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Est. April 5, 2002
March 29, 2018 - Issue 735

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Machinists Union in N.C.
Going After Boeing Again,
But on a Smaller Scale


"In Charleston, the workers were up against the same kind
of relentless pressure from union-busters and politicians
alike.  It's no accident that South Carolina is the state
with the lowest union density.  That is, the lowest rate
of unionization in the U.S., at about 2.6 percent.  It has
made a fetish of its status as a union-hostile state."

The International Association of Machinists (IAM), about a year after losing an election for all 3,000 Boeing workers at the North Charleston, N.C., Dreamliner plant, is attempting another organizing effort for about 180 flight line workers, including inspectors and technicians.

Boeing is disturbed that the union would be so impertinent as to try again so soon after a lop-sided loss for the whole thing and what they might be so disturbed about is that some of their workers still want a union and have a little more spine than some fellow workers. Their complaints are typical of workers in a gigantic corporation like Boeing, which has other production facilities around the country and most of its workers in those plants are unionized, so it's not as if they don't manage to get along with their unionized workers.

It may be the place in which the plant is located that seems to be the problem. Boeing chose its plant location carefully and put it in one of the most anti-worker, anti-union states in the nation, South Carolina. When the IAM tried to organize all the Boeing workers leading up to the vote in North Charleston about a year ago, both the company and the politicians pulled out all the stops to defeat the workers' attempts to form a union. The propaganda usually begins with soft sell conversations between low-level supervisors and managers, graduates to mild reminders of how good the company has been and how good the pay scale is for the region. It's not hard to pump up the pay scale, considering that the average wages in South Carolina and other southern states are pretty low and working conditions even lower.

The big guns, the union-busting professionals (often lawyers), are brought into the open when the company sees that its more laid-back methods are not working, even though in the modern era, the professionals are brought in and work behind the scenes from the start. But they work on the psychological aspects of the workers as a group: They are well-schooled in the arts of propaganda and persuasion and, when all else fails, there is always the threat that the company might just decide to move and leave them all. In this threat, the local politicians are the big boosters of the company and in a position to convince the workers that they are on their side (“Since we're all South Carolinians, we have to stand together and defeat these aliens from the northern unions.”). Creating the illusion that “the union” is some kind of outside group that somehow is going to take their money and run; that's what southern politicians do well and have proven themselves to have a considerable level of skill to impart that attitude. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee was a prime example of that, when the workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga were trying to organize. Corker might as well have been on the staff of the union-busting corporation in that case. The workers lost there, too.

In Charleston, the workers were up against the same kind of relentless pressure from union-busters and politicians alike. It's no accident that South Carolina is the state with the lowest union density. That is, the lowest rate of unionization in the U.S., at about 2.6 percent. It has made a fetish of its status as a union-hostile state. It was there, during the election among all Boeing workers that the governor declared undying enmity against any union. Former Governor Nikki Haley, who is now the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, asked theoretically what she would do if an auto company said it intended to locate a plant in her state, but would be bringing its unionized workers, infamously declared, “I'd tell them to stay out.”

That's what Boeing workers and the union were facing in the representation election last year and it was more than difficult to combat. After all, the corporations in the U.S. have unlimited funds to beat back any attempt by their workers to represent themselves at the bargaining table. Meeting management at the table is akin to making the workers equal to the managers and the corporate elite and most corporations, like Nikki Haley, despise the workers' efforts to have their say at the table. As always, though, it is couched in terms of “we don't need a third party (a union) involved in our door is always open.” Management always puts it in those terms, that the union is somehow an alien dropped in from outside, instead of the workers in the company speaking for themselves. They don't want that. Ever.

To get an idea why the workers at Boeing needed a union, months after the vote last year, Boeing cut nearly 800 jobs from its North Charleston plant. According to the Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston, the cuts were “part of a company-wide effort to reduce costs.” When this happens in a non-union plant, usually there is nothing heard of the ejected workers and they are free to find other employment. And, you can be sure that it will be at a much lower rate of pay. In a unionized shop, there are processes that the company must go through and the union protects the workers as much as possible, with such things as severance pay, company-paid retraining, and other benefits.

That's why there are unions and that's why workers want them, and that's why the union will keep coming back, again and again, until the workers get justice in the workplace. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.

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