Working In These Times
UE and Taunton, Mass., Chart Own Course in Fight Against Outsourcing
The American economy increasingly functions like a high-tech machine that efficiently plunders money from the vast majority of citizens and shoots a jetstream of the cash upward into the bank accounts of the richest 1%. At the same instant, it sends family-supporting jobs zooming off to Mexico, China, India and other low-wage sites.
The Republican landslide, enabled by a weak job-creation strategy coming from the White House, might lead you to think that a majority buys into the notion of letting the machine run on, continuing to chew up lives and communities.
However, a growing number of restless and desperate Americans in places like Taunton, Mass., a factory town of 50,000 hard-hit by unemployment, are showing that they understand how disastrously the machine works for them. They increasingly realize they must fight to save every endangered job and do battle to preserve decent pay, benefits and union representation.
They also understand that the Great Recession will continue—despite record profits and bonuses for the few at the apex of the economic pyramid—until ordinary Americans have jobs and wages to buy American-made products and get the economy providing prosperity for all.
CRUCIAL EXAMPLE: PEOPLE CAN FIGHT BACK
But regardless of the cynical deals and manipulation of public opinion being directed by the White House, workers in places like Taunton, Mass., are continuing their struggles at the grassroots level against the destruction of America's productive base and its dwindling supply of good jobs.
In Taunton, members of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Local 204 have been taking on Esterline Technologies, a Bellevue, Washington aerospace firm, which plans to move about 100 jobs to a non-union plant in California and an even lower-wage plant in Tijuana, Mexico. As I've reported here before, the Taunton plant, which makes silicone gaskets for aircraft, has been consistently profitable and productive. Yet Esterline is in a rush to sell off the plant's equipment and get production rolling in the other facilities.
Esterline had originally promised the workers that it would give them the right of first refusal on the plant's equipment, as the UE sought to pursue either running the operation on their own or as a subsidiary of another firm. But Esterline reneged when the union demanded that the company adhere to the UE-Esterline contract and Massachusetts law on closing the plant.
So despite $119.8 million profits last year, Esterline announced that it needed to sell off the machinery to cover the cost of severance payments. It quickly announced plans for a December 12 auction to dispose of the equipment.
But Local 204 responded on two fronts. First, the UE took action to halt the auction. It persuaded elected officials like U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, state legislators and the City Council to request that Esterline delay the auction until at least February 15.
The union also alerted unionists throughout New England about Esterline's plans to destroy the workers' dreams of saving their jobs and to head for the repressive low-wage paradise of Mexico as rapidly as possible. Facing both the pressure from the elected officials and the prospect of a large rally of militant unionists furious about more jobs going off to Mexico, the company announced a delay in the auction until January 19.
MOVING AHEAD ON EMINENT DOMAIN
Second, the city of Taunton is moving ahead—with unanimous support from the City Council and mayor—to pursue the use of "eminent domain" to seize the machinery of Esterline Technologies' local plant if necessary. The city will also need the support of the Democratically-controlled Maassachusetts Legislature, which reconvenes in January.
"Eminent domain" is a doctrine under which private property may be taken, with compensation, by governmental units for a compelling public purpose. While often used by huge corporations to raze neighborhoods for new factories that could be located elsewhere, this time the UE and the Taunton City Council are preparing to use eminent domain against Esterline.
In the scope of things, the fight in Taunton is one small battle at a time when at least 15 million are unemployed. But the fierce determination of the UE Local 204 members represents a total rejection of all the messages from corporate, political and media elites that working people must simply "get used to it" when CEOs decide to send their jobs off to Mexico or China in search of even greater profits.
NO RECESSION AT THE TOP
For those running America's economic machine, things could not be rosier. Corporate profits in the third quarter set an all-time record. CEO pay at the 100 largest corporations is 1,723 times as much as their average workers make. The richest 1% possess more wealth than the bottom 90% of Americans.
Wall Street, dominated by a small circle of insiders who set the rules will be once again be handing out record bonuses for 2010:
According to an October estimate, Wall Street firms are set to pay out $144 billion in bonuses this year, which would break a record for the second year in a row.
But regardless of the Republican landslide November 2 that provides no real mandate, there are powerful signs that the basic unfairness of the economic system is widely recognized by the majority of the American people.
"Worries about side effects of trade and outsourcing seem one of the few issues on which Americans of different classes, occupations and political persuasions agree," the Wall Street Journal reported.
That's why the example of a small union local and a small factory town taking on a giant corporation sending jobs to Mexico is so crucial. The public mood is impatient and volatile, and an example like Taunton could eventually provide the spark for a much broader battle.
UE Local 204 and Taunton are showing that it is possible to ignore those who tell them hope is futile and globalization's carnage is inevitable—and take effective action.
Working In These Times' earlier reports on the UE campaign in Taunton:
- UE Fights Defense Firm's Plan to Scrap Machines and Mass. Workers (9/10/2010)
- Memo to Labor Movement: Follow UE's Lead and Fight Corporate Outsourcing (9/28/2010)
- Masters of Eminent Domain? Union, Struggling Mass. Town Take on Aerospace Giant (11/19/2010)
- UE Determined to Clip Wings of Aerospace Giant, Save Jobs in Mass. (11/30/2010)