A Seething Political Anger Rises In America's Industrial Heartland; Small Manufacturing Owners Lead Grass-Roots Efforts To Save U.S. Industry
A host of grass-roots manufacturing lobbying associations is springing up across the country, driven by a growing sense of despair over small manufacturing companies' inability to compete with cheap imports and the sustained loss of large manufacturing customers that are shifting production offshore.
Save American Manufacturing, USA Fair Trade, the Manufacturing Coalition, "MAD in USA" -- a variation of "Made in USA" -- and a coalition formed by the textile and apparel industries are five new organizations that are livid about the free-trade policies of the U.S. government. They do not believe the large manufacturing trade associations in Washington, D.C., are representing their interests and they are becoming vehement in their criticisms of the Bush administration and Congress.
The groups have attracted thousands of members and are mobilizing them to impact next year's congressional and presidential elections. Many of the organizers are business owners who consider themselves to be Republicans.
"Our motto is, if you're supporting someone 8,000 miles away, we do not need to support you," says Bill Cermak, national chairman of Save American Manufacturing (SAM) and an executive with Pro Mold & Die in Roselle, Ill.
The group, a spinoff from the American Mold Builders Association in Chicago, has about 5,000 members and 16 state chapters. It is currently incorporating and plans to create a legislative scoreboard to rate members of Congress based on their support for manufacturing initiatives such as the Save American Manufacturing Act (S-592), the Job Protection Act (HR-1769), "Buy American" provisions in the Defense Authorization Bill, and their opposition to free trade agreements.
"We are trying to unite the voters and let our congressmen and senators know that we are watching them and will back those who are doing something to support manufacturing in the United States," Cermak told Manufacturing & Technology News. "Our legislators have to remember that they were voted into place to represent American people. They don't represent somebody 8,000 miles away. If they have voted for fast track and preferred nation [status for China], then they had better start looking at their constituents because those are the people who gave them their job and those are the people who are out of work."
Like other new grass-roots organizations, Save American Manufacturing has found that small manufacturers have no voice in the political process. "The small guys are going out of business and do not have millions of dollars to give to the presidential campaign like all the major manufacturers in this country -- the ones that have located outside of the country," says Cermak.
Cermak has a particular disdain for Motorola. The company, he says, recently closed its rapid tooling division in Libertyville, Ill., throwing 35 to 40 people out of work on three-weeks' notice. "They brought in their replacements from China on H-1B visas, had them work side-by-side with their engineers and now they're moving everything away," says Cermak. The National Association of Manufacturers "had a big tool show here in March and [Secretary of Commerce] Don Evans was the guest speaker. [NAM president] Jerry Jasinowski was talking about free trade and how it was going to be good for Americans and how we needed it and Evans walks on the stage and just about gives Jasinowski a kiss. Evans looked around and the first words out of his mouth were, 'I'm really glad to be in Chicago because this is the home base of Motorola. Let me introduce some friends of mine...' These people are all paying the way and so is China. They're making major contributions. The United States government is scared shitless of China. It's like owning a pet lion. You have to keep feeding it so it won't bite you."
SAM also helped organize a letter-writing campaign to Grant Aldonas, the Commerce Department's Under Secretary for International Trade, who is conducting a study on the condition of U.S. manufacturing. The group delivered more than 1,600 letters. "I read almost every one of those letters as they came in and I just wanted to sit down and cry," says SAM national coordinator Cynthia Petrucci, who works for Progressive Components International Corp. "If you read those letters, you'd be in the middle of this trying to get your legislators to understand what's going on."
Another new organization created in Connecticut echoes these sentiments. The "big dirty secret" behind America's industrial decline "is large American corporations and retailers that are doing us in," says "MAD In USA" president Fred Tedesco. Small manufacturing companies "have been had," adds Tedesco, president of Pa-Ted Spring of Brisol, Conn.
MAD In USA held its initial rally in New Britain, Conn., on Aug. 2, and attracted more than 1,000 people, including Conn. Sen. Chris Dodd (D), and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D) and Nancy Johnson (R). "It's not a bunch of business people whining. We need help and we need it quickly," says Tedesco.
The group has proposed that the federal government adopt eight new policies that favor the development of the U.S. manufacturing sector including a proposal that any item that sells for more than $15 display on its label the countries where its components were manufactured. It wants a new division within the Commerce Department to investigate complaints from small manufacturers who believe they are being "stiffed" by large manufacturers on bidding opportunities. It wants 100 percent of the components of defense weapons systems to be manufactured by U.S. companies. Like all the other groups, it is calling for strict adherence to trade agreements and stiff penalties for both foreign manufacturers and American buyers "who knowingly purchase products where product safety, quality, patent or copyright infringements are discovered."
If the country continues on its current path, says MAD In USA, "the potential for disaster is both large and real. This is an urgent problem requiring immediate action. Thousands of companies that are barely hanging on will not survive if 'free' but unfair trade practices and policies are allowed to persist. Many industries have been shut down here and many more are on the verge of collapse."
Another activist group is USA Fair Trade, established by Sam Tull, president of Industrial Machine Tool in Cecilton, Md. "Each month we select a government leader to receive our message," says Tull. "We are going to flood this individual and demand that we will not settle for anything less than fair trade."
In its first letter-writing campaign in August, the group inundated United States Trade Representative Robert Zoellick with at least 75,000 letters. It is preparing its second letter to Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
"I'm not saying that we know what the answers to the problems are, but the trade issue is going to ruin this country," says Tull. "What was supposed to work with NAFTA didn't work. What was supposed to work with China is going to bury us."
Tull, whose company sells machine tools, says finished products are being brought into the United States at less cost than U.S. manufacturers can purchase basic raw materials. "No amount of productivity is ever going to correct that circumstance," Tull says. U.S. industry is burdened with health care costs, Medicare, OSHA and environmental regulations. "If China is installing highly sophisticated production equipment, how are we able to compete here at home with those cost burdens?" he asks. "It isn't ever going to happen whatsoever."
USA Fair Trade knows that the trade issue does not resonate well with the electorate, "but that's all the more reason for us to wake up enough people so that it's going to be an issue" in next year's presidential campaign, Tull adds. "I am a tried- and-true Republican and have never voted Democratic in my life. But I'm going to tell you, I personally can't vote for this administration again given what's happening. If there is not a major shift in trade policy, I can't support them."
Another national grass-roots effort is being led by Joseph Smith, publisher of the Machinist magazine. Smith created the Manufacturing Coalition after realizing that "there was no national spokesman for manufacturing," he says. "As a magazine publisher [I] had the right kind of visibility to be such a spokesman." The group will lobby for investment tax credits, accelerated depreciation for new equipment, training credits, trade reforms and manufacturing R&D programs.
Finally, 14 major textile and fiber trade associations along with UNITE, the industry's largest labor union and more than 70 senior executives in the industry have mobilized a grass-roots lobbying coalition to fight Chinese imports. The group has filed a Chinese safeguard petition with the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements to force immediate constraints on imports of various textile products from China. The industry has lost 300,000 jobs since 2001 and the United States ran a $61 billion trade deficit in textile and apparel goods last year, says the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition. Since NAFTA was signed in 1994, the industry has shed 810,600 jobs, or 52 percent of its total workforce.
"A significant portion of the Chinese textile and apparel industry is government owned," says Auggie Tantillo, director of AMTAC. "The Chinese have admitted they have lost money in five of the past six years. No U.S. business could operate that way. The time for action is long overdue. No more words. No more commitments. The administration needs to act immediately."
The coalition places the blame for the industry's plight directly on Washington. Companies involved in the coalition "have pledged to hold voter registration drives to make sure that 100 percent of the eligible voters working in their respective companies are registered to vote," says Stephen Felker of Avondale Mills.
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