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Boeing South Carolina Reflects State of the Union

Two years of effort by the International Association of Machinists (IAM) have come to naught after workers at Boeing’s South Carolina factory rejected unionization.

Just days before President Trump arrives at the plant for the roll-out of the 787-10, workers voted three to one against collective bargaining.

“We will continue to move forward as one team,” said Joan Robinson-Berry, general manager of Boeing South Carolina, after the vote.

Boeing started production in South Carolina in 2011, partly as a response to the eight-week strikes staged by 27,000 staff at its Washington plants in 2008.

South Carolina is the most anti-union of the United States, with former governor Nikki Haley stating in 2012: “We’ll make the unions understand full well that they are not needed, not wanted, and not welcome.”

This public and well-publicised stance helped win the anti-union vote Boeing South Carolina, even though workers there are paid about a third less than unionized colleagues assembling the same aircraft in different states.

For those hypothesising that Bernie Sanders would have beaten Donald Trump, South Carolina provides a salutary lesson, and it isn’t that sometimes workers vote against their interests.

South Carolina lost a third of its manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010, but since then numbers have climbed from 200,000 to 240,000, with much of the resurgence due to the state’s cheap labour.

A prioritisation of jobs over job security perhaps also explains why Trump ran Democrats closer in union households than any presidential candidate since Reagan and actually beat Clinton among that demographic in Ohio.

The presidential election was a huge blow to a union movement already in retreat in the US; Boeing’s South Carolina vote reflects this, and it may suppress the threat of strikes at other plants for some time.

 

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