Calling free trade what it is

Feb. 6, 2008
Free trade isn't free and it isn't fair

Free trade. Why don’t we call it exactly what it is?
We should rename ‘free trade’. Because it isn’t free and it isn’t fair. Since it’s trade that’s regulated in favor of multinational special interest groups, why don’t we call it for what it is: How about ‘rigged market trade’ or ‘turn your back on your fellow countrymen trade’ or ‘throw American workers out on the street trade’. Why are we so afraid to call a spade a spade? There are 36,000 fewer US factories than there were eight years ago. One in five manufacturing jobs has been lost, nationally, in the last ten years. And counting. What’s wrong with calling it ‘throw American workers out on the street trade’?

If we don’t stem the tide of multinationalism through trade law reform, then of about 140 million US jobs, between 42 and 56 million of them could be moved off-shore within 20 years: all 14 million current jobs in manufacturing and 28 million jobs in the service sector. We’ll be left without any manufacturing at all, which is at the core of our country’s national security.

Members of our association, The Tooling, Manufacturing Technologies Association (TMTA) wonder if things will change in time. They know that most of their woes emanate from disastrous trade laws that have been written in Washington DC. Our members wonder if elected officials even care. It’s clear that these elected officials trail their constituents on the critical issues of trade reform. What it boils down to is that government, at large, is unresponsive to what the electorate wants. How long can this go on?

When the concept of ‘free trade’ was thought up, did the corporate-controlled multinationalists anticipate that America would cease to be a land of broadly shared prosperity? Did they know that the decimation of manufacturing was going to happen and decided to continue on this course anyway? The idea that our economy could regress to a pre-New Deal model where the rich claim all the wealth the nation creates while everyone else just gets by is…stunning. America wasn’t supposed to be the land of ‘winner take all’. What’s happened to the concept of social morality?

It’s been thrown out the window. The philosophy of corporate-controlled multinationalism has sold the middle class into a world where God is money and where people are viewed as a commodity to be used for profit. Greed is now virtue. People like you and me have become pawns in a money machine. The middle class is being destroyed and a new billionaire class is rapidly emerging.

Corporate greed feeds on itself and US manufacturing suffers. Multinationalists who drive the global economy have distanced themselves from the social contract, no longer relying on secure employment and rising standards of living to bolster consumer spending. Corporate greed has gotten so out of hand that there is no longer a philosophical agreement, even amongst themselves, that it is in their own self interest to promote a stable society by securing the safety net. How do they justify themselves?

Here’s a passage from Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail by Jared Diamond, a social anthropologist. He describes an American society in which “corporate elites cocoon themselves in gated communities guarded by private security, fly in corporate aircraft, depend on golden parachutes and private pensions, and send their children to prohibitively expensive private schools. Gradually these corporate elites lose their motivation to support the police force, the municipal water supply, Social Security, and public schools. Any society contains a built-in blueprint for failure if corporate elites insulate themselves from the consequences of their own actions.”

We have to ask ourselves the question, even in our capitalistic society, ‘How much is too much’? Well, in terms of what? Answer: In terms of everything.

I suppose there are some who are reading this who are thinking that this article is leaning a little to the left. Well, actually, it’s not. Increasingly, trade policy and the effects of multinationalism are not partisan issues. The vast majority of Republicans now have serious concerns about our current trade policies because they see these trade policies as being harmful to the middle class and working families of this country, according to a new WALL STREET JOURNAL-NBC NEWS poll. “By a nearly two-to-one margin, Republican voters believe that free trade is bad for the US economy, a shift in opinion that mirrors Democrat views and suggests new trade deals could face high hurdles under the next administration. The signs of broadening resistance to globalization and a fraying of Republican orthodoxy on the economy were also reported in this page-one news story in the WSJ.

We desperately need trade reform relief out of Washington DC and we need it to come from both sides of the aisle. Trade laws that benefit multinational companies have been enacted by representatives who we hire, who we pay, who we expect to represent us, but they’re destroying small manufacturers.

The morally shameful ‘I-don’t-care-about-you-because-I’ve-got-mine’ mentality exhibited by Congress and this Administration is a national disgrace. Our representatives and legislators, collectively, have been responsible for trade policy that has resulted in a cave-in of the manufacturing industry. Where are these people who were elected by us to look out for our interests? Where are these people who were supposed to be our legislative champions?

They’re in Washington, alright. But a lot of the time they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing on our behalf. Instead of being at the Capitol, you know what they’re doing? They’re sitting in the donut shop. But they’re not eating donuts. They’re feeding on complacency. Our complacency.

We let the people who we’ve elected sit in the donut shop of big business cronyism and collusion. We let them sit in the donut shop of the sweet deal. We let them sit in the donut shop of personal self-interest at our expense. And we continue and continue and continue to re-elect them. And we never call them on it. And I mean call them on it literally. A recent Gallup poll asked Americans if they’ve ever contacted their elected representatives. 8 out of 10 said that they never had. And yet, it’s never been easier to contact Members of Congress. All anyone has to do is click on or and type in a zip code and they’re automatically directed to their representatives. A window automatically pops up where you can type a message to them. All in all it takes less than two minutes, on average. And yet people don’t do it. If people whose lives are affected by manufacturing, or health care, or any other social issues wrote their legislators and told them that they wanted trade reform or health care reform and would be watching to see how they voted, the results of that would be staggeringly effective.

At the end of the day, there’s only one way that there’s going to be any relief for all of us in manufacturing and that’s through Washington DC. Most of manufacturing’s problems, your problems, my problems, are as a result of bad trade laws. When the grassroots electorate of this country becomes engaged in this fight, we’ll change bad ‘free’ trade laws into good ‘fair’ trade laws that will reflect the interests of small manufacturers who’ve been absent from trade policy deliberations far too long. By the way, that’s what the Tooling, Manufacturing Technologies Association is all about. That’s what we do. We very aggressively advocate, politically, on behalf of small manufacturers, in Washington DC. The TMTA doesn’t host lunches or dinners. We’re not a social or networking association. We’re very serious advocates for small manufacturers like you who need our association now more than ever. We confront government officials who have substantial authority, those who chair and sit on committees and sub-committees that influence trade law. The TMTA identifies which elected representatives favor improved trade policy, or not. And we let our members know how they vote. We educate grassroots citizens and local opinion leaders. And, you can find more about us by going to And joining us.

We need fair trade reform and we need it now. We need to force our elected officials to re-do trade policies. From the ground up. And the first thing that should happen is that there should be a freeze on all new trade agreements, especially by this current Administration, until major pro-domestic producer and worker trade strategies are put in place. It’s awfully clear that we’re not going to get any help from this White House and that’s a real shame.

Congress must create a National Trade Commission. Congress must pass currency manipulation legislation. Congress must address the unfair advantage caused by the rebate of VAT taxes by passing a border equalization tax. Congress has to enact countervailing duty laws. Congress has to pass laws that standardize Rules of Origin. They have to pass laws that address infrastructure imbalances including regulatory standards and enforcement standards.

And, you know, there are others, with a lot more wisdom and experience than me saying the same thing. Listen to what Lee Iacocca has to say about all this in his new book, “Where Have all the Leaders Gone?” Quote. “Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind. The most famous business leaders aren’t the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. And, don’t tell me it’s all the fault of right wing Republicans or liberal Democrats. That’s an intellectually lazy argument and it’s part of the reason that we’re in this stew. We’re not just a nation of factions. We’re a people and we rise and fall together. I have news for the gang in Congress. We didn’t elect you to sit on your butts and do nothing and remain silent while our country is being hijacked and our greatness is being replaced with mediocrity. What is everybody so afraid of? Why don’t you guys in Congress show some spine for a change?” Unquote.

It sounds as though Mr. Iococca is screaming from the rooftop. His emotionality stems from the apathy he sees amongst…us. As a result of what’s happened to manufacturing, we’ve become stuck in ‘survival mode’ reflected in an unwillingness to change. Our new reality is that there is now a ‘creep’ in the hearts and minds of most of us in manufacturing manifested by a quiet acquiescence and a blindness to the issues that are threatening our economic survival.

So, the desperate state of manufacturing can be fixed in this country if we all decide to become involved and immersed in the problem. If we all become educated about trade reform laws and policies that affect us. If we decide to become active in letting our elected representatives know what we want them to do on our behalf and if we let them know we’re keeping an eye on them to see how they vote on trade issues.

Because, as Mr.Iacocca said, we didn’t elect Congress to sit on their butts and do nothing and remain silent while our country is being hijacked.

Right now, leading into this up-coming general election cycle, we have the real opportunity to make change. Politicians are up for election or re-election. They usually become sensitive to the wants and needs of their constituents right before an election. Rather than accepting lip-service, however, the TMTA has aligned itself with other organizations like the Organization for Competitive Markets and the Coalition for a Prosperous America, like-minded groups that are actually holding politicians’ feet to the fire relative to trade reform issues. (In the last election cycle held two years ago, 15 politicians who were manufacturing-unfriendly and electorally vulnerable were targeted for defeat. And the ‘kill rate’ was 15 out of 15. We intend to follow that model in this election cycle. Politicians who have been in the pockets of the corporate-controlled multinationals are on notice. We are going to do what we can to defeat you for the sake of manufacturing.

Since January 2007, when our association went national to answer the need for small manufacturers to be represented honestly in Washington DC, we have grown from representing 21,000 member employees to now representing 50,500 member employees in 22 states. And counting. This remarkable growth shows that small manufacturers want, need, and value advocacy at the federal level. The stronger our association becomes, the more clout we have in the halls of power in Washington DC. Why don’t you join us? We need your help and support.

Ultimately, we’re optimistic about the future of manufacturing . I’m reminded of the observation that the United States can always be counted on to do the right thing…once all other possibilities have been exhausted.

That’s supposed to be a funny line but there’s a lot of truth in it.

Brian Sullivan is Director of Sales, Marketing Communications for the Tooling, Manufacturing Technologies Association and can be reached at [email protected] or by telephone at 248.488.0300 x1307.

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