Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Wrong Labor Struggle at Boeing

BOEING: Good, clean American values . . . (?)
In recent weeks, much ink has been spilled in publications like the Chicago Tribune and New York Times, oohing and ahhing over the brinksmanship over where the Boeing 777 will be assembled. (See "Boeing Looks Around, and a State Worries")

The Boeing Corporation (nominally based in Chicago, but historically a Seattle institution) said to its established base of workers -- and their union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers -- that they wanted contract concessions or they would move production of the 777 to another state. Workers enjoying good jobs assembling commercial aircraft in the Seattle area wondered whether Boeing was bluffing. Governments in 22 other states around the country hoped Boeing wasn't bluffing -- rushing to offer Boeing all manner of incentives to "come build your planes in OUR state!" The Seattle workers eventually decided to come to terms with Boeing, and protect their jobs.

This situation has special resonance in Chicago, where -- about a decade ago -- we were spectators in another one of Boeing's musical chairs exercises. Boeing was relocating its headquarters, and people in Chicago -- as in many other locations -- were encouraged to imagine that having Boeing executives sitting in offices near Chicago's Loop would somehow make life here a whole lot better. If that event taught us anything, it is that the only beneficiary of Boeing's machinations is Boeing. Far from contributing to some grander sense of purpose for Chicago, Boeing's presence here has blurred our vision for what it means to be a leading global city. (See What If Illinois Became a "War-Profiteer-Free Zone" ?)

The Antiwar Committee of Chicago began about a year ago to focus on one of the problematic parts of Boeing's corporate citizenship: Boeing's attempt to become a leading military drone supplier.

This is not the first time that activists have focused on Boeing's problematic practices. In particular, the role of Boeing's Jeppeson Division in torture rendition flights is a black mark on the company.

VERY subtle . . .
(What the well-dressed war profiteer is wearing these days.)
More about Boeing's military business.
But . . . let's not mince words.  Isn't the real problem that fully half of Boeing's business consists of making and selling war materiel? Is it really necessary to identify the one, or two, or three most egregious weapons that Boeing makes? Do we need to pick and choose?  Isn't the real issue that nice, all-American, fly-the-friendly-skies Boeing is one of the core purveyors of war and misery in the world today, by virtue of its Military Aircraft division? I mean, look at their own sanitized version of what they do -- "Strike, Mobility, Surveillance & Engagement, Unmanned & Missile Systems, Global Support" -- even in their own words its readily apparent that they're peddling poison.

I'll make three sweeping statements, and I challenge others to chime in on whether these are true and make sense:

#1 Where do the dollars go? - Dollar for dollar, the amount of compensation that goes to labor in fulfilling COMMERCIAL aircraft contracts is far and away greater than the compensation in fulfilling MILITARY contracts. From the standpoint of labor, it would be better for Boeing to put its energy into building COMMERCIAL aircraft.

#2 Killing the goose - The major determinant of Boeing COMMERCIAL aircraft sales is increased travel between countries of the world, which is POSITIVELY impacted by peace and NEGATIVELY impacted by war. Want to sell more 777s? Stop feeding the engines of global conflict.

#3 Er . . . where do the dollars come from? - Every time Boeing sells a military aircraft to the U.S. government -- and to many other governments, for that matter -- the COST comes out of the pocket of Americans.  Including the pockets of production workers. So that means that even if there are "good union jobs" building warplanes, those jobs come at the cost of hurting every other union brother and sister. In contrast, reducing the defense budget is an economic plus that EVERYONE can understand.

In other words, the argument that military production is good for the economy is the opposite of the truth. And its especially untrue that it's good for labor.

The confrontation over the Seattle contract is water under the bridge. But isn't the REAL struggle that labor should be taking up with Boeing the struggle to stop making machines of war and start converting Boeing assets for peacetime production?

Related posts

Isn't the time fast approaching when Boeing recognizes that it's not just one or another of their weapons systems -- or weapons systems customers -- that's the problem? Isn't Boeing's entire defense systems division "bad Boeing"?

(See BOEING: "Breaking Up Is (Is Not) Hard to Do" )

There's been a lot of talk in recent weeks and months about the problem of gun trafficking in Illinois, and how we will never meet our goal of stopping the violence in our communities if we can't stop the flow of guns. Maybe it's time for us to eat our own dog food . . . .

(See What If Illinois Became a "War-Profiteer-Free Zone" ? )

What if we had a massive region in the heart of the country pushing back against the war-crazed conventional wisdom of "more weapons," "more consumption," and "more destruction of the environment"?

(See Another Modest Proposal: A Green, Demilitarized Midwest! )

It is time now to turn to the dirty secret of American life and the primary dilemma of the antiwar movement: the military money that flows to EVERY Congressional district, and in particular the "good jobs" that members of Congress think they are protecting when they vote for ever-higher levels of military spending.

(See Drones, Permawar, and the Problem of "Good Jobs")

"Boeing Receives $178 Million Contract for B61 Tail Kit Assembly" announces the Boeing website proudly. The Boeing "enhancement" to the B61 will help nuclear weapons obliterate entire populations more "accurately." Great.

(See Boeing and the Bomb Worshippers)