Workers Vanguard No. 1041
7 March 2014
Massive Givebacks, No-Strike Pledge, China Bashing
IAM Tops Surrender to Boeing Bosses
In early January, Boeing management, with the assistance of the top leadership of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), forced through a rotten new contract that marks a major defeat for the more than 30,000 Boeing Machinists in the Puget Sound area of Washington State and elsewhere. Accepted by a razor-thin 51 percent of the IAM members who voted, the contract undermines the union’s pension plan—something the workers waged hard-fought strikes in 2005 and 2008 to defend—by freezing the defined-benefit program for current members and eliminating it for new hires. Workers will also have to pay more for health benefits, with sharp limits on future wage raises. Raking in massive profits ($4.6 billion last year alone) and with a record number of back orders, Boeing sought and got a no-strike clause in the contract that runs until 2024, aiming to secure labor peace for the next decade.
Furious at what they were being asked to give up, IAM members had decisively rejected virtually the same contract in November by a two-to-one margin. Tom Wroblewski, then-president of District 751, which represents workers in the Puget Sound region, was booed by the members for even bringing the proposal to a vote. The workers were clearly willing to fight, but the company and its allies put a blitz on them to knuckle under. Boeing threatened to move production of the next-generation 777X airliner out of Washington State, claiming that over 20 other states bidding to produce the 777X had offered huge tax breaks. Washington State politicians (always in Boeing’s hip pocket), led by Democratic governor Jay Inslee, granted the manufacturer $8.7 billion in tax breaks, reportedly the largest tax subsidy in U.S. history. Meanwhile, “friend of labor” Democrats and the bourgeois media turned up the heat on the workforce to accept the company’s ultimatum and sacrifice their pay and conditions to save the “state’s future.”
It was precisely on the grounds of “saving” the state economy—and Boeing’s profitability—that the IAM leadership betrayed the membership, displaying its role as labor lieutenants of capital. The IAM International bureaucrats, headed by President Tom Buffenbarger, pushed through the January vote and hewed to the company line, telling the membership: take a cut in benefits or lose jobs. Under pressure from the ranks, Wroblewski and the local leadership resisted holding another vote. But despite opposing the contract, Wroblewski made his loyalty to the bosses clear, bragging that “our members have helped Boeing achieve record production levels, record profit margins and record stock prices.” And once the rotten contract was accepted, he intoned that it was “in Boeing’s best interest” for IAM members to build the 777X.
The IAM leadership’s concern about “Boeing’s best interest” is part and parcel of its support for the “national interest” of the U.S. imperialist ruling class as a whole. Boeing is one of a handful of American manufacturing giants. Along with its European competitor Airbus, it has a virtual monopoly on production of large commercial aircraft. Moreover, Boeing is crucial to the U.S. imperialist military, producing bombers, fighter aircraft, transports, missiles, drones, etc.
The tens of thousands of Boeing workers have a tremendous amount of social power—the ability to shut down a firm that is vital to the interests of the U.S. capitalist rulers. However, this power is shackled by the pro-capitalist IAM misleaders, part of the labor bureaucracy that long ago separated itself from its working-class base and sees the world through the same lens as the capitalists and their government. Politically expressed through support to the Democratic Party, their class-collaborationist program has led to an unending string of defeats for the unions.
Imperialism’s Labor Lieutenants
The IAM tops’ emphasis on cutting a deal with the company to “save Washington jobs” is a reflection at the local level of their flag-waving “America First” protectionism. In 2012, the IAM denounced the prospective sale of the bankrupt Hawker Beechcraft company to Superior Aviation of China on the grounds that the sale would threaten “national security.” Last year, Buffenbarger condemned the Department of Defense for granting Embraer the contract to build the Light Air Support aircraft, putting “a Brazilian manufacturer directly in control of weapons systems that is [sic] central to U.S. national polices.” Such protectionism, which is pushed by IAM officials at all levels, helps bind workers to their “own” national exploiters and undermines vitally necessary international labor solidarity.
During the 1995 IAM strike against Boeing, we printed an exchange with a Portland IAM official who wrongly painted our opposition to protectionism as an apologia for capitalist “free trade.” Pointing out that protectionists and “free traders” often turn out to be the same corporations, we noted that “the labor bureaucrats demand that the U.S. government carry out the very same trade practices for which they condemn other governments.” We went on to explain about protectionism:
“It is not a big step from complaining that ‘they’ are stealing ‘our’ jobs to the demonization of ‘them’ as the enemy. In the end, trade wars lead to shooting wars, the ultimate means for rival capitalist states to secure a monopoly of foreign markets and spheres of exploitation. That, writ large, is the essence of imperialist capitalism in the 20th century. Its price is millions of corpses.”
—“Exchange on Boeing Strike,” WV No. 634, 1 December 1995
Boeing’s entire global supply chain encompasses 28,000 firms and more than 1.2 million employees. While Boeing uses outsourcing to drive down the costs of production and increase profits, a class-struggle labor leadership would see these workers as a vast body of prospective allies in struggle, following the clarion call in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto: “Working men of all countries, unite!”
The IAM bureaucracy’s protectionism is doubly treacherous when aimed at China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state. Ever since capitalist rule was overthrown in the 1949 Chinese Revolution, the imperialists have aimed at a counterrevolutionary overturn that would reopen that vast country for untrammeled exploitation. In pursuit of their aims, the imperialists are ratcheting up military pressure and provocations against China while seeking further economic penetration (see “U.S., Japanese Provocations in East China Sea,” page 4). Boeing is a key player in these combined strategies: it produces military hardware aimed directly at countries like China, which is at the same time Boeing’s second-biggest market in the world (and projected to be its largest market by 2020). Boeing also happens to be the largest buyer of aircraft components made in China.
Around the Chinese city of Xian, more than 250,000 workers are involved in the aerospace industry, more than the global workforce of Boeing and Airbus combined. The state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) is developing its own airliner to compete with the likes of the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320. The rapid development of China’s aerospace industry exemplifies the tremendous gains made possible by an economy based on the overthrow of capitalism and the collectivization of productive property. However, with its opposition to the perspective of world proletarian revolution and its conciliation of imperialism, the Stalinist bureaucracy endangers the workers state and blocks further development toward socialism. In recent decades, the regime has acted as labor brokers for capitalists around the world, offering up Chinese workers for exploitation in designated sectors of the economy.
Just as class-conscious workers defend the IAM and other unions despite their pro-capitalist misleaders, so too must the world proletariat defend the Chinese workers state against its class enemies, despite the misrule of Xi Jinping and the rest of the Stalinist bureaucrats. Capitalist restoration in China would compound the world-historic defeat brought about by the counterrevolutions that destroyed the bureaucratically ruled workers states of East Europe and the former Soviet Union, further emboldening the imperialists in their depredations around the world. Based on our unconditional defense of China against imperialist and domestic counterrevolution, we fight for proletarian political revolution to oust the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy and replace it with the rule of workers and peasants councils committed to the struggle for world socialism.
Organizing the South: Crucial Task for Labor
While the U.S. labor tops scream about low-wage workers overseas “stealing” American jobs, much of the U.S. has become a low-wage outsourcing destination for both American and foreign companies, especially in the “right to work” South. In large part, this is the product of the labor bureaucracy’s refusal to wage the hard class battles necessary to organize unions in the South (and most everywhere else). Today, Boeing has a final assembly line for the 787 in North Charleston, South Carolina, and Airbus is building a factory for the A320 in Mobile, Alabama. Meanwhile, virtually every major auto manufacturer has a factory in the South while the workers of Detroit, formerly a union stronghold, have been thrown onto the scrap heap.
Boeing’s non-union plants were used by the company as a cudgel against the IAM to force acceptance of the recent contract. In November 2007, workers at Vought Aircraft Industries in North Charleston, which produced major portions of the 787 fuselage for Boeing, voted for IAM representation. But after Boeing purchased the factory in 2009, an anti-union worker filed a decertification petition and the union was voted out. Having gotten what it wanted, a non-union operation, Boeing established a final assembly line of the 787 at North Charleston. Workers there earn significantly less than their counterparts in Washington State and are subject to grinding speedup as the company rushes to meet its orders.
The IAM leadership has made only desultory attempts to re-organize the plant, placing most of its hopes on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Contrary to the illusions pushed by the union tops, the NLRB is not a neutral arbiter but is an organ of the capitalist government. Its main role is to head off strikes and to drag unionization efforts into a legal and regulatory quagmire.
As part of the class-struggle fight needed to organize the South, labor must tackle head-on the racist legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, which has long served to divide workers and keep unions out. Wherever powerful industrial unions have been built in this country, it has only been possible through workers uniting in conscious struggle against racist and ethnic discrimination and bigotry. In recent years, with large numbers of immigrants mainly from Latin America moving to the South, deportations have been used by the capitalists to block unionization efforts. The situation in the South underscores that the labor movement can go forward only through championing the fight for black rights and for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.
For a Class-Struggle Leadership!
For decades, the U.S. capitalist class has enormously increased profits by waging a mostly one-sided war against the working people, with real wages falling, health care costs soaring and decent pensions disappearing. The remaining union strongholds, like the IAM at Boeing and the ILWU and ILA longshoremen, will continue to be threatened by the anti-labor tide unless there is a sharp break from the class collaborationism of the current labor leadership. In this sense, their situation resembles that of the craft unions of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in the 1920s. Representing the top layers of the proletariat, the AFL sought to maintain its relatively privileged position while leaving the mass of unskilled workers undefended. This conservative, job-trusting outlook provided no defense during the Great Depression of the 1930s, which ground down all sections of the working class. Only through massive and combative struggles—many of which were led by reds—against the capitalists and their police and private strikebreakers did the labor movement revive, leading to the founding of the CIO industrial unions.
In the aftermath of the recent contract sellout, many IAM members want a new leadership. District 751 president Wroblewski has retired, and there will be a rare union-wide general election for the International leadership in April. Many look to the opposition “IAM Reform” slate headed by Jay Cronk as a vehicle to oust Buffenbarger & Co. These elections are being run under the supervision of the Department of Labor after IAM Reform filed a complaint over last year’s uncontested elections. Bringing the Department of Labor into the union’s internal affairs means subordinating the union to the class enemy. In this way, Cronk shows that he shares the existing leadership’s politics of reliance on the capitalist state.
What is needed is an altogether different kind of leadership, one that proceeds from the viewpoint of class against class, not acceptance of capitalist exploitation. The struggle to forge a class-struggle labor leadership—independent of and opposed to all capitalist political parties and state agencies—is part of the fight to build a revolutionary internationalist workers party. This is the necessary instrument to lead the working class and the oppressed in sweeping away the decrepit capitalist system and establishing a workers government as part of international socialist revolution.