Stooping to red-baiting

March 4, 2014

Shannon Ryker, an eight-year veteran of Boeing and member of International Association of Machinists (IAM) Lodge 751, is a founder of the rank-and-file caucus Rosie's Machinists 751.

The caucus was formed last December amid the battle over Boeing's demands for an eight-year contract extension that piled concession on top of concession. IAM members in Puget Sound soundly rejected the proposal in November, but Boeing escalated its blackmail campaign--threatening to move production of the new 777X airliner out of Washington state unless union members caved--with willing support from its allies in the media and the state's political establishment, led by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.

But the straw that broke the camel's back came from within the union--the IAM International leadership ordered a new vote on the concessions and scheduled it for the end of a holiday break, when many union members were still out of town. The extension was approved by a narrow margin.

Since then, Ryker and other rank-and-file IAM members have been organizing not only at Boeing, but to win their union away from International President R. Thomas Buffenbarger and the other top officials who betrayed them. Amid the re-run election campaign for International officers—where reform candidates are running in the first contested general election in more than half a century--Buffenbarger and Co. have lashed out at Ryker and the Rosie's Machinists caucus. Here, we print Ryker's response, slightly edited for publication from the original post at the caucus Facebook page.

WHEN I look back at these last few months, I have experienced a range of emotions. Shock, disbelief, sadness, anger, loss, frustration, confusion, apathy--I've felt them all at one point or another.

Now, as we emerge from the rubble of what once was, I find myself asking: What now? Was what we used to have so great? Or was it always festering just beneath the surface? Did they see it and know we were weak? Did we stand by, happy and oblivious to what was happening around us? Complacent because we just assumed someone else was taking care of us? Or were we just apathetic? So far removed from the reasons why unions were so important and what they stand for that we think they outlived their usefulness?

I think it's important to ask ourselves these questions. We need to know how we got here in order to be successful at stopping it from happening again. Prior to November, I was an apathetic union member. I had never attended a meeting, I never thought about or talked about union activities or business. I paid dues, and other people were supposed to handle union issues. After all, that's what I paid dues for. Right? WRONG!

IAM International President R. Thomas Buffenbarger
IAM International President R. Thomas Buffenbarger (Bernard Pollack)

Now I know my apathy contributed to the demise of progress achieved in collective bargaining over the last three-quarters of a century.

However, this is not my burden alone. There are so many factors that contributed to our demise. Membership apathy is only one part of the equation. With so many new members and very little labor-related training prior to hitting the shop floor, we had a large number of members who had never experienced a true contract negotiation or strike. Without that knowledge, they were left confused and vulnerable, not understanding that the threats and persuasion were part of the bargaining game.

Most importantly, the people who were supposed to protect us did the opposite, and instead betrayed our trust and shook our confidence. Their actions have left us divided and broken. Yet they have the gall to stand on their podium of justification! Claiming they have saved the economy of Washington and created jobs, while contributing to the eradication and erosion of our benefits.

Our governor now claims that he did not tell us how to vote--he just thought that there should be one. He fails to realize or admit that pushing us to vote is no different than telling us how to vote.

Gov. Inslee, your actions conveyed the message to IAM members and citizens the expectation of YES. Rushing a bill for $8.7 billion worth of incentives on Boeing's behalf conveyed the expectation of YES. Telling the media and citizens that "we've done our part, it's up to the machinists now" conveys the expectation of YES. Proclaiming to the media after receiving word of the announcement that the 777X would be built in Everett that "We didn't win one Super Bowl, we won two" screams the expectation of YES.

Regardless of what you claim you never said, your actions from the beginning have conveyed a strong expectation for YES.

WHAT I find even more appalling than our governor's position was the position of our International leadership. It is the responsibility of our leadership to protect the membership from the erosion of our benefits and compensation. For them to side with Boeing and push the membership to accept the contract was appalling. However, the tactics used to secure the desired vote were even more appalling.

It should not surprise me that these same individuals who pushed their own membership to vote "yes" on a concessionary contract are now resorting to slander and personal attacks to secure the office of International President.

It was brought to my attention a few days ago that my name and our Facebook page are the most recent targets of the ongoing slander campaign by our current International President Tom Buffenbarger. In a way, I find his comments comical--in an attempt to discredit me, he forgets about the history of the IAM and a former president who proclaimed himself to be a proud socialist.

Tom's attempt to highlight the many articles written by socialist organizations about our situation and to pigeonhole Rosie's Machinists as an anti-democratic socialist group that is out to destroy everything that represents unionism could not be any farther from the truth.

I personally do not consider myself the member of any political party. I guess you could call me independent. I have always thought it was more important to choose the best candidate, and not the party, because as we have recently witnessed, sometimes the party you think is looking out for your interests takes a position that tells you that relationship is conditional.

Mr. Buffenbarger, the website that represents you has chosen to highlight only the articles written by socialist groups in an attempt to paint an incorrect picture. It is true that socialist groups have taken an active role and covered our story numerous times over the last several months--absolutely. However, it is also true that the Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Reuters, Everett Herald, Chicago Tribune, Labor Notes and about 100 other papers have also taken interest in what has happened to the machinists.

I'm not a socialist, and I respect that they are able to see the damage our International has caused and care enough to write about it. Our caucus is a union members' caucus, and not politically affiliated. We have members who are Republican, Democratic, independent and socialist, because it's about union members, and the IAM is made up of many union members with many different political beliefs.

Rosie's Machinists 751 members have put all their political positions aside and have united because the damage you have caused in this community reaches far and wide. Regardless of our political affiliation, we ALL can see that what you have done to this membership is wrong--it violates the trust, solidarity and rights of the membership you are supposed to support.

To call us undemocratic is laughable. You have reigned on your throne since 1997. There has not been an election for the International President since 1961! That King Buffenbarger is undemocratic! As long as you're in power, we will remain stuck in this monarchy. Our only hope is seeing you removed from power in April. As long as you are in charge of the IAM, it will NEVER be democratic!

As for the socialists, I would rather be associated with them, then the likes of you. At least they know how to share, and can point out a polished turd from a mile away.

First published at the Rosie's Machinists 751 Facebook page.

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