Almost 180 Boeing flightline workers scored a big victory in June, voting to organize into a union with the International Association of Machinists (IAM) at the company’s plant in North Charleston, South Carolina. While only a small fraction of the plant’s nearly 3,000-strong workforce, the union election win represents an important development for workers both at the plant and in the state.
South Carolina is the least unionized state in the U.S. with only 2.6% of workers belonging to a union. It is largely this fact that originally led Boeing to partially move its manufacturing base to the state less than a decade ago. Boeing has been aided by a right-wing political establishment which threatened Boeing workers in the failed plant-wide elections in 2015 and 2017. Ten days prior to the recent vote, South Carolina Governor McMaster stated, “We aren’t going to let out-of-state labor unions ruin the wonderful working environment in our state.”
The Boeing election stands in stark contrast to what has been a failure of the labor leadership to capitalize on its goal of “Organizing the South” adopted by the AFL-CIO at the 2013 National Convention. This was underlined previously not only by the election losses at Boeing but the high-profile defeats of UAW at a VW plant in Chattanooga in 2014 and last year at a Nissan factory in Mississippi.
But what has changed is the mood of confidence by workers in wake of the mass rebellion by teachers earlier this year, most recently in the bordering state of North Carolina. In response to the immense corporate and political assault mounted on teachers and their unions in the last decades, teachers took mass militant action and showed the power of organized workers even in so-called “red states” that are deemed less friendly to labor.
In a shock to absolutely no one, Boeing has appealed the election results to the National Labor Relations Board with a Boeing lawyer stating “The determination of an appropriate bargaining unit here is of enormous consequence not just to Boeing and its teammates, but to the national economy as a whole.” It is clear that Boeing and other major corporations are not afraid of the results of this particular election. Rather they fear the momentum it could give to workers in similar super-exploited situations around the country where companies have sought to move previously to avoid unionization and providing better conditions for their workers. Obviously, the recognition of the “micro-unit” in North Charleston immediately poses the question of trying to organize other “micro-units” throughout the plant as a step toward wholesale union representation for the wider workforce.
As in other union drives in the South, the recent repeal of the Amazon Tax in Seattle and the Supreme Court Janus decision, big business will pressure the politicians and the courts as much as possible to get a result favorable to them and not workers.. In order to prevent this, we have to continue to take mass, militant action like the teachers did earlier this year and build social movements that fight for a program that takes up the needs of the broader working class.