Saturday, July 11, 2009

Take It Or We Leave It

"A strike, to be effective, must withdraw skills that cannot be replaced, and there seem to be fewer of them than there once were."
George Will ("Northwest learning to fly without union" Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 18 September, 2005)
Among these difficult to replace skills, it seems, is aerospace machinist. Although union rules may also have something to do with that.

Which would serve to explain why Boeing is said to have complained to members of Washington's congressional delegation. According to the Seattle Times earlier this week, congress members and the governor were told: "Unless a long-term agreement barring strikes by the Machinists is reached by this fall, Boeing will build a second production line for the 787 someplace outside Washington."

The message is pretty clear - since we can't rein in the union, you guys had better find a way, or kiss a bunch of tax revenue good-bye. It's become a standard corporate tactic - holding a gun to the head of government, looking for leverage.
What the politicians seem to envision is some kind of "social contract" with the union in which Boeing would publicly commit to stay in this region in exchange for labor peace.
Key lawmakers warn of Boeing no-strike ultimatum
Let me see if I understand - if the International Association of Machinists agrees to give up the right to strike, Boeing will agree to do work in Washington state. Okay... I see what's in this for Boeing, and I see what's in this for Olympia... but I don't see what's in this for the union, or the workers.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not a huge fan of unions as a rule. The first time I read about "fair share" fees I vowed that I would open a business devoted to making people pay for the benefits that they derive from their neighbors having purchased a product from me. And don't get me started about closed shops. Unions enjoy a special status, and they're no more above abusing it than anyone else would be. But the idea that Government and Management should be working together to shaft Labor seems more than a little shady.

Boeing is hit with strikes because the workers don't like the deal that Boeing offers. Making it known that they'll move to whatever state is first to find a way to give Boeing the freedom to make whatever offers it wants, with little to no recourse for the workforce is their prerogative. But the public should set out to severely punish any state government that takes them up on it.

1 comment:

Keifus said...

I agree (post below) that cheap labor is a commodity. The problem, I guess, is that cheap employees can't really buy expensive products, and the way things are organized these days, various enterprises are requiring Americans to buy their product. But few buyers are getting raises, other than the people who are controlling the pay rates (of course). It can't go on forever that way.

It could be arranged, and at different times it has been, that a higher fraction of the wealth is distributed to people working to produce stuff as opposed to those who hold the political claim (which can be perfectly legitimate). (And to parapharase centuries of economic philosophy, there are different arguments to stack the distribution one way or the other, but any set of agreed-upon economic rules is going to end up affecting it.) I tend to think of it as a dynamics problem, where influencing that distribution will lead to one kind of quasi-stable economic state or other. But to paraphrase centuries of political experiment, there are better and worse ways to influence it!

I have no positive impression of unions either (although they seem to have gotten my wife a great health plan at her new job), but the Labor movement, creepy as it was, tipped that distribution around toward working bozos a century ago. The results seem to have been salutory to the overall standard of living, in America at least, which did avoid a Labor revolution, but then it's hard to say that for sure. There was a lot of other significant stuff that went down last century too.