The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Boeing’s War on its Workforce

Dec 9, 2013

In mid-November, Boeing made an offer to its workforce in Seattle that it said “the workers could not refuse.” In return for a company promise to keep production of its latest airplane, the stretch version of the 777, called the 777X, in Seattle, Boeing demanded a horrible concession contract lasting eight years. These concessions included an end to the pension program, a virtual pay freeze, a permanent two tier wage system and much more expensive health benefits.

The workers, who belong to Lodge 751 of the Machinist union (IAM), rejected the contract by a two-to-one margin. So, Boeing threatened to move the 777X production to South Carolina, California, Texas, Alabama, Utah, or Kansas, engaging them in a bidding war to extract the most concessions from the workforce, as well as from state and local taxpayers. In fact, Washington State opened this bidding war by offering close to nine billion dollars in tax breaks and subsidies – a record amount from a state government.

Whenever Boeing management has tried to move airplane production out of the Seattle area, it has lost a huge amount of money.

But that hasn’t stopped Boeing from continuing to try to move airplane production out of Seattle. A secret company study that was leaked to the press explained why: Boeing is seeking to gain greater “leverage” over what it calls “an unbalanced and uncompetitive labor relationship.” In other words, Boeing is trying to outflank and smash its unionized workforce.

Certainly, Boeing has the money to carry out this expensive attack, given its global monopoly over commercial aircraft production. Last year, Boeing’s after-tax profits hit four billion dollars, and this year it is expected to be even more. And with 95 billion dollars in advance orders of its new 777X airliner, Boeing’s stock price has doubled in the last year.

Just as concessions imposed on auto workers by GM, Chrysler and Ford set the stage for Boeing’s attacks, these deep concession demands by Boeing may set off a new round of worse attacks nationwide.

Long gone are the days when workers at highly profitable companies could defend their wages and benefits alone. Today, the worsening crisis and high unemployment has sharpened the class struggle so that even the most skilled, best paid workers can only defend their interests as part of a much wider working class fight.