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We Are the Union

Democratic Unionism and Dissent at Boeing

Dana L. Cloud

Publication Year: 2011

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. _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 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_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.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

In June 1996, I attended a panel on the prospects for the labor movement at an activist conference in Chicago. On that panel was a union activist from Wichita, Kansas. His name was Keith Thomas, he worked at The Boeing Company, and he had a story to tell. The labor movement had been in a bad way through the 1980s and into the 1990s; ...

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pp. xv-xvi

First and foremost, I thank Keith and Shelley Thomas for opening their home and lives to me. Since this project began more than a decade ago, they have become family to me, my partner, and our daughter. I offer deepest thanks to all of the union activists in Wichita and the Puget Sound—Keith Thomas, Kelly Vandegrift, ...

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Introduction: "To Get to Boeing, We First Had to Take on the Union"

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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. ...

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1. Business Unionism and Rank-and-File Unionism at the Turn of the Millennium

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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, ...

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2. Not a Smooth Flight for Boeing and the Union

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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, ...

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3. Enter the Dissidents

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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, ...

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4. The Problem with “Jointness”

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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. ...

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5. The 1995 Strike and the Rejection of the Second Contract

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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 ...

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6. “The Feeble Strength of One”

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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 ...

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7. Carrying the Memory of Agitation: A Dialogue between Keith Thomas and Dana Cloud

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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; ...

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8. Communication and Clout

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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. ...

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Conclusion: The Beginnings and Ends of Union Democracy

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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 in Newsweek, asked, “Is organized labor obsolete?”1 ...


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pp. 197-224

Interviews and Archival Sources

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pp. 225-228


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pp. 229-236

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About the Author, Publication Information

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Dana L. Cloud is an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Texas, Austin, and the author of Consolation and Control in American Culture: Rhetorics of Therapy. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780252093418
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252036378

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Labor unions -- Kansas -- Wichita.
  • International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
  • Boeing Aerospace Company -- Management.
  • Strikes and lockouts -- Kansas -- Wichita.
  • Dissenters -- Kansas -- Wichita.
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