America Soon to Become a Corporate North Korea?
We give ourselves too much credit for being a free-thinking and rebellious people. When we see North Korean citizens lining the streets of Pyongyang, ecstatically gushing over Kim Jong-Un, we snicker. When we’re told that they refer to this pompous dictator as “Brilliant Comrade” and “Dear Leader,” we cringe at how pitifully brainwashed they are.
But how would the citizens of Washington state respond if the Boeing Corporation were to issue this ultimatum? Either (1) you start referring to Boeing CEO Raymond Conner as “Our Glorious and Exalted Leader,” and agree to march in parades carrying placards proclaiming “God Bless Boeing,” or (2) you watch in disbelief and horror as the Boeing Corporation pulls up stakes and relocates to another state.
If you’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on in Washington lately, that ultimatum doesn’t seem particularly farfetched. A brief summary:
Some months ago, the Boeing Corporation dropped a bombshell by declaring that unless it got substantial tax breaks (and by “substantial” it clearly meant “unprecedented”), it would be forced to begin looking for another site on which to build its much anticipated 777X airliner.
To say Boeing is big is an understatement. Its influence is enormous. While the Boeing Corporation may not be as critical to Washington’s economy as, say, the textile industry is to Bangladesh, it is vitally important. Consider: In 2012, Boeing was responsible for $70 billion of the state’s $76 billion aerospace industry revenue.
When Boeing quietly announced, in 2001, that it was moving its corporate headquarters from Seattle to Chicago, the announcement was deemed so potentially catastrophic, local news stations interrupted regularly scheduled programs to report it. Thus, one can understand how the thought of Boeing taking its 777X operation elsewhere might give the state of Washington a collective nervous breakdown.
Accordingly, in early November, at the urging of state Governor Jay Inslee (generally regarded as a “liberal Democrat”), the Washington state assembly, in a special session of the legislature, voted to give Boeing a huge tax break. The “Los Angles Times” (December 9), reported the package to be worth $8.7 billion, making it the largest corporate tax subsidy in U.S. history
By applying economic muscle in a way it had never quite been applied before, Boeing got what it wanted from the people. When Boeing ordered them to jump, the great state of Washington replied, “How high?” But then, alas, this beautifully conceived and well-orchestrated deal hit a snag. The union membership voted down the contract.
On November 13, members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751 voted overwhelmingly (by a margin of 2 to 1) to reject Boeing’s LBF (last, best and final offer), an offer that not only slashed employee pension and health care benefits, but included a provision that forbid the union to go on strike.
Considering that, going all the way back to the 1935 Wagner Act, the strike has been a union’s only real means of fighting back, Boeing’s offer was tantamount to declaring that not only would they be reaming out the union’s pension and health packages, they would be revoking the union’s fundamental right to rebel. Holy picket line, Batman!
Of course, the union saw Boeing’s move for what it was: an unvarnished power-play by the Glorious and Exalted Leader. The city fathers, governor, and state assembly saw it as well, but they were too scared to resist. So it was left to the workers themselves to take a stand. They weren’t asking for the moon, only for a fair shake. Boeing’s stock is at an all-time high. Year-to-date, it’s risen 58-percent, to $134.25 per share.
Doubtless, there will be more negotiations and, very likely, enough movement on both sides to reach a deal. Unfortunately, even with the courage shown by the union, the deck is so heavily stacked against working people, these things almost always end in favor of management. Given the power American corporations have, anyone who believes he couldn’t be turned into a North Korean is lying to himself.
David Macaray is a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org