March 2012

From the Officers
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Imported from North America?

The downward spiral of the North American manufacturing base is not a new story, but it does have new legs. From President Obama's State of the Union address, to assertions in the debates among Republican presidential candidates, to Clint Eastwood's memorable Super Bowl ad for Chrysler, powerful players have rediscovered what has been the daily topic of conversation at dinner tables, bars or coffee shops in industrial towns.

For many communities and families across the breadth of this continent, this attention comes too late. So much has been lost through technological changes, suicidal trade policies and outright corporate greed that many working people have moved on, sometimes literally, to make a living. The story of North American manufacturing cuts across so many narratives: the ability to sustain a middle class, the need to promote research and development, the ripple effect on small businesses, the role of manufacturing in national security, the correlation between family values and economic security. We've been trying to speak this truth to power for decades.

Maybe now they're listening. If President Obama means what he says, then perhaps his administration now understands why workers in Germany, Japan and South Korea are continuing to manufacture machine tools and equipment — which their employers export to China and other booming economies — while the U.S. runs a massive trade deficit, leaving many workers unemployed or languishing in low-paid service jobs. It is because those nations have competitive, comprehensive national industrial policies that promote strong links between government, the education sector and manufacturers.

While I applaud the president's efforts, I am extremely concerned by two recent reports from the Economic Policy Institute and a trade-focused law firm that detail how more than 1.6 million American and Canadian jobs in auto parts — including some held by IBEW members — are at risk unless China's illegal trade practices are curtailed. In the past 10 years, China's auto parts exports to the U.S. have increased by 850 percent, while jobs in the parts industry declined by more than 400,000.

Meanwhile, some of the U.S. trade negotiators and some of the administration's corporate advisors still oppose Buy America rules so that we can "open up" trade with low-wage nations. The free trade song has drowned out all other music for too long. It's time to change that broken record.

We will be asking our members to write letters, send e-mails and speak out on these and other issues that are so critical to truly saving the spirit and muscle of U.S. and Canadian manufacturing, not just for the companies, but for thousands who want to share in the pride and benefits of making things once again.


Also: Chilia: Keeping Our Commitment

Edwin D. Hill
International President