By James P. Hoffa
Manufacturing jobs have been the backbone of the American workforce. During the heyday of U.S. middle-class growth in the mid-20th century, millions toiled at work that may have been hard on the body, but brought home enough to support a family.
Times have changed. Bum trade deals like NAFTA killed upwards of 1 million U.S. jobs, many of which were shipped overseas. And it's still a problem, as the looming 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) shows. These big business handouts continue to hollow out the manufacturing base of communities and destroy middle-class jobs in their wake.
President Obama in an interview last week downplayed the impact of unfair trade on the U.S. workforce, arguing that many manufacturing jobs are low-paying. But I disagree with the president. This nation's manufacturing base provides a pathway to prosperity for many Americans, especially those who work union jobs. The Teamsters represent thousands of them. And this administration cannot shut the door on their future.
You don't have to just take my word on this. Members of the business community, like representatives from The Main Street Alliance and the U.S. Business and Industry Council, are saying that approving the TPP using fast track trade promotion authority will jeopardize good-paying U.S. jobs. The Pacific Rim Trade deal will only increase the 5 million manufacturing jobs lost since 2000.
The Teamsters and many, many others just don't see any value in what TPP brings to this country. First and foremost is the deal won't create any new jobs here. That is significant and can't be pushed aside by proponents. After all, TPP backers like to insist it will result in new work for Americans, although they can never quite explain how. There's a reason why their responses are so vague.
Beyond that, however, is the pressure the TPP will place on U.S. wages. The deal will turbo charge a salary race-to-the-bottom. Many hardworking Americans will see their jobs shipped to low-pay meccas like Vietnam. Those more fortunate will be able to keep working, but for less. The only winners will be big business, which will bask in the glory of its additional billions in profits.
TPP supporters are increasingly getting aggressive in their language against those sticking up for U.S. workers and fair trade. They reject NAFTA as old news and say TPP will be better. But they conveniently omit that the three-year-old U.S-Korea trade deal (KORUS) has led to tens of thousands of lost jobs in this country and the largest trade deficit with South Korea in our history. The language in TPP largely mirrors that of KORUS, by the way.
Frankly, those of us sticking up for American workers should be getting angry with these corporate apologists. The facts are with us. The people are with us. But those with the big-dollar backers behind them won't surrender until the outcome is clear. They are going to play this out.
Getting mad, however, isn't going to solve the problem or help this nation. Businesses need to invest at home, not abroad. Some actually want to do that, but approving fast track and the TPP will stop them from doing so. Elected officials need to remember who they serve. Corporations aren't people too.