The pundits and politicians inside the Washington Beltway don’t get: If the United States continues to send its manufacturing jobs overseas—as General Motors and Chrysler are now proposing—the result will be more low-income U.S. families.
So today, workers, economists, academics and business and union leaders, fresh from the “Keep It Made in America” bus tour through the nation’s heartland, brought that message to the policymakers’ doorstep as part of a teach-in on Capitol Hill.
The 11-day, 34-city bus tour showcased the ripple effect on communities of the lost jobs in manufacturing. (See video.) Today, during the teach-in, those who took part brought the stories they heard along the tour and presented principles for revitalizing the auto industry to members of Congress and the press.
(You can support the 7.2 million people whose jobs depend on the auto industry by joining the Campaign for America’s Future action to bring back American manufacturing by pledging to buy fuel-efficient, union-built American cars here. You also can sign the Keep It Made in America petition urging Congress and the administration to ensure that auto industry restructuring plans preserve and enhance the manufacture of automobiles in America here.)
The auto industry is tied to 7.2 million jobs. Losing the industry would affect not only autoworkers in Detroit and workers in auto supply industries and car dealerships. It would cause restaurants that serve the factory workers to shut down, force retailers out of business, mean workers’ children could not attend college and rip the social fabric of this country, speakers warned. Municipal tax bases will plummet and firefighters, police and hospital workers will lose their jobs, making our cities and towns less safe.
From Tennessee to Texas, Michigan and Ohio, hardworking folks said they want to see family-supporting jobs stay in America. “They want their shot at the American Dream,” United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo Gerard told the teach-in:
They are counting on our leaders in Washington to fight for them, to recognize there’s much more at stake than profits. The auto sector is fundamental to America’s manufacturing strength. It’s about saving the jobs that made America great.
Speaking at the teach-in, radio and TV host Ed Schulz says the national media doesn’t understand that “the social fabric of America is being ripped apart” and that it may require something akin to the civil rights movement of the 1960s to get their attention.
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.
In a column today on Huffington Post, Gerard tells the stories of four steelworkers whose lives have been turned upside down by the closure of the plants where they worked.
Through no fault of their own, they’ve lost their jobs, their homes, their health care. These are the people who are the strength of America, who in better times volunteered in New York City after 9-11 and in New Orleans after Katrina. Now, they’re forced to get groceries at their union hall’s food bank. They’re humiliated.
Click here to read the entire column.
The biggest culprit in the decline of U.S. manufacturing is the “blind rush to free trade,” Gerard said. The result has been a $6.5 trillion trade deficit that must be serviced by sending $400 billion-$500 billion offshore every year—or by selling off our assets.
We can’t compete with that. If we can’t make things in America, we’re going to put ourselves in a spot where everyone is making $1.50 an hour with no health care, no pension and no one will be able to buy anything.
When manufacturing jobs leave, the service jobs that replace them do not measure up in terms of creating additional jobs or raising the standard of living, said USW economist Lisa Jordan. The 10 fastest growing jobs in the country are poverty-level service jobs, unless the worker belongs to a union, she said.
There is a fundamental mismatch—sending good jobs overseas and leaving the poor jobs here. It’s not just whether [laid-off manufacturing workers] can find jobs. It’s what kind of jobs we have.
The decision to send auto jobs overseas is not about cost, said Susan Helper, an economics professor at Case Western Reserve University. A Japanese car costs about the same to make as an American car and they sell for more. Labor costs only contribute 10 percent to the cost of an American car, she said.
Mayor Vince Bernero in Lansing, Mich., likened the current manufacturing crisis to a war, noting we understand what it means for the country to be in physical danger and how to react. But when it comes to the economic danger created by the unfair trade practices in the global economy, we don’t react.
Our response to free trade is unilateral surrender. We would never do that in a physical war; why do it in an economic war?
As UAW President Ron Gettelfinger told the Capitol Hill crowd:
Everybody’s talking about economic stimulus. A good-paying job is the best stimulus we can have.
To rebuild our manufacturing base, the co-sponsors of the “Keep It Made in America” tour—the USW, the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) and Mayors and Municipalities Coalition—are presenting Congress and the Obama administration with principles for revitalizing auto and auto parts manufacturing and driving economic activity beyond the assembly floor:
- Stimulate domestic demand for automobiles. For example, the government could create an incentive program like cash-for-clunkers with a strong domestic content requirement and restore credit for consumers and businesses.
- Spend tax dollars to support domestic jobs, investment and innovation, and reject off-shoring as a path to profitability for GM and Chrysler.
- Restore cooperative innovation and development programs.
- Change health care policy to eliminate structural problems for the domestic auto industry. The Big Three automakers’ competitors benefit from national health care programs or by offering substandard benefits.
- Ensure our trade policies promotes U.S. interests by enforcing trade laws, currency mismanagement and other non-tariff barriers to fair trade in autos.
Other speakers at today’s event included the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Wilbur Ross, CEO of WL Ross and Co.; AAM Executive Director Scott Paul; and several mayors and members of Congress.