Five Lessons From the Boeing Fiasco


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

Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce