So, the world isn’t flat after all. Not that those of us around the Lake ever bought into Thomas Friedman-speak. But many in this country did, especially those running the political show, and now we have a chance to shape a progressive future on the ashes of such failed visions.
And that progressive future needs a widespread recognition of the acceptance of the need to Buy America. A good first step is taking the American Auto Revivial Pledge.
One of the hardest connections for those of us in the union movement to make with our progressive allies has been in the area of trade and policies that encourage U.S. consumers to Buy American Made. Especially Buy America.
Why is that so?
Calls to buy American-made products are not throwbacks to 19th century U.S. xenophobia. Nor are they red flags for launching trade wars. The fact is, European nations have significant legal trade barriors that are called everything but what they are, protectionist. And far from isolationists, U.S. unions work closely with our union brothers and sisters around the world, championing the rights of workers wherever they are abused.
In fact, those who most stridently oppose Buy America are the very self-styled cheerleaders of the ol’ red, white and blue: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable, opponents of all things progressive.
Many kudos to social activist Danny Glover who last week joined an 11-state, 34-city "Keep It Made in America" bus tour sponsored in part by the United Steelworkers (USW). Glover told the crowd that saving the auto industry is good for the country because it saves good jobs. And it’s important to help more workers join unions so they, too, can have benefits and decent wages.
On Tuesday, bus tour participants held a daylong "teach-in" on Capitol Hill to highlight the impact of the automotive supply chain in communities and to present a plan to save the auto industry. In short, 7.2 million U.S. jobs are tied to the American auto industry. Laid-off steelworker Doug May from Edwardsville, Ill., put it in these stark terms:
As a USW member, I sent three children through college. I feel sorry for some of the younger families. They won’t have opportunities if the manufacturing base fails. How are we going to compete if we can’t send our kids to college?
If the mill closes, it will be an ugly scene [leading to] an increase in alcoholism, divorces. If pensioners are cut off, it could create an economic tsunami.
But it’s not just about the next 20 or 30 years. Making sure the nation keeps quality U.S. jobs is essential to the nation’s long-term future. And buying the products we make encourages more made in this country. Economist Jeff Madrick sums it up this way:
There are at least three major reasons why a nation must indeed make things to maintain its prosperity: First, making goods is on balance—with exceptions—more productive than providing services, and rising productivity is the fundamental source of prosperity; second, related to the first, making goods creates higher-paying jobs on balance—again, with a few exceptions; third, a major nation must be able to maintain a balanced current account (and trade balance) over time, and goods are far more tradeable than services. Without something to export, a nation will either become over-indebted or forced to reduce its standard of living.
USW President Leo Gerard talked with workers along the Keep It Made in America bus tour. As Gerard notes, workers like Kevin Vest have a clear view of why Buy America is critical to the future of all of us. Vest, a truck driver, was furloughed with 600 other Steelworkers Feb. 13 from Freeport-McMoRan’s Chino mine in New Mexico.
He read in a newspaper about a $100 million wind farm to be built near his daughter’s house in Arizona. The 30 wind turbines are to be manufactured by a company from India and the huge towers are to be constructed in Mexico. Vest wants to know why GE can’t make those turbines. If the American company did the work, they’d probably buy the copper wire for the turbines from an American company. And that company might buy the ore to make the wire from his mine—or some other downed U.S. copper mine, putting some Steelworker back to work….
For the same reason, Vest always buys American cars. There’s copper wire in engines and molybdenum (molly) in other steel car parts. Buying that car keeps him employed, but also fellow Americans who make the glass and axles and all the other parts.
Corporations are gutting this nation. And increasingly, they are doing so even when their U.S. plants are profitable. In Lackawanna, N.Y., ArcelorMittal is disembowling a steel mill that employes 260 workers and has rebuffed efforts to sell the plant to an interested U.S. buyer. The plant has been consistently profitable, earning $48.4 million even in a recessionary year like 2008. Such a move is not an isolated incident, writes Roger Bybee in a stunningly raw look at the stripping of this nation’s productive wealth.
Not only are they accelerating the pace of outsourcing to low-wage nations like China, but there have been several recent instances of corporations closing profitable plants in the United States and then refusing to sell them to other companies interested in keeping the plants open and retaining the current workforce.
We can sit by and say the world is flat and our happy global interconnectedness means we buy into the status quo. Or we can take steps to say we support U.S. workers and U.S. jobs because it’s not just their paychecks at stake. It’s our future. I hope you’ll join me in taking the American Auto Revivial Pledge.