‘Made in America’ Just a Political Slogan to Conservatives

by Walter Brasch

Conservatives in Congress have once again proven they are un-American and unpatriotic. This time, it’s because of their fierce approval for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The pipeline, being built and run by TransCanada, will bring tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. All the oil will be exported. Major beneficiaries, including House Speaker John Boehner, are those who invest in a Canadian company.

Opponents see the 1,179-mile pipeline as environmentally destructive. They cite innumerable leaks and spills in gas pipelines, and correctly argue that the tar sands oil is far more caustic and destructive than any of the crude oil being mined in the United States. They point out the pipeline would add about 240 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. They also argue that the use of eminent domain by a foreign corporation, in this case a Canadian one, to seize private property goes against the intent of the use of eminent domain. Eminent domain seizure, they also correctly argue, should be used only to benefit the people and not private corporations.

Proponents claim it will bring jobs to Americans. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims the pipeline would create up to 250,000 jobs. However, the Department of State concludes that completion of the pipeline would create only 35 permanent jobs.

The Republican-led House has voted nine times to force the President to approve completion of the pipeline. In January, with Republicans now in control of the Senate, a bill to support construction of the pipeline passed, 62-36. Congressional actions appear to be nothing more than political gesturing. The decision to approve or reject the pipeline is that of a recommendation by the Department of State and, finally, that of the President.

However, the conservatives’ hatred of American workers became apparent in an amendment to the Senate bill. That amendment, submitted by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) would require, if the pipeline was approved, all iron, steel, and other materials used must be made in America by American companies. That would, at least, give some work to Americans. That amendment should have had widespread approval in the Senate, especially from the conservative wing that thrusts out its chests and daily proclaim themselves to be patriots of the highest order.

But when the votes were counted, the Senate, by a 53-46 vote, rejected that amendment. Voting for “Made in America” were 44 Democrats, one independent, and one Republican. Voting against the amendment were 53 Republicans.

The Republicans’ rejection of the amendment was expected. America’s corporate business leaders, most of them conservatives and registered Republicans, have freely downsized their workforce, outsourced jobs overseas, and proudly proclaimed their actions helped raise profits. Profits, of course, are not usually shared with the workers who make the product and then were terminated so American companies could use and exploit foreign labor, while the executives enjoy seven- and eight-figure salaries, benefits, and “golden parachute” retirement clauses not available to those whose labor built the companies and their profits.

Corporations have also figured out how to best send their profits to banks outside the United States and, thus, avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Several Fortune 500 corporations, with billions of dollars in assets, pay no federal taxes. For money they keep in U.S. financial institutions, corporations have figured out numerous ways to use loopholes to bring their tax burden to a percentage lower than what the average worker might pay each year.

Congress is a willing co-conspirator because it has numerous times refused to close loopholes that allow millionaires and the corporations to easily drive through those loopholes, while penalizing lower- and middle-class Americans.

By their own actions-in business and, most certainly, in how they dealt with the Keystone XL amendment-the nation’s conservatives have proven that “Made in America” and “American Pride” are nothing more than just popular slogans.

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist and proud member of several unions, is the author of 20 books. The latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth look at the economic, political, environmental, and health effects of horizontal fracturing in the United States.]

 

Discounting Lives to Maximize Profits

by WALTER BRASCH

Imitating Sgt. Schultz of “Hogan’s Heroes,” Walmart executives claimed they knew nothing-NOTHING-about working conditions in a garment factory in Bangladesh where 112 workers died and more than 150 were injured in a fire.

Tazreen Fashions made Walmart’s Faded Glory brand clothes, as well as clothes for Sears and other dozens of other major retailers. Walmart officials told the news media they had previously terminated Tazreen as a direct supplier because of concerns about fire hazards, but that another supplier had subcontracted the work to Tazreen. Walmart refused to identify the supplier. In an official statement, Walmart said that the fire was “extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work with the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh.”

News reports indicate that survivors said fire extinguishers didn’t work, exit doors were locked, and there were no emergency exits. The AP reports that most fire extinguishers were not used, the workers having no knowledge of how to use them. According to the AP, most of the workers, about 70 percent of them women, were from the poorest sections of Bangladesh. More than 700 workers have died since 2005 from fires in the Bangladesh’s growing clothing manufacturing industry, according to the International Labor reporting Forum.

As with the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York in 1911, where 146 women, most of them recent Jewish and Italian immigrants working in sweatshop conditions, the workers at Tazreen were burned alive trying to get through the doors that never opened, died from smoke inhalation, or jumped to their deaths. Many of the dead in both fires were buried in unmarked graves, their bodies unrecognizable. The Triangle fire eventually led to improved safety conditions and the rise of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union to protect workers from management callousness.

Walmart has a fierce anti-union policy for its own stores and employees, but doesn’t say much about working conditions in companies that supply merchandise, nor does it actively oppose unions in other companies overseas. There is no organized representation for most of the workers in Bangladesh sweatshops. Most workers earn $8.50 to $12.50 for a 48 hour work week, with mandatory overtime that can push them to as many as 80 hours. They receive two or three days off in a month. If Americans wonder why their clothes may not be as good as American-made clothes produced in union shops, the answer could be that the workers in Bangladesh may be mentally and physically fatigued, and that multinational corporations pressure suppliers to cut costs on material and labor. Bangladesh, now competing with China, shipped about $18 billion worth of merchandise to American and European corporations last year.

About 40 percent of all merchandise sold by Walmart is produced by contracts with manufacturers (most overseas), where low wages, excessive work hours, and poor working conditions are accepted practice. Walmart doesn’t make public the names of the companies which produce those “low prices” merchandise. However, it is known that it has contracts with several Bangladesh companies, as well as more than 20,000 Chinese manufacturers.

With revenue of more than $447 billion a year and about a 25 percent profit, Walmart is the largest public company in income in the world. But with its “low prices” slogan comes significant risk.

Walmart and other corporations have pushed American suppliers to outsource their own merchandise to overseas suppliers. More than 3.3 million American jobs will have been outsourced by 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. However, Goldman Sachs projects that as many as seven million jobs will have been lost by 2014. Most are in clothing and computer/electronics manufacturing, and in service centers where American customers call “help” lines and often get a heavily-accented representative who says his name is “Sam.” What most politicians, business people, and the public don’t understand is there is a direct correlation between the number of jobs outsourced and high unemployment in the U.S.

Walmart, which originally established a “Buy American” slogan before strutting its “lower prices” philosophy, now claims that over half its merchandise is made in America. This may or may not be accurate-Walmart doesn’t give specifics. But, if accurate, most of that is from its expanded grocery stores. Clothing, electronics, household goods, and thousands of other products are still made overseas-usually in conditions that are, at best, sweatshops; at worst, death traps. Every Congressional bill to ban the import of products produced in sweatshop conditions has been smothered in the committee process.

It’s possible that Walmart executives and upper management of the 2.2 million employee corporation that has eyes in almost every spot of the world did not know about working conditions in Tazreen-or any of the other sweatshops in Asia. It’s also possible they did know, but did a PR shuffle to explain their indifference. It really doesn’t matter.  

The sweatshops allow the corporations to sell the cheap merchandise that results in higher return on investment for American corporations that rely upon American consumers who want cheap merchandise, and don’t seem to care where it comes from or how it’s produced.

But, even those Americans who do care, and would pay higher prices for merchandise produced by workers in unionized American manufacturing plants, usually don’t have a choice. It’s hard to find “Made in America” labels on clothes and numerous other products sold by major retailers that have largely ignored sweatshop conditions in order to maximize profit.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is Before the First Snow, which looks at working conditions. Assisting on this column was Rosemary R. Brasch]

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Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

www.walterbrasch.com

www.walterbrasch.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/walterbrasch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

Mission Impossible: Finding a Mini-Van Made in America by Union Workers

by WALTER BRASCH

Last year, not one of the 491,687 new minivans sold in the United States was made in America by unionized workers.

Some were manufactured overseas by companies owned by non-American manufacturers. The Kia Sedona, with 24,047 sales, was built in South Korea, Russia, and the Philippines. The MAZDA5, with 19,155 sales, was built in China, Japan, and Taiwan.

Some minivans from Japanese companies were built in the U.S., but by non-unionized workers. Honda sold 107,068 Odysseys built in Alabama. Toyota Siennas, built in Indiana, went to 111,429 persons. The Nissan Quest, built in Ohio, had 12,199 sales.

Only three minivans were built by unionized workers, but they were made in Canada by members of the Canadian Auto Workers. The Dodge Grand Caravan, with 110,996 sales; Chrysler Town & Country, with 94,320 sales; and the VW Routan, with 12,473 sales, all share the same basic body; most differences are cosmetic. GM and Ford no longer produce minivans.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) suggests that members who wish to buy minivans buy one of the three Chrysler products because much of the parts are manufactured in the United States by UAW members.

All cars, trucks, and vans from GM, Ford, and Chrysler are produced by union workers in the U.S. or Canada. The Japanese-owned Mitsubishi Eclipse, Spyder, and Galant, and the Mazda6 are produced in the U.S. under UAW contracts; neither company makes minivans. All vehicles produced in the U.S. have the first Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) as a 1, 4, or 5; vehicles produced in Canada have a 2 as the first VIN number.

Founded in 1935, the UAW quickly established a reputation for creating the first cost-of-living allowances (COLAs) and employer-paid health care programs. It helped pioneer pensions, supplementary unemployment benefits, and paid vacations.

It has been at the forefront of social and economic justice issues; Walter Reuther, its legendary president between 1946 and his death in 1970, marched side-by-side with Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez, and helped assure that the UAW was one of the first unions to allow minorities into membership and to integrate the workforce. Bob King, its current president, a lawyer, was arrested for civil disobedience, carrying on the tradition of the social conscience that has identified the union and its leadership.

The UAW doesn’t mind that corporations make profits; it does care when some of the profit is at the expense of the worker, for without a competent and secure work force, there would be no profit. When the economy failed under the Bush-Cheney administration, and the auto manufacturers were struggling, the UAW recognized it was necessary for the workers to take pay cuts and make other concessions for the companies to survive.

But not all corporations have the social conscience that the UAW and the “Big 3” auto manufacturers developed. For decades, American corporations have learned that to “maximize profits,” “improve the bottom line,” and “give strength to shareholder stakes” they could downsize their workforce and ship manufacturing throughout the world. Our companies have outsourced almost every form of tech support, as well as credit card assistance, to vendors whose employees speak varying degrees of English, but tell us their names are George, Barry, or Miriam. Clothing, toys, and just about anything bought by Americans could be made overseas by children working in abject conditions; their parents might make a few cents more, and in certain countries would be thrilled to earn less than half the U.S. minimum wage.

Americans go along with this because they think they are getting their products cheaper. What they don’t want to see is the working conditions of those who are employed by companies that are sub-contractors to the mega-conglomerates of American enterprise. These would be the same companies whose executives earn seven and eight-figure salaries and benefits, while millions are unemployed.

But, Americans don’t care. After all, we’re getting less expensive products, even if what we buy is cheaply made because overseas managers, encouraged by American corporate executives, lower the quality of materials and demand even more work from their employees.

Walk into almost every department store and Big Box store, and it’s a struggle to find clothes, house supplies, and entertainment media made in America. If you do find American-made products, they are probably produced in “right-to-work” states that think unionized labor is a Communist-conspiracy to destroy the free enterprise system of the right to make obscene profits at the expense of the working class.

We can wave flags and tell everyone how much more patriotic we are than them, but we still can’t buy a minivan made in America by unionized workers-even when the price is lower than that of the non-unionized competition.

Sales figures of minivans are from Edmunds.com. Also assisting was Rosemary Brasch. Walter Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel Before the First Snow, which looks at the mass media, social justice, and the labor movement. The book is available from amazon, local bookstores, andin both hard copy or an ebook.

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Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

www.walterbrasch.com

www.walterbrasch.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/walterbrasch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

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Let the Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story: Private School Bus Services in PA Cost More

A blog post by Stephen Herzenberg, originally published at Third and State.

The standard conservative narrative is that private delivery of services and goods trumps government delivery. In Harrisburg, for example, Governor Corbett’s Council on Privatization and Innovation often presents its goal as privatization, taking for granted that this will be more efficient and cost-effective.

In fact, the record on privatization shows that in many cases privatization fails to deliver promised savings and can undercut service quality. That’s part of why Cornell Professor Mildred Warner has found that local governments often bring work back in house.

Earlier this week we released a report, Runaway Spending, which underscores that you can’t simply assume private is better. The report documents that private school bus transportation services in Pennsylvania cost more than when districts provide their own transportation. Even so, the Pennsylvania trend over time is towards slightly more privatization, from 64% in 1986 to 72% in 2008.

Why? One reason in Pennsylvania is that the state reimburses school transportation services more generously when districts contract than when they self provide. Districts may also be attracted by the upfront fee they receive for selling their bus fleet. The downside of that sale, however, is that contractors have more leverage when negotiating terms for unanticipated additional services (e.g., for school sports teams that make the playoffs) or for a new contract.

The factors that make private services more expensive in the case of school buses are also at play in many other cases of privatization. These factors include limited competition in the private sector, the transition costs associated with any change in contractor or switch back to public provision, higher private-sector manager and executive salaries, the need to charge enough to make a profit, and the costs of monitoring private contractors.

Bottom line: the state and local government – and the Governor’s Privatization and Innovation Council – need to do their homework when considering alternative options for delivering publicly funded services. That’s actually a message that former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith brought to the council when he addressed its first meeting.

We’ll know that the Council has shed its ideological beginnings when it asks Matt Brouillette to give in his resig…I mean, when its recommendations include a balance of recommendations for in-sourcing, for contracting out, and for mixed public-private delivery – recommendations grounded in analysis of data, the dynamics of particular markets, and the value-added contractors provide compared to cost increases. And, oh yes, we do think that the quality of workers’ jobs with public versus private delivery should be a consideration.

We look forward to the Council inviting us to present the findings of our study. We also look forward to being invited to join the Council – even if Matt hasn’t left yet.