Jan 052014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

A swing of about eighteen percent of the vote from an earlier two-to-one rejection to the Friday approval by the slimmest of margins has locked 31,000 IAM workers at Boeing’s Seattle area operations in to a give-back laden contract that will last a decade.

The number of workers involved exceeds those covered by the UAW national agreement with Chrysler. The impact of this defeat will be felt far beyond Puget Sound. These were not concessions granted to a struggling company but to a highly profitable one, dominating their market domestically and globally, and introducing what is expected to be a highly successful new product–the 777x–that will likely be produced for decades.

This reinforces and escalates the concessionary patterns of bargaining established by the Big Three automakers, Caterpillar, the major tiremakers, General Electric, and Harley-Davidson. Especially as manufacturing continues to recover from the Great Recession, the Boeing example will be the new template that all bosses will attempt to impose on the seven percent of private sector workers who still have collective bargaining.

To their credit, the local leaders of IAM 751 did just about all the right things. They told their members the honest truth about the predatory employer demands. They organized lively rallies of their own ranks and won important solidarity from the AFL central labor body and AFSCME public sector workers facing their own pension challenges. They also got support from Kshama Sawant, the Socialist newly elected to the Seattle City Council. But even with these valiant efforts they lost by a nose in a photo-finish.

The U.S. government has an official policy of not negotiating with terrorists holding hostages. Unfortunately, state and local governments–and mainstream union bureaucrats–don’t take such a tough stand against terrorists of capital holding jobs for ransom. Utilizing the boss media, the state of Washington Democrat Establishment teamed up with the IAM International leadership to plant the fear of massive job loss among just enough Boeing Machinists to seal that rotten deal.

But even that sweet extortion didn’t satisfy the job captors. They demanded taxpayer tribute as well and even tested the waters elsewhere, receiving offers of government gifts from dozens of localities in 22 states. In the end, Boeing accepted the combination of the IAM sweetheart deal covering their experienced workforce with incentives from Washington amounting to about nine billion dollars.

There’s no sugar-coating this outcome as anything but a defeat. We would all have preferred a more inspiring opening to 2014.

But unlike too many losses over the past thirty years this was not a surrender without a fight. It was an honorable struggle that came close to victory, that justifies anger and rededication–not shame or demoralization. Nor should the slim majority of Boeing workers who ultimately voted yes be written off. Many will learn sobering lessons of the perils of appeasing corporate bullies.

Some will say Boeing proves the unions are dead as effective instruments of the workers. Even some former union militants and “leftists” keep updating obits of our only class based mass organizations. If you focus only on pie-cards like IAM International president Tom Buffenbarger these sideline critics would seem to be on solid ground. But the ranks and local leaders of IAM 751 are a powerful example that life still surges in our unions down below.

We need to revive and rejuvenate our unions for struggle in the workplace. But the Boeing battle also reminds us that workers need to be organized politically as well. As we reclaim our unions they can be the foundation for a party of our own.

While their state gives billions to our class adversary, there is also a mass movement in Washington for a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage. This grew out of union-backed struggles to improve the lot of low wage fast food, hospitality, and Big Box retail workers. In the Seattle suburb of Seatac voters recently approved a referendum establishing 15 dollars in that town–though a judge has acted to limit its scope. The Mayor of Seattle is issuing en executive order to bring hundreds of city workers up to 15 and activists are pushing for the state legislature to act as well. Ironically, a number of Boeing workers would get a substantial pay boost if the 15 minimum is won.

And, of course, Seattle caught the attention of even the New York Times by electing an avowed Socialist to office.

So even with the setback at Boeing, the class struggle in that region continues to advance  community and political fights and there’s sure to be more to come on the union front as well. The Pacific Northwest is not an anomaly–it’s the vanguard of class struggle that will continue to grow throughout this land. In these battles we take our lumps now and then. But it’s no time for head hanging or hand wringing–or sitting Shiva for our unions.

Crude Intrusion
The public relations hired guns for the booming North Dakota oil industry were about to release a report “proving” environmental and safety complaints about shipping Bakken crude by rail were false or exaggerated. Then came the third fiery derailment in six months, this time before getting past the state line. The report went back in their briefcase.

Fortunately, there were no fatalities or serious injuries in the December 30 accident involving BNSF oil and grain trains near Casselton, N.D. that prompted mass evacuations for miles around. Last summer forty-seven died and much of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec burned to the ground, when an unattended train owned by a consortium of U.S. based shortlines, careened in to the town center, exploding in to a massive fireball.

After the Lac-Mégantic disaster, the Toronto based Globe & Mail examined the transport of  Bakken crude, which is extracted from shale through fracking over a huge swath of North Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan. In a recent article they referred to the conclusions of that study,

“…a Globe and Mail investigation that found that oil originating from the Bakken area, which blew up when a train derailed in Lac-Mégantic, is lighter and more volatile than typical forms of crude because it carries potentially explosive elements, such as higher levels of hydrogen sulfide. Those elements can vaporize when being transported by train, making the cargo dangerous. The investigation also found that companies were not testing many of their oil shipments before sending them and had no idea how volatile the oil was.”

The tank cars used for transporting this explosive cargo were designed for less threatening goods and offer little protection in derailments.

Shortly after the North Dakota accident, and five months after the Globe & Mail study was published, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it was looking in to this matter. So are their Canadian counterparts. Stand by please.

Undoubtedly, the proponents of Keystone XL will try to use this ongoing danger to promote “safe” pipelines. But the Bakken drillers have no interest in the major capital investment required for pipelines. Unlike the plentiful syncrude of the Alberta tar-sands, they may have Bakken drained to the last drop in a decade or so. That’s why they are committed to using existing rail infrastructure.

The best answer to this threat–and the even bigger threat of climate change that all fossil fuels are causing–is to convert to safe, clean, renewable energy options and leave the oil and syncrude in the ground.


Much of the material for the Week In Review is based on articles linked to on our companion Labor Advocate blog. Updates by 9AM Central Monday-Friday will resume this Monday, January 6.

That’s all for this week.

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Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member



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