rejected the latest contract offer from the company by a 67% to 33% margin.  The contract contained deep concessions including eliminating the defined benefit retirement plan (which this writer has as a public employee retiree) and replacing it with a 401K type deal.  I reported on this yesterday and the rejecting of the contract is an important step, but what to do next is crucial.

We can see how the 1% and their flunkies react when workers, particularly those of us in such an important industry as aerospace, don’t walk in to the slaughterhouse like sheep to the slaughter.  “Chaos marked the announcement,” the Wall Street Journal reported today.  Union officials acting in their usual cowardly fashion, refused to publicly endorse the contract but spoke at length on the need for it to pass, there’s no denying that.

From the bosses’ point of view, chaos arises when their allies atop the trade union movement can’t keep their members under control. The idea that bosses and workers have the same economic interests and are on the same team, the view perpetrated by the union hierarchy doesn’t really resonate with those that do the work, especially as the attacks on our living standards continue to erode all we have won over the years.

The mood against the contract and the leadership’s passivity was disliked enough that the IAM’s International Aerospace Coordinator, Mark Johnson left the meeting amid boos and jeering after reading the result and as I reported yesterday, the pressure from below was being felt on local leaders to such an extent that International representatives shut them down and took over media communications.

What happens next is not clear. What is clear if history is to be considered is that the IAM leadership at the highest levels will be working on wearing the ranks down and pushing some sort of concessionary deal on them. They will be in secret negotiations with the Boeing bosses that’s for sure.  Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes CEO stated, "We are very disappointed in the outcome of the union vote. But without the terms of this contract extension, we're left with no choice but to open the process competitively and pursue all options for the 777X."

It is actually quite rare for corporations which are recognized as “persons” in the US to allow a human to speak for them.  Normally it’s “Boeing” said, “BP” says etc. The economic terrorism stage and the blackmail and extortion that accompany it will now come in to play and it is this stage of the struggle that workers have to respond to after the rejection.

There is no such thing as “Boeing” in a sense.  It is a particular process where thousands of workers come together to make a product.  The decisions about how this process takes place and where is in the hands of real living beings although many of them we will never know. These are the real power in society and their decisions are based on the profit on their investments.  So an important aspect mass transportation in society, in this case, the manufacture of airlines, is in the hands of a few thousand unnamed and unelected gamblers.

Their next move is to throw the decision about this particular issue out in to the market place.  They want us to have a choice within the framework of their choosing. They intend to make workers and our communities compete for this social investment and the jobs it creates.  One of their decisions in 2011 was to build a non-union plant in a right to work state, South Carolina.   They have rights; they have to right to determine when, where, and how society’s wealth is allocated.  This is a right we have to take away from them and ensure that the wealth of society is allocated in a constructive and collective way based on the needs of society and in harmony with nature.

I don’t know the voter turn out but there are some 32,000 members in the Seattle local and from what I can gather, turnout was high but that remains to be confirmed.  That 67% voted no is significant and we can assume that even among the 33% that voted yes, many of them did so seeing no alternative on the table.

A no vote is a first step in some ways but now the many members who chose to exercise their vote in this way must come to see themselves as activists, not passive bystanders who simply vote nay or aye on details being presented to us by the present leadership of our organizations.  We have to lead. The coupon clippers that control Boeing want workers and our communities to outbid each other for who can offer the 1% the most lucrative climate for profit taking.  We must reject this idea.

There are thousands of Boeing workers who want to fight. This is good. The anger expressed through a no vote must be turned in to action in the form of building a rank and file opposition and leadership that has the potential to transform the present situation within organized labor and beyond.

We reject the idea that we compete with each other for the right to work and earn a decent living.  In Seattle there is bit of an historic development taking place in the council race for mayor, the Boeing workers should link up with this movement.  Nationally, the movement for a $15 an hour minimum wage is gaining some momentum, and while it is still inadequate in many states, for millions of workers it doubles their hourly pay. Fast food workers are beginning to stir.  It is clear that there is a significant change in the mood as workers are looking to fight back after years and years of concessions and declining wages and conditions.

Here in the Bay Area we had months of off again on again strikes and contract disputes particularly in mass transit.  The reason this was so prolonged in my opinion is that the local leaderships of the transit unions were feeling the pressure from below to produce some gains.  They would have capitulated without hesitation but like the local leadership in Seattle the ranks were breathing down their necks and they had to appear to be fighting. They wore them down in the end but it was a reflection in my mind of increased anger rising to the surface throughout the nation.

In a written statement after the vote the IAM's local’s president, Tom Wrobleski refused to comment according to the WSJ but issued a written statement that read: "It is my belief that we represent the best aerospace workforce in the world and hope that as a result of this vote Boeing won't discard our skills when looking to place the 777X."

This is a view propagated by many in the union movement that one particular group is the best at what they do. It’s often a way of justifying the wages and benefits they have as opposed to the less fortunate, non-union or lower waged.  But we need to stay away from this view as we have won what we have through struggle not because we were the best at anything.  That is also another way of pitting us against one another. I am sure Machinists at other airlines and manufacturers would question that, it’s not inclusive but exclusive. We need unity and solidarity. The boss doesn’t care too much how good we are, labor is plentiful. The Boeing workers rather than being driven to compete with other aerospace workers in right to work S Carolina should reach out to them, build links with them and help coordinate national actions against a global giant.

"The game is afoot and we intend to compete," says Washington State Governor, Jay Inslee, a Democrat, after the result.  But this should not be a “game”.  We are not Monopoly figures. The taxpayers of Washington State already gave Boeing an $8.7 billion bribe.  So what’s next? Another state offers more money and another even more until we are all down to the lowest denominator and the capitalist class rakes in the dough. If we won’t accede to their demands they’ll move abroad if they can, they don’t care. We must and our movement must be, an international movement, must offer the 1% no place to hide. One worker was quoted as saying that

It is up to those workers not looking for a career in the Union bureaucracy to step to the plate and transform our movement; the present leadership and their Democratic Party allies will not do this.

Reject austerity
Demand what we want and need to live a productive and healthy life
Rely on our own strength not the courts or the Democratic Party
Reach out to our communities, youth immigrants and all those fighting the forces of the market.
Reject competition, work and a job is a human right

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