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Unions urged to make a stand

The News-Sentinel | 13 May 2009

Unions urged to make a stand

Activists on bus tour make local stop, preach reform and unity.

By Evan Goodenow
of The News-Sentinel

An American way of life is on life support.

That belief is being hammered home by the United Steelworkers and other union activists touring the Midwest by bus advocating foreign trade and health care reforms and a “buy American” mentality. The tour has 34 stops in 11 states, including a Tuesday visit to Fort Wayne, where they met with about 100 union workers at Carpenters Union Local 232 on Progress Drive.

Echoing the sentiments of manufacturing workers nationally, audience members despaired at the current state of industry.

“Corporate greed is sucking us dry, and what they’re going to do when they’re done is to kick everybody to the curb,” said Linda Davis, a laid-off Cooper-Standard Automotive worker from the Auburn plant. “We’ve got to stand up and tell ’em, ‘Enough’s enough and we ain’t taking it no more.’ ”

The solidarity theme was expanded on by Ernest W. Leach, a Cooper-Standard mill worker. Leach said increasing poverty and long lines at food pantries are a result of jobs lost to the Central American Free Trade Agreement, North American Free Trade Agreement and other free trade policies.

Leach said union members need to persuade their neighbors to shake off their apathy and stop acting against their economic interests by buying foreign products and voting for politicians who advocate free trade. Collective, rather than individual, action will force the issue with politicians.

“We have to become a pain in their (expletives) if that’s what it takes,” Leach said. “If we as a group of people can’t turn this around, we’re done.”

Turning it around will require leveling the trade playing field, said Jim Robinson, United Steelworkers District 7 director. Robinson said U.S. auto companies can’t compete with countries like Japan, whose government covers worker’s health care costs.

Other disparities involve imports and exports. Robinson noted that Korea exports nearly 500,000 cars to the U.S. compared with about 5,000 American cars exported to Korea. Robinson said the U.S. needs to be allowed to sell more cars overseas.

“If we don’t mine it, grow it, make it in the United States, we’re not creating wealth,” said Robinson, whose district encompasses Indiana and Illinois. “Flipping money around on Wall Street is not creating wealth, it’s just flipping money around, and as soon as somebody peeks around the curtain, they find out it’s all a big fraud and everything comes crashing down.”

The Wall Street crash was partially blamed by some audience members on pro-free trade Republicans like U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, R-3rd District. However, Scott N. Paul, Alliance for American Manufacturing executive director, said Democrats share the blame, noting that former President Bill Clinton got NAFTA ratified in 1994 and helped get China into the WTO in 2001.

NAFTA cost about 1 million Americans their jobs, including 35,000 in Indiana between 1994 and 2004, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal Washington D.C. think-tank. About 1.8 million jobs, including 45,000 in Indiana, were lost to China between 2001 and 2006.

Free trade supporters like Clinton said it would increase the standard of living of foreigners who could then spend more money on American products. But with no worker protection or environmental standards in the agreements, detractors say conditions are wretched in countries like Mexico.

Tim Emerick, a laid-off steelworker who visited Alcoa plants in Mexico in 2007, said pregnant workers were denied breaks and workers were charged for substandard housing, leaving them no money for food.

“We need to penalize these companies somehow that are taking jobs out of the United States,” Emerick said. “It’s a shame because there’s a lot of people out there losing everything they got.”

 source: The News-Sentinel