December 15, 2006    Volume 13, No. 22

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Domestic Manufacturers And Farmers Form Alliance To Battle Against Proponents Of Free Trade -- The Two Issue A Joint 'Statement Of Purpose'



BY RICHARD McCORMACK richard@manufacturingnews.com


A new coalition is being formed by farmers, manufacturers and labor officials who are frustrated with multinational companies' control of a trade agenda they say is devastating the U.S. economy. The coalition has the backing of Nucor, the country's most respected steel manufacturer, the National Farmers Union, American Corn Growers Association, the Colorado Springs Manufacturing Task Force and others. It is currently putting together a leadership team and will take its battle against corporate interests to both Washington, D.C., and America's heartland.

The coalition's "trusted core" of leaders planned to meet Dec. 15 in Charlotte, N.C., at the law offices of Moore & Van Allen to sketch out a structure, identify potential alliance and coalition partners and develop a strategic plan aimed at reversing the spiraling U.S. trade deficit. Moore & Van Allen has been helping organize Nucor's town hall meetings throughout the country deploring trade agreements that Nucor argues are leading to the decline of the United States economy.

Most of the principal members of the group from the farm community describe themselves as life-long conservatives, and they have no intention of allowing the coalition to be hijacked by lefty liberal hotheads wielding guitars and singing folk songs.

"We are people who are getting off our asses and are doing something," says Fred Stokes, a Mississippi farmer and executive director of the Organization for Competitive Markets, which is spearheading the initiative. "We're building a coalition of manufacturing, agriculture, services, labor, consumer interests, environmentalists and Archie Bunker regular Americans who give a damn about the country and who will come together and say we are doing it wrong. There is an argument to be made that we need trade, but there is nothing that we can produce in this country that somebody somewhere else can produce cheaper, so the question is, what are we going to do?"

Commercial-scale family farmers are becoming more outraged by the treatment they receive from large agribusinesses such as Cargill, ADM, Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods. These big companies are America's "enemies," says Stokes, a retired Army officer. What makes them the "enemy?" Manufacturing & Technology News asks: "Because money is more important than people, community and country," Stokes replies. But these companies employ thousands of Americans. That might be true, says Stokes, "but they're putting a lot of Americans out of jobs with their fixation on raising stock values and making money. There is no way that you can compete with people who are not bound by the safety and environmental rules that we are required to abide by, who don't give a damn about labor standards and are very happy to exploit people by using prison labor, child labor, and cheap labor and have no national allegiance. Our government has refused to take action against them. I don't know where they think their kids are going to live."

Others note that no "protectionist" type of trade legislation has ever passed Congress without the support of farmers.

Other farm leaders in the movement say they have been told for 20 years that free trade would result in greater market access and would benefit the family farmer by increasing export volumes and prices. "But that's crock," says John Dittrich, a Nebraska farmer with 4,500 acres of corn and soybeans and a leader in the American Corn Growers Association. "It was never designed to help the family farmer. It has helped lower-priced products from developing countries undercut U.S. production. So if we strengthen our dissenting voice in agriculture and join it with those voices in domestic manufacturing that are having similar problems, that is a plus. That is unique."

An agricultural trade surplus of $27 billion in 1996 has shrunk to only $3.7 billion in 2005, and the country is expected to post its first ever trade deficit in agricultural products in 2006. Agricultural imports have almost doubled over the past 10 years from $33.5 billion in 1996 to $59.3 billion in 2005, according to the Department of Agriculture. But U.S. ag exports have hardly budged: growing from $60.3 billion in 1996 to $63 billion in 2005. Exports declined from $60.3 billion in 1996 to a low of $51 billion in 2000 before slowly recovering to their current level. Agricultural imports from China have more than tripled since 1998, growing from $641 million to $2.1 billion in 2005.

Those involved in the coalition say there is a "tidal wave" of concern brewing in the country over the effects of unfair trade promoted by multinationals. "Bubba is catching up," says Stokes. "It's an entrepreneurial opportunity," adds one manufacturing executive involved in the coalition. "The masses of American people are disenfranchised. I don't think the people in leadership realize how much they have been failing us and how there is such yearning for common-sense statesmanship. The guy who invented Microsoft didn't realize what was going to happen when he did that, and this is a similar situation. We're reaching a tipping point."

Those involved with the coalition say they are conscious of their role as "activists" or "dissenters" and understand the difficulty of having to wear those negative labels, but so be it. "Being an activist is better than being a do-nothing," says Stokes. "We have absolutely hollowed out this country as far as our capacity to make things," he says. "Rosie the Riveter is not around any more, and China is not some little pipsqueak."

Others associated with the movement say they have learned from earlier grass-roots efforts such as Save American Manufacturing (SAM) and MADe In USA. Those groups "were run by very impatient people with big egos - primadonnas - and you couldn't get them to work together," says Dave Frengel of United Penn Technology, who helped organize the National Association of Manufacturers' Domestic Manufacturing Group (DMG), but is representing only his company in the new coalition. Developing a realistic, workable solution to the problems posed by the current trade regime is key to success, Frengel adds. "We have people within our midst who want to go out and tear down the system, raise hell and boot those SOBs out of office. If we're not prepared with answers and are just keeping our fingers crossed for something better to happen, and if we begin fighting amongst ourselves in a way that totally divides us as to what to do next, then the multinationals will swoop back in and give everybody their answers."

The group needs a dose of reality, commented one Washington trade lobbyist who's been invited to participate. There are only two or three ways of doing anything in Washington and they all require getting congressional and presidential votes, he says. It's great to have a grass-roots movement, but holding pep rallies isn't going to get the job done. "It's easy to achieve unanimity and have energetic converts, but that always exists until you try to do something."

A 'Statement Of Purpose'

About 50 individuals attending a meeting of the Coalition for Competitive Markets in Colorado spent about 90 minutes crafting a common "Statement of Purpose." The proclamation "establishes a very important and substantial common ground among the groups," said one attendee. "It was a clear accomplishment. It established that there is common ground." Here's the statement:

This week of Nov. 15, 2006, members of grassroots organizations representing America's farmers, workers and manufacturers met in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to form a new coalition.

Multinational corporate-controlled globalization is undermining the well being and prosperity of farmers and rural America, working families, domestic manufacturers and the service industries depending on them. It is built on policies that threaten and harm workers and families in every sector of the American and world economies.

We must address current corporate conduct and corporate control of government policy. Communities and families are under economic assault and that assault undermines our fundamental American democratic values.

Existing trade agreements have caused tremendous trade deficits, harmed future American innovation prospects, resulted in tens of thousands of manufacturing company closures and eliminated millions of manufacturing jobs. They have also compromised national security and undermined national sovereignty.

We support a mutually beneficial fair trade policy that delivers broadly shared benefits for workers, farmers and manufacturers everywhere;

We believe that it is urgently necessary to pursue trade policies that recognize the full range of societal concerns.

We accept trade as fundamental, but it must balance producer, consumer and trading partner interests.

We recognize that markets serve the economic interest of individuals and businesses but they must also serve democratic values.

We are committed to developing a New Global Trade and Investment Agenda that serves the people who make and grow things in all countries. The agenda must include and improve labor and environmental standards, food security and national security. It must realign corporate and trade objectives to serve the nation's public and private interests.

Signatories:

  • Organization for Competitive Markets
  • Colorado Springs Manufacturing Task Force
  • National Farmers Union
  • California Farmers Union
  • California Dairy Campaign
  • National Catholic Rural Life Conference
  • Made In USA Strategies
  • American Corn Growers Association



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