Beating Back the Boeing Behemoth

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Waging Nonviolence

Beating Back the Boeing Behemoth

“We’re gonna beat back the Boeing attack! We’re gonna beat back the Boeing attack!”

That was one of the chants on last Monday as protesters converged on the military behemoth’s downtown Chicago offices. The corporate-types had read the press releases and allowed their workers to telecommute on Monday, locking their doors and presenting the 200 or 300 chanters, sign holders, die-iners, silly string squirters and paper airplane folders with a mostly empty building.

Despite the faceless façade, Boeing is a good focal point for those protesting the United States’ war in Afghanistan, those outraged by continued cuts to social spending, those undone by the pervasiveness of corporate greed and malfeasance in this country.

We all know Boeing makes commercial aircraft. It is so associated with the friendly skies that there was even a popular Broadway revival of the play Boeing Boeing a few years back.

But the company is also one of the world’s biggest military manufacturers. The company builds bombers, fighters, military refueling planes, as well as missiles and munitions, and a wide array of other weapons and weapons platforms. Boeing is a lead contractor on missile defense programs and at the forefront of developing unmanned aircraft for surveillance, reconnaissance and weapons strikes. In its military divisions, the company employs almost 60,000 people around the country. In 2011, Boeing reported revenue based on its military business of about $32 billion, similar to what it made in 2010.

In anticipation of military budget cuts, the company started 2012 by saying that it would be laying off workers in its defense divisions and focusing more on international sales (up to 30 percent more) to beef up profit margins. The company is forecasting $80 billion in combined revenue for its commercial and military divisions for 2012.

Ah yes, budget cuts. The powers-that-be are gearing up for a big fight on the military budget. Because the Super Committee tasked with reducing the deficit failed in its mission late last year, there are supposed to be automatic cuts of about $1 trillion, spilt between domestic and defense spending over the next ten years starting in fiscal year 2013. House Republicans are now trying to wriggle out of that plan and have proposed adding $8 billion to the military budget — for projects that the Pentagon doesn’t even want. You know you are crossing the line when the Pentagon is the paragon on fiscal discipline (especially when it comes at the same time as the $17,000 transmission oil drip pan kerfuffle).

At the same time, those lawmakers want to cut $261 billion from domestic programs, including changes that would result in 2 million people losing food stamps and another 44 million seeing that desperately-needed benefit reduced. The plan would also eliminate a program that supports disabled older people living independently, end supports for low-income people to buy health insurance, and cut countless other important and needed programs.

A vote is scheduled for Thursday. Even if it passes, Senate approval is unlikely and the White House has threatened a veto. Nevertheless, the callousness and greed of Congress has never been more apparent. Boeing and other military contractors stand to benefit. Included in the extras that House Republicans are budgeting for are funds for 11 more F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter jets for $562.4 million. Since 2010, the Navy has already ordered 148 of these planes. Do we really need 11 more?

Those were the kinds of questions that protesters were asking on Monday as they blocked the streets, held signs, performed a die-in, made paper airplanes and ultimately declared victory, partying in the street (that’s where the silly string came in) to celebrate the power of the people that kept Boeing workers home for the day.

It is something to celebrate, and something to keep organizing around.

Frida Berrigan

Frida Berrigan, a columnist for WagingNonviolence.org, serves on the board of the War Resisters League and organizes with Witness Against Torture.

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