A Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s maiden flight from Boeing’s Everett, WA assembly plant.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a case study in what happens with outsourcing and what happens when corporate management takes the view that labor is a widget that can be replaced.

Reuters reports today that a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner was grounded earlier this week in Boston, due to a faulty fuel valve. Fuel shifted from the center tank to the left tank, and when the left tank filled, fuel “overflowed into a surge tank and out through a vent.” Passengers deplaned, and then the jet broke out in flames, ABC reported on Tuesday. Flames on an airplane sounds more Nightmareliner than Dreamliner. Analysts are now saying that the fire was related to lithium batteries and not the fuel leak. Still other reports clarify further and describe two different problems on two different JAL B-787 planes at around the same time. One analyst saying this and at the same time describing a completely separate problem describes the batteries, the fuel and the fire as “little glitches.” Others are calling it “teething problems.” At any rate, according to the Twitter feed, the FAA will investigate the 787′s electrical system, for starters.

“The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a long-range, mid-size wide-body, twin-engine jet airliner developed by Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Its variants seat 210 to 290 passengers. Boeing states that it is the company’s most fuel-efficient airliner and the world’s first major airliner to use composite materials for most of its construction.[4] According to Boeing, the 787 consumes 20% less fuel than the similarly-sized 767.[5] Its distinguishing features include a four-panel windshield, noise-reducing chevrons on its engine nacelles, and a smoother nose contour. The 787 shares a common type rating with the larger 777 twinjet, allowing qualified pilots to operate both models, due to related design features.[6]” Source.

The troubled DreamlinerThe Boeing 787 heavy jet has been years in the making. Boeing was involved in contract negotiations with the union workers at the Everett plant several years ago, but the negotiations broke down. Boeing announced a decision to build a new assembly plant and relocate to another state. Everett and Boeing’s workers feared the worst: further economic depression and job loss for the town and community. The union workers responded with a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board NLRB, alleging that Boeing’s decision to move was in retaliation to the union workers and was outside the guidelines of labor relations. There was a hearing before the NLRB. The Boeing Company claimed otherwise, citing merely economic strategy, nothing more. The NLRB ruled against the Boeing Company, and foreclosed Boeing from the move.

Boeing continued to assemble the 787 at the Everett plant. The issue became political, with, to sum as a layperson observer, the Republicans predictably accusing Obama of ‘socialism:’ corporations have the right to tell their workers to go fuck themselves because workers’ work is a ‘widget,’ and a widget is a widget, anywhere in the world. The Boeing workers are not really human, they are a resource. The company has the right to maximize profits for shareholders and if labor costs must be reduced by moving jobs and productions elsewhere, this is an ‘ethical’ obligation for the corporation. By this time, Boeing had already outsourced the job of creating the parts for the plane to other countries, so there were already many worldwide subcontractors.

So, the stuff is being produced elsewhere, and in some cases partially assembled elsewhere, and shipped back to Everett, where some remaining workers assemble the parts into a plane. Meanwhile, the company is out trying to sell the plane, and (I feel sorry for the Boeing sales reps) the plane looks really good on paper. Light composite fuselage, fuel efficient, a technological leap forward.

Poor Boeing sales reps probably never guessed just how goddamn fuel efficient a heavy jet could be, especially when all the fuel gets dumped out a vent on the left side of the plane and catches on fire. Lightest heavy jet indeed.

Customers meanwhile placed orders: ANA, JAL, United, Air India, and others. Hundreds of orders were placed, but only a few planes have been delivered. Problems have been nonstop, the beat goes on, the public relations campaign tries to put a lid on the never-ending delays and pissed off customers.

The 787 situation goes right to the heart of the idea that predatory capitalism, while it represents enormous wealth to a small group of people, it does so at great risk to the traveling public. To pull off the spin that we are all a lot better off with outsourcing, it is a war against labor. It is a war that must ignore, in particular, that labor involves hands, fingers, eyeballs and calipers.

The people who are creating wealth are the people who are actually doing the tedious work necessary for safety in the end product, and that is the worker. The worker creates and assembles the actual thing that has value. I wonder: Are the predatory capitalists willing to fly on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner today?

Boeing 787 Dreamliner glitches: How serious are the problems? (+video) (Christian Science Monitor)

Photo by EyeNo released under a Creative Commons license.