When 32,000 Boeing machinists walked out on strike over a month ago, job security topped their list of demands. But, given the new "global economy" winning real job security is no simple matter -- particularly when a company like Boeing is absolutely determined to contracting and sub-contracting work to the cheapest bidder.
Boeing is not looking just to save a nickel here and a dime there by contracting out some work to low-wage sweat shops. It is on an all-out drive to undermine its highly organized U.S. work force and to radically lower wages and working conditions.
The highly profitable company said its workers must be more "competitive." Boeing workers in the United States are already highly productive (and underpaid compared to their counterparts at Airbus). They have dramatically increased productivity. But that has not saved their jobs.
The 145 workers who make insulation blankets for commercial aircraft were praised last winter as the most efficient workers in the fabrication division. A month later these workers were notified that the shop would close and their jobs shipped to Mexico.
Machinists District 751 steward Karen Hiott said in the end the move to Mexico will not actually save Boeing money. "The company is making excuses to appease their conscience. They found ways to falsely inflate the costs to perform the work here."
A perfect example, she said, "is that all of the complicated parts are still being produced here. The Mexican manufacturer is only making parts with straight cuts that are quickest to produce so their cost will be less because the time is less."
Boeing may or may not realize immediate gains by off-loading a particular piece of work. But the company certainly gains in the long-term by gutting and weakening its union work force, scattering jobs and production from Mexico to Taiwan and forcing its workers and sub-contractors to bid against each other.
The Boeing strike is a crucial battle in the war to defend living-wage jobs and the nation's industrial base. But even if the Machinists can win some job security concessions from Boeing, the fight to protect their jobs will last beyond the strike -- and it is a fight that reaches far beyond Boeing. To win that battle requires a massive labor and community movement strong enough to give workers and communities power over private corporations.
In the early 1980s the International Association of Machinists developed a program for such a struggle centered on a "Workers' Technology Bill of Rights," which although written more than 10 years ago, could have been written yesterday.
Several of its provisions are worth quoting in full:
1. New technology shall be used in a way that creates jobs and promotes community-wide and national full employment.
2. Unit Labor Cost savings and labor productivity gains resulting from the use of new technology shall be shared with workers at the local enterprise level and shall not be permitted to accrue excessively or exclusively for the gain of capital, management and shareholders.
Reduced work hours and increased leisure time made possible by new technology shall result in no loss of real income or decline in living standards for workers affected at the local enterprise level.
3. Local communities, the states and the nation have a right to require employers to pay a replacement tax on all machinery, equipment, robots and production systems that displace workers, cause unemployment and, thereby decrease local, state and federal revenues."
4. Workers, through their trade unions and bargaining units, shall have an absolute right to participate in all phases of management deliberations and decisions that lead or could lead to the introduction of new technology or the changing of workplace system design, work processes and procedures for doing work, including the shutdown or transfer of work, capital, plant and equipment."
Does this sound radical? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely.
In the end, the fight comes down to this: Do the corporate CEOs of the world have the right to put their profits before working people and our communities? Does Boeing have the right to turn Puget Sound into a "rust belt" as its CEO Frank Shrontz once threatened? Of course not.
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