It was reported in the business pages today, but the big deal between Boeing and the machinists' union to build a new line of 737s in Washington state should be noted briefly for its political implications: namely, the loss of a potent weapon for Republican candidates in 2012. The deal will almost certainly make moot the move by the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, Lafe Solomon, to block Boeing's plans to shift Dreamliner construction to a nonunion plant in South Carolina, a shift that Solomon charged was being done in retaliation against the machinists' union representing the company's Washington state workers. Republicans have seized on Solomon's action as Exhibit A of the Obama administration's war against private industry, and even some labor supporters privately acknowledged the move was not ideal in its symbolism or timing. Solomon believed that he had no choice but to take the action to enforce the law, as a Boeing executive was on the record telling a newspaper that the move to South Carolina was being undertaken in response to threats of labor unrest in Washington state. But while plenty of labor supporters believe strongly in the larger issue at stake -- the damage done when companies shift work to lower paid, nonunion workforces -- it was clear that this was not the best moment to be having that argument, in the midst of an anemic recovery when Republicans could point to the empty plant in South Carolina, put on hold by Solomon's action, as explicit proof of Obama's alleged anti-business intentions.
One final point on this: anyone arguing that Solomon's action was some kind of administration give-back to its supporters in organized labor should keep in mind just exactly which union we were talking about in this instance. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers was, arguably, the least enthusiastic Obama supporter in the world of organized labor. Its leader, Tom Buffenbarger, was the one who had this to say about Obama in the heat of the Democratic primaries, when the machinists were avidly backing Hillary Clinton:
Barack Obama is no Muhammad Ali. He took a walk every time there was a tough vote in the Illinois State Senate. He took a walk more than a 130 times. That's what a shadow boxer does. All the right moves. All the right combinations. All the right footwork. But he never steps into the ring ... Hope? Change? Yes We Can? Give me a break! I've got news for all the latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust fund babies crowding in to hear him speak! This guy won't last a round against the Republican attack machine. He's a poet, not a fighter.
No, Solomon's action was no special administration favor for a friend. It was a fairly arcane bureaucratic step that, given the political and economic context, landed like a bombshell. It's given Republicans some good ammunition these past few months, and mentions of it will surely surface again on the trail -- but in the past, not the present, tense.