After months of working to organize the workers at Boeing’s North Charleston sites, the International Association of Machinists abruptly decided to postpone the vote that was set for today. While some may herald this as a defeat for unions in South Carolina, it really isn’t.
This is because a union already exists at Boeing and in every other workplace in America. It’s the union of big business and big government and their media propagandists, and together they fight to keep workers down. It works like this: Business buys off government officials (many of whom came from business backgrounds themselves), and the media reports their stories “objectively,” in the sense that the stories are carefully written and edited so as not to delve too deeply into what is being reported on out of fear of angering the businesses in question. Unions, meanwhile, are largely powerless to stop this from happening.
One would hope that local, state, and federal elected officials would stand firmly on the side of the people they represent. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. And here in the South, where unions of any kind are frowned upon, it is doubly obvious our leaders have no interest in allowing “the people” they represent to be unified in anything other than fighting amongst themselves.
After all, Gov. Nikki Haley’s stance on unions is incredibly clear — so clear, in fact, that the IAM brought a lawsuit against Haley in early 2011 to force Haley to “remain neutral” about labor unions in the Palmetto State. In case you’ve forgotten, the union took exception to comments Haley made when she nominated Catherine Templeton to run the state Labor Department. Ms. Templeton is, after all, a former union-busting lawyer, meaning she was perfectly unsuited to be in charge of the S.C. Labor Department. One might think that a federal court would tell Haley to tone it down, but you’d be wrong. As long as Haley doesn’t actually say she is going to take action against unionization, she’s pretty much free to say what she wants. This freedom has helped her align with the CEOs she calls almost daily and not with the people who, ostensibly, she represents as governor.
Gov. Haley isn’t alone in her anti-union rhetoric, of course. Emboldened perhaps by the court’s 2012 decision that public officials have the “free speech” right to voice their opinions about unions, other local leaders have spoken against unionization.
North Charleston’s Mayor Keith Summey spoke ominously about the union’s ulterior motives for trying to organize Boeing’s workforce in South Carolina. Citing an unnamed article from “the newspaper on the West Coast,” Summey said that the union’s only mission was to redirect another Boeing expansion back to the West Coast. ABC News 4, meanwhile, noted that the mayor was referring to a quote from IAM’s District 751 President Jon Holden, who represents Boeing’s Washington state workers, saying something to this effect. But what Mayor Summey claims was said wasn’t said at all. Mr. Holden made no such statement. In fact, the claim was made by a writer at the Puget Sound Business Journal.
Meanwhile, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., who the readers of this paper chose as their “Best Progressive” in the 2015 Best of Charleston issue, recently recorded a radio ad singing the praises of Boeing, something he has done for many other companies in the area. When asked by Live 5 News about the ad, Riley denied he cut the commercial as an anti-union spot and dodged the question of whether or not he supports a union at Boeing. Of course, this is exactly the sort of progressive stance one would expect from a business-friendly, center-right “Democrat” of the last 40 years or so.
It’s this kind of collusion with business interests over the last 40 years that has led to declining union membership, accompanied by a stagnation of wages, a loss of benefits, a complete disappearance of any sort of job security, and an increasingly “independent” workforce left on their own to be “rugged individualists.” And the people who have convinced everyone that this is the “right” and “proper” way things are done in America are themselves united entirely against you. Rugged individualism, indeed.
What we need, then, is not just a union at Boeing. What we need in this country is for working people to understand, once and for all, that when the forces of government and business align to tell you that organizing is a bad idea, then it’s really time to organize. Anyone who relies on someone else for their paycheck should realize they have more in common with other workers than they do with the people who sign their checks.