Saying no to corporate blackmail

April 22, 2014

IN A letter to titled "Companies holding unions hostage," Greg Guthrie disagrees with Lee Sustar's article "Will a membership rebellion remake the IAM?"

Workers in Washington state initially rejected Boeing's attempt at blackmail--"take cuts in your wages, pensions and health care or we'll move out of state." But after pressure from politicians, the media, the company, local business leaders and their own International, workers succumbed to the blackmail in an early January vote by the slimmest of margins. Members are contesting this vote since it was set at a time when thousands could not participate.

Greg agrees with the final vote, saying workers should have accepted the blackmail. He assumes that Boeing, and corporations in general, have the absolute power to move anywhere they want, so workers have no choice but to accept whatever terms they demand. This logic would lead to a further race to the bottom--as companies compete with each other to demand further concessions and workers just keep going along. Taking this approach, there is no use in having unions at all in the long run.

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Greg is right that corporations are vicious and determined to raise their profits at the expense of workers. They will use the threat of moving to force workers to accept worse wages and conditions. Eighty percent of the time, when companies make such threats, they never carry them out, even when workers reject their terms.

In the case of Boeing, the threat was especially idle. Boeing has a massive infrastructure in Washington state--the largest manufacturing buildings in the world are in Everett, along with a network of parts suppliers throughout the area and, most importantly, a highly skilled workforce that cannot be easily replicated in other areas.

It has also received massive tax breaks from the state, even before the latest $8.7 billion it got early this year. Militants at Boeing were convinced that Boeing just wanted to squeeze more profits out of the workforce and was never serious about moving production. This is part of the reason they voted against the blackmail.

BUT THERE is a deeper issue involved. Unions were set up to limit or eliminate the competition between workers. Before unions and minimum wage laws, bosses could make individual workers compete with each other over who would work for less. This simply impoverished workers as a whole. If today, unionized workforces engage in this competition with other groups of workers or other areas of the country or world, they are simply going back to the practice of pre-union times. It is in the bosses' interests that we compete with each other, while they laugh all the way to the bank.

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Rather than accepting concessions, workers should fight to get the best terms they can. Unions need to go back to using their power at the workplace. The IAM could use its massive leverage over Boeing's current operations to prevent Boeing from moving production to lower wage areas. If it threatened to strike if Boeing attempted to move production to lower wages, this would put a real crimp in Boeing's plan to savage the workers' pensions, wages and health care.

Keeping high standards in Washington state ripples throughout the whole working class and puts an upward pressure on wages and conditions everywhere. Fighting against concessions is not just good for the workers directly involved , but also for all workers.

Unfortunately, the top leaders of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) accepted Greg's logic and the logic of Boeing, and helped force through a concessionary contract undemocratically.

Fortunately for the future of workers at Boeing and everywhere else, not all the workers at Boeing have accepted this undemocratic vote. Dozens of workers are filing charges with the National Labor Relations Board to have it overturned.

Most importantly, workers at Boeing are organizing to fight the concessions now and the new ones Boeing will demand in the future. They are supporting the reform ticket in the national IAM elections, led by presidential candidate Jay Cronk. Cronk opposed the concessionary stand of current IAM President Thomas Buffenbarger. Cronk's victory would be a real blow to Boeing's attempt to squeeze more out of the workers.

If you want to find out the real story about workers at Boeing organizing a fight back, check out the Facebook page and website of Rosie's Machinists 751.
Steve Leigh, Seattle

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