We Are the Union

We Are the Union: Democratic Unionism and Dissent at Boeing

DANA L. CLOUD
with R. KEITH THOMAS
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt1xcrdq
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  • Book Info
    We Are the Union
    Book Description:

    In this extraordinary tale of union democracy, Dana L. Cloud engages union reformers at Boeing in Wichita and Seattle to reveal how ordinary workers attempted to take command of their futures by chipping away at the cozy partnership between union leadership and corporate management. Taking readers into the central dilemma of having to fight an institution while simultaneously using it as a bastion of basic self-defense, We Are the Union offers a sophisticated exploration of the structural opportunities and balance of forces at play in modern unions told through a highly relevant case study. _x000B__x000B_Focusing on the 1995 strike at Boeing, Cloud renders a multi-layered account of the battles between the company and the union and within the union led by Unionists for Democratic Change and two other dissident groups. She gives voice to the company's claims of the hardships of competitiveness and the entrenched union leaders' calls for concessions in the name of job security, alongside the democratic union reformers' fight for a rank-and-file upsurge against both the company and the union leaders._x000B__x000B_We Are the Union is grounded in on-site research and interviews and focuses on the efforts by Unionists for Democratic Change to reform unions from within. Incorporating theory and methods from the fields of organizational communication as well as labor studies, Cloud methodically uncovers and analyzes the goals, strategies, and dilemmas of the dissidents who, while wanting to uphold the ideas and ideals of the union, took up the gauntlet to make it more responsive to workers and less conciliatory toward management, especially in times of economic stress or crisis. Cloud calls for a revival of militant unionism as a response to union leaders' embracing of management and training programs that put workers in the same camp as management, arguing that reform groups should look to the emergence of powerful industrial unions in the United States for guidance on revolutionizing existing institutions and building new ones that truly accommodate workers' needs. _x000B__x000B_Drawing from communication studies, labor history, and oral history and including a chapter co-written with Boeing worker Keith Thomas, We Are the Union contextualizes what happened at Boeing as an exemplar of agency that speaks both to the past and the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09341-8
    Subjects: Transportation Studies, Political Science, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: “To Get to Boeing, We First Had to Take on the Union”
    (pp. 1-10)

    Advocates for social change often find themselves in an ambivalent relationship to the existing institutions, mechanisms, and rhetorical norms of change in U.S. society. For example, opponents of the death penalty and the vagaries of the criminal justice system still must use the courts as an arena of contestation. Activist Cindy Sheehan is a strong, vocal opponent of the war in Iraq; even as she enacts unruly womanhood, she uses her status and maternal identity as the mother of a fallen soldier to garner credibility and public voice. Many gays and lesbians question marriage as a heterosexist institution, yet they...

  6. 1 Business Unionism and Rank-and-File Unionism at the Turn of the Millennium
    (pp. 11-29)

    The history of labor in the United States since the latter half of the twentieth century has been, up until recently, a study in defeat. What will it take to beat back the ongoing employers’ offensive? Alongside tax cuts for the rich, real wages have stagnated, and consumer debt (totaling $2.6 trillion) is at record proportions, requiring 19 percent of the average consumer’s disposable income each month.¹ The economic crisis begun in late 2007 has sharpened the class divide, as the U.S. economy shed 2.6 million jobs in the last quarter of 2008 alone;² the official unemployment rate in the...

  7. 2 Not a Smooth Flight for Boeing and the Union
    (pp. 30-50)

    Robert J. Serling’s history of the Boeing Company describes Boeing as “a corporate Horatio Alger,” growing from a tiny manufacturing company into one of the nation’s largest industrial firms.¹ Serling’s narrative emphasizes the engineering innovations and the personalities of the corporate leaders and engineers at Boeing, omitting stories of the tens of thousands of workers who actually built the planes. In reality, the story of Boeing is not that of a smooth flight, but of a turbulent history marked by the pressure of competition with Airbus and other firms and the presence of fighting unions: the Society of Professional Engineering...

  8. 3 Enter the Dissidents
    (pp. 51-79)

    Keith Thomas is a tall, pale-haired, loud-talking, sturdy dynamo of a man. He is the kind of person who leaps to his feet to be useful before you realize you needed something. In July 1999, we were in his basement workshop getting ready for a picket at the Wichita, Kansas, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) union hall, which is right across the street from the Boeing plant. The goals of the picket were twofold: to warn the company that unionists were ready to strike (with the slogan “Get Ready for the Long One”) and to protest the...

  9. 4 The Problem with “Jointness”
    (pp. 80-99)

    In keeping with the traditional union philosophy, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers’ (IAMAW’s) vision has been one of maintaining credibility through negotiation with Boeing rather than antagonism. There is perpetual hope that this method will result in job security and other gains. However, time and again, conciliation has been just that: agreement to concessions and the maintenance of friendly team relationships with management at the expense of workers’ power against the company through antagonism. As Steve Early and Paul Buhle have each pointed out, the adoption of a posture cooperative with the interests of employers is common...

  10. 5 The 1995 Strike and the Rejection of the Second Contract
    (pp. 100-117)

    During 1995, Boeing had eliminated nearly 35,000 union jobs, 26,000 of these in the Puget Sound area. Job security thus was central to the workers’ demands as they entered contract negotiations, along with shorter contracts, wage increases, and improvements in safety, health, and benefits, even for laid-off workers.¹ The largest concerns for the workers were subcontracting and outsourcing. International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) President George Kourpias gave voice to fighting words, accusing Boeing of “punching holes in America’s future.” The union members approved a strike authorization vote in September after the union brought the company’s “last, best,...

  11. 6 “The Feeble Strength of One”
    (pp. 118-152)

    In her influential essay “The Problem of Speaking for Others,” Linda Alcoff observes that standing up to, for, and with others poses a dilemma.² On the one hand, if one chooses to speak for others—for example, to speak for the rank and file as a leader of a union or of a dissident union caucus—one risks irresponsibly substituting oneself for the people one is attempting to represent. This stance also can entail elitism or paternalism: Thinking, “The workers can’t or won’t speak for themselves; therefore, we who know better will challenge the union,” activists could assume that others...

  12. 7 Carrying the Memory of Agitation: A Dialogue between Keith Thomas and Dana Cloud
    (pp. 153-174)

    This exchange—referred to by both Keith Thomas and Dana Cloud as a “postmortem” on Unionists for Democratic Change (UDC)—was edited and compiled from two conversations: The first is a recorded interview between Dana Cloud and Keith Thomas in Wichita, Kansas, on July 17, 2001, the evening after a small demonstration at the union hall earlier that afternoon; the second source is a series of letters exchanged in summer 2006. I asked, Do you think you could have/should have done anything differently? Thomas replied, “Well, winning would have been nice.”

    Here Thomas complicates my arguments that mistakes and misdirected...

  13. 8 Communication and Clout
    (pp. 175-182)

    I have been a labor activist for twenty years. At the same time, I come to this project with an academic background in the field of communication studies, specifically in the areas of organizational communication and rhetorical theory and criticism, and I have aimed this work to address those academic audiences as well as the activist community. Activists and scholars alike are interested in the question ofhow people come to a sense of their own agency—the capacity to control and transform the conditions of one’s life. Communication undoubtedly plays an enormous role in this process. The importance of...

  14. CONCLUSION: The Beginnings and Ends of Union Democracy
    (pp. 183-196)

    The explosion of working-class anger that erupted in early 2011 in Wisconsin and elsewhere across the United States prompted observers to either cheer the potential strength of labor or predict its demise. For example, Robert Samuelson, writing inNewsweek, asked, “Is organized labor obsolete?”¹ Rather than seeing the rallying of public workers as a sign of reemergence of the labor movement, Samuelson concludes that what we are witnessing is its death knell. TheWashington Postasked, “Does labor matter anymore?”² Noting the importance of powerful unions in reducing income inequality, challenging the priorities of corporate America, and winning important social...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 197-224)
  16. Interviews and Archival Sources
    (pp. 225-228)
  17. Index
    (pp. 229-236)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-238)