When I jumped into the labor movement in the
late 1970s, our manufacturing unions were being hit hard as
corporations pursued the "runaway" strategy.
Companies were downsizing or closing their northern and midwestern
factories and scooping up taxpayer-financed corporate welfare
to reopen primarily in the U.S. south and southwest.
What began as a corporate and government
strategy to reduce wages and increase profits by moving to
southern states has now become a tidal wave of job migration
out of the country entirely. The "runaway" problem
is now called "globalization." We are literally
witnessing the dismantling of one of the most productive and
diverse manufacturing economies in human history.
You might call it ironic that most of the
products being manufactured by those low-wage workers overseas
are being shipped back here for sale in the U.S. When the U.S.
spy plane was recently snagged by China, we heard reports
about how nearly half of all the exports we receive from China
go directly onto the shelves of your neighborhood Wal-Mart.
Maybe we should have asked the Wal-Mart management to go over
and retrieve the crew and plane.
The hard numbers of this job exodus are
shocking: More than 10,000 U.S. manufacturing facilities shut
down just since 1993, and more every day. The Economic Policy
Institute just released a blockbuster report detailing this
carnage, much of it brought on by the North American Free
Trade Agreement (you can find the report "NAFTA
at Seven" on the Economic
Policy Institute's website).
At this point all normal people have concluded
that NAFTA has been one gigantic disaster for working people
and one huge profit bonanza for bosses. Or have they? What do
our elected lawmakers here in Washington, D.C., think? As you
can tell from the way most of them have been voting for the
past seven years, they think NAFTA has been a big hit, a
"win-win." About 90 percent of Republicans and 35
percent of Democrats continue to support NAFTA and its
expanded version, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
By 1999, the members of my union were tired of
arguing with politicians about how many jobs were lost because
of NAFTA. They were tired of being subjected to politicians’
stupid answers about how NAFTA was really good for us after
So when UE members visited their lawmakers in
Washington on our annual spring lobby splash, they merely
asked for the answer to a simple question: "Can you give
us the name and address of at least one new factory that has
opened in your state or district directly as a result of
As we expected, our legislators were
flummoxed. They looked at us like we were crazy for asking and
sputtered for a while. We gave them time. Eventually, of the
66 lawmakers from 15 states we quizzed, exactly one came up
with a single example. It turns out NAFTA is verifiably
responsible for the hiring of eighteen workers at a new
soybean processing facility in rural Iowa.
UE members went back and asked their senators
and representatives the same question this year. Senator Leahy
(D-VT) claimed that a plastics factory had opened in Vermont
because of NAFTA. We checked it out. It appears that the plant
might have moved here from Canada, but the company
spokesperson had never heard of NAFTA or Senator Leahy. So
maybe we did get 400 new jobs due to NAFTA, even if the
company doesn’t admit it. And if we did, how many Canadians
lost their jobs?
Some of the other answers we got during our
two congressional quizzes were at least good for a laugh.
Pro-NAFTA representative Tom Sawyer, a Democrat from Akron,
Ohio, told us that his district had "dozens of new
factories" because of NAFTA, but never, ever produced a
HOLD YOUR BREATH!
Numerous congressional staff refused to answer
our query because they said it was a "trick
The most popular answer of all was, "Gee,
there’s lots of new factories. We have a list. We’ll get
back to you." Followed by an unringing telephone.
Fortunately, we didn’t hold our breath. Not one list has
shown up yet.
Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin distinguished
himself by telling us he’d been "misled" about the
trade deal when he voted for it in 1993.
This year, a staffer for Rep. Phil English
(Republican from Erie, PA) gave it to us straight by saying,
"There aren’t any new factories — not in the United
He’s just about right. There are no vast
"lists" of new U.S. plants. What does exist are tens
of thousands of canceled checks these legislators got from the
corporate elite to make sure they voted for disastrous deals
Why don’t you try this one out
Call the Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121
and ask for your representative or senator. Or write: U.S.
Senate, Washington, D.C. 20510 or U.S. House of
Representatives, Washington, D.C. 20515.
Ask them this question:
"Can you give me the name and address of
at least one new factory that has opened in your state or
district directly as a result of the 1993 passage of
Let me know what you find out, care of the
Labor Party (Capitol Hill Shop Steward, c/o The Labor Party,
PO Box 53177, Washington, DC 20009).
And don’t forget to ask someone that other
question: Why don’t you join the Labor Party?
Chris Townsend is political action director
of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of