A Last Stand?

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ST. LOUIS: Some 6,700 McDonnell Douglas machinists went on strike to protest the aerospace company's increased use of non-union workers. The key issue: outsourcing, the company's use of subcontractors and non-union workers at McDonnell Douglas plants for labor once performed by union machinists. The practice has recently led to costly strikes at Boeing and General Motors, and is especially threatening to workers already faced with cutbacks in the post-Cold War defense industry. "With the dramatic cutbacks in defense spending over the past few years, a company like McDonnell Douglas needs to be as supple as it can," says TIME's James Graff. "It affords a company much more flexibility if it can use smaller, non-union companies to make parts and tools that it doesn't need made all the time."

For the machinists, this strike might be a last stand. Even if the two sides are able to reach an agreement in this dispute, Graff reports that the outlook for defense contractors like McDonnell Douglas is worsening as foreign countries develop their own competing products. "In Europe, where the U.S. aviation industry controls about one-third of the market, countries are starting to get together and build more planes on their own," Graff notes. "Overseas buyers are gradually trying to wean themselves from the American market." -->