Boeing has good reason to worry about competitiveness, despite the fact that it builds the safest, most reliable jetliners in the world.

Over the last two decades, its heavily subsidized European rival has reduced the company's share of the global jetliner market from 85% to barely 50%, and now countries like Canada and China are entering the market as competitors.

If Boeing wants to remain America's biggest exporter, it will have to perform engineering and assembly of its products wherever efficiency can be maximized.

It probably won't move work offshore the way Airbus has, but there are plenty of places in the United States where it could conduct business more cheaply than Puget Sound -- as the South Carolina plant illustrates.

The response of the engineering union to company concerns has been to behave like bit players is some 1930s Hollywood melodrama about labor organizing. SPEEA representatives pound the table, refuse to yield, and threaten to damage Boeing's business.

Such behavior is deeply destructive to the interests of their members, because they will end up convincing management to start migrating engineering jobs to other, cheaper places.

Instead of posturing for public display, the union should reflect on the fate of other industries where labor refused to acknowledge how conditions have changed in a globalized economy -- industries like autos and steel that are now mere shadows of their former might.

The truth of the matter is that even without the annual pay increases Boeing is offering, its engineers have a good deal compared with their counterparts elsewhere.

They shouldn't let myopic representation at the bargaining table put that in jeopardy -- along with the nation's trade balance.

Loren B. Thompson, Ph.D., is chief operating officer of the Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit Lexington Institute and chief executive officer of Source Associates, a for-profit consultancy. Prior to holding his present positions, he was deputy director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and taught graduate-level courses in strategy, technology and media affairs at Georgetown. He also has taught at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.