January 5, 2007    Volume 14, No. 1

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'Truck Stop Politics': Washington Oligarchy Ignores Working Class At Its Peril; Disgruntled Manufacturing Workers Flex Their Electoral Muscle

BY RICHARD McCORMACK richard@manufacturingnews.com

A major political shift driven by manufacturing workers directly impacted by the loss of jobs is taking place in the country. Politicians ignore this growing movement at their peril, according to the leader of a successful grass-roots effort to educate workers on the adverse impacts of trade.

The shift clearly expressed itself in the 2006 congressional election. An informed an activated electorate in congressional races in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, Georgia and North Carolina threw incumbents out of office over issues related to the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs, currency manipulation, outsourcing, increased CEO pay, and reduced health care benefits and pensions, writes Tom Mullikin in a new book entitled "Truck Stop Politics, Understanding the Emerging Force of Working Class Americans."

"A growing body of evidence suggests that all is not well with the American worker," he writes. "Many see a red flag waving in front of the Blue Collar Bull....Everyone involved in American politics should begin to assign new importance and focus urgent attention on...any issue that has a direct bearing on the American working class. And by 'everyone,' I mean the parties and their leadership, candidates and would-be candidates, pundits, courtiers, consultants, pollsters and the entire political establishment, both in and out of power. We should be aware that the ground is shifting beneath our feet."

If you need further evidence of that shift, take a look beyond the election results and at what's been happening at Nucor's town hall meetings. These events are attracting thousands of people including local politicians whose governments are directly impacted by the loss of industry. "When you see traffic backed up for a mile or more as people turn out, even when the weather is cold or rainy, you know that there are great underlying concerns in America's working class, and that people can still be awakened and roused to action," writes Mullikin.

These workers are experiencing first-hand the loss of good-paying jobs. Difficult personal and local economic conditions are being validated within the eyes of workers on a national scale by news media coverage of outsourcing, record corporate profits and declining take-home pay. "If the average worker knows that she is having significant difficulties feeding her children, filling her gasoline tank and paying the rent, then it comes back to the perception that someone is gaining too much at her expense. This is the growing sensitivity of hundreds of thousands of working American families."

Politicians and those in corporate America should not ignore the growing level of anxiety, frustration and resentment, writes Mullikin, a lawyer with the firm of Moore & Van Allen in Charlotte, N.C., and one of the organizers of the many "town hall" meetings being held across the country by Nucor. If the issues impacting the massive group of despondent working class voters are not addressed quickly and in a forthright manner, then there is a good chance of a political "earthquake," the size of which the country has not experienced since the Great Depression.

Political candidates and strategists "have underestimated the effectiveness of mobilizing the working class voters and failed to grasp the perspective these voters have of the political landscape," Mullikin writes in the book published in December. "Broader employment trends, income trends, factory closings, political volatility, demographic profiles and many other factors can be woven together to portray districts that may be primed for a political trembler." Investment bankers, executives "and others at the top of America's white-collar food chain" might not be losing sleep over outsourcing - "at least not yet," writes Mullikin. But somebody is: "the factory workers and the ever widening swath of call center and tech workers."

Democrats and even some Republicans running in the 2006 congressional election on issues related to addressing these conditions in most cases easily beat incumbents that were focused on other issues.

Mullikin analyzes a number of campaigns and their outcomes. In Indiana's 8th Congressional District, Democratic challenger Brad Ellsworth, running on issues related to the impacts of unfair trade, easily defeated incumbent John Hostettler by receiving 61 percent of the vote. Hostettler ran on social and conservative "values" issues, "a common strategy among politicians looking to appeal to the 'concerns' of the working class voter," writes Mullikin. "An informed and activated manufacturing electorate in Indiana's 8th Congressional District has the potential to deliver almost 100,000 votes to one candidate or the other, either by activating voters who previously stayed home or by shifting voter choice to a candidate who speaks to the issues most critical to them."

In North Carolina's 11th district, democratic challenger Heath Shuler, also running on trade issues, easily defeated eight-term incumbent Charles Tayler, who voted in favor of CAFTA. Issues related to the working-class helped propel 15 percent more people (28,500) to the polls in the North Carolina district.

It should not have been easy for Shuler to win in this district. Only 28 percent of voters identified themselves as being Democrats, with 40 percent Republican. "An amazing 80 percent of voters indicated they were aware that U.S. manufacturing had lost over 3 million jobs over the past several years," writes Mullikin. "87 percent stated that the loss of these jobs and failure to enforce trade agreements were important to them."

In Illinois's 6th District, Democratic challenger Army Maj. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who lost both her legs in the conflict, lost her race. Her bid for office was predicated primarily on one issue: Iraq, while her opponent, incumbent Republican Peter Roskam, "chose to highlight the plight of manufacturing workers in Illinois," Mullikin points out. "On a day when Democrats everywhere were swept into office, Roskam captured 51 percent of the vote, defeating Duckworth by 5,000 votes."

In his book, Mullikin also describes Ronald Reagan's success as a politician by taking a strong stance on Japan's unfair trade practices and their impact on American workers, creating a loyal core of Reagan Democrats and endearing himself for life to the growing estranged class of workers. He also describes NAFTA and CAFTA as "bookends" of the era of unchallenged trade agreements.

Mullikin's book, from Vox Populi Publishers (ISBN 978-0-9790178-3-4), is available for $9.56 on Amazon.com.

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