SEATTLE, June 28 — The court case between Boeing and the International Association of Machinists (IAM) kicked off earlier this month with a judge hearing Boeing’s request to have the IAM’s complaint thrown out. The latter is accusing Boeing of moving part of its 787 aircraft production to a non-union plant in South Carolina in order to punish the union for its 2008 strike. Boeing has denied the charges and wants the case dismissed.
However, the fact that Boeing’s move to South Carolina was made to punish its workers is undeniable. And the fact that Boeing has chosen South Carolina reveals the racism of the company’s move. The state’s history of centuries of racism as a union-busting “right-to-work” area has kept wages much lower than in Washington State and enables the racist bosses to use it as a club against white and black workers in Seattle.
In 2010, Boeing CEO Jim Albaugh told the Seattle Times (4/22/10) that preventing strikes was the key factor in deciding to move to South Carolina. A 2009 conference call with then Boeing CEO Jim McNerney had the company again stating that the move was made to prevent “regular strikes.” More recently Boeing’s chief counsel told a Senate committee hearing that the move was undertaken to prevent further strikes. (LA Times, 6/26/11).
Now Congressional Republicans are attacking the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for even hearing the IAM’s complaint. Senate Republicans threatened to kill the appointment of NLRB general counsel Lafe Solomon over the dispute with Boeing. (LAT, 6/26/11)
Obama’s Appointees Solidly Boeing
But workers shouldn’t rely on the government’s NLRB for help. Democrats have mostly sat in quiet approval of the attacks. Obama Commerce Secretary nominee John Bryson, in his recent Senate confirmation hearings, said he thought the NLRB decision to bring the complaint forward was a “big mistake.” (Business Insider, 6/21/11) Bryson is a former Boeing board member, as is Obama Chief of Staff William Daley.
Boeing is so confident it will beat the charge that it hasn’t even bothered to show up for settlement negotiations with the IAM. Indeed in many ways Boeing has already succeeded in breaking the back of the IAM. In a 2010 speech, IAM president Tom Buffenberger condemned the 2008 strike, stating, “It is time to move beyond the old ways of bargaining that have been used since the 1930s… We must find ways to move forward where both the company and the workers benefit together, neither one profiting at the expense of the other in adversarial roles.” (IAM, 1/26/10)
This abject union class collaboration is nothing new. This “strategy” has successfully whittled the membership of the UAW down to one-third of its peak in just a few decades. As only CHALLENGE reported, the IAM did not initially endorse the 2008 strike that began as a worker-led wildcat and actively tried to undermine it every step of the way. (CHALLENGE, 10/1/08)
The sellout of that strike by the IAM leadership and its continued propaganda campaign of pushing cooperation with Boeing has left many workers deeply cynical about their ability to resist Boeing’s attacks on their wages and benefits. Many openly express their pessimism about the future of their jobs and their own ability to change that future. The IAM’s appeal to the NLRB is part of its campaign to protest through the “right” channels (according to the bosses’ laws) rather than striking. As the case stretches out over months and even years until the judge eventually and inevitably sides with Boeing, workers may become even more cynical.
In this era of union sellouts’ surrender and coordinated attacks against the working class by the bosses and its capitalist state, workers need communist ideas more than ever. Following pro-boss union leaders is a dead end. We must win the rank and file to challenge the bosses’ laws and in that class struggle build a mass communist PLP to fight for revolution and the ultimate destruction of the exploitative capitalist system.