Five Lessons From the Boeing Fiasco

by DAVID MACARAY

For those who didn’t follow the Boeing story, here’s a thumbnail sketch.  Apologies if I over-simplify.  Boeing threatens IAM union members in Seattle with economic homicide by issuing an ultimatum:  either re-open the current contract, which doesn’t expire until 2016, and let us ravage the health, pension, strike and wage provisions, or we move assembly of the 777X (its new airliner) to another state, and you’re all out of a job.

But the local union surprises everyone.  By a 2 to 1 margin, they vote down the offer.  Stunned by the rejection, Boeing pretends to follow through on its plan to pull up stakes and relocate.  Meanwhile, the IAM’s executive board has a series of minor nervous breakdowns as they sift through the wreckage of what they thought was a done deal.

Panicky that this rejection could turn into a real battle, the IAM insists that the local take another ratification vote, after Boeing makes a big deal of pretending to sweeten the pot.  This second vote narrowly passes.  The members ratify the offer.  The 777X stays in Seattle.

Here are 5 lessons we can take away from it.

Lesson #1:  Opportunity.  There is virtually no limit to how much leverage a company will exert, or how hard it will squeeze its workers, in order to increase profits.  Even though everything is going Boeing’s way, even though it is riding a wave of record profits, and even though it managed to extort from the state of Washington more than $8 billion in tax breaks (the largest corporate subsidy in U.S. history), it still wants more.

Lesson #2:  Defiance.  You can’t predict how a union will vote.  This is especially true when it’s a proud union, a savvy union, a union that recognizes when it’s being mugged.  Unions accept inferior contracts all the time.  Sometimes they feel it’s the best offer they’ll get, sometimes it’s done for tactical reasons, sometimes it’s the result of fatigue and despair.  But these IAM workers don’t fit those categories.  They saw the Boeing offer for the sleazy power-play it was and weren’t going to roll over.  They should be congratulated.  What they did was heroic.

Lesson #3:  Caution. Second votes often result in ratification.  That’s partly because the members get nervous, and partly because they think it’s the best offer they’re going to get.  As a former negotiator, I never faulted people for voting to ratify, even when we begged them not to.  They vote “No” the first time to show solidarity, but if we negotiators can’t jack it up, can’t get the company to budge, they vote “Yes” the second time.  It happens.  And to accuse these good people of being weak or gutless is ignorant and unfair.

Lesson #4:  Bureaucracy.  In a union hierarchy, the higher up the ladder a person goes, the more tight-assed, timid, and unimaginative he becomes.  What the IAM board should have done when the local rejected Boeing’s initial offer was go to the company with shit-eating grins on their faces, and say, “Gee, now what?”  They should’ve insisted the current contract be allowed to expire, or that the company rethink the concessions it demanded.  Instead, they played into Boeing’s hands by pushing for another vote.

Lesson #5:  Perception.  Unions can’t count on public support.  Unfortunately, there are too many workers out there who don’t understand unions, or resent unions for providing their members with things (wages, benefits, working conditions) they don’t have, or are too ignorant and hard-headed to realize that without resistance—without workers organizing themselves—these companies will take all they can.  (See Lesson #1)

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition), was a former union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalences on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Off-Shore Drilling
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises