Guest Column: ‘Fair’ trade policy needed

Guest Column: ‘Fair’ trade policy needed

By By John Kutsch

For many years there has been a growing concern about the loss of manufacturing jobs in northern Illinois. The manufacturing industry as a whole experienced 415 mass layoff events in 2001, resulting in a loss of over 80,000 jobs in Illinois. So far in 2002 through May, Illinois has had 130 mass layoff events in the manufacturing industry, resulting in a loss of over 24,000 jobs. Here in the northern Illinois counties that make up the 16th Congressional District, mass layoff events accounted for a loss of over 9,400 jobs in 2001 across all industry sectors.

As I have traveled across the district, people have expressed to me their deep concern about the stability of their job or the job of their spouse. Manufacturing in particular is unstable at times, and people have a general concern over whether they will have their job long term or lose it to a downsizing and layoff.

We cannot afford to lose more jobs with decent pay and benefits, especially in the rural areas where good jobs are very few and far between. Although there are many factors which go into a decision by companies to lay off workers, one thing is for certain: the current “free trade” policies of the United States are disastrous for workers in northern Illinois. If we expect to protect manufacturing jobs here in northern Illinois, we must move toward a policy of “fair trade,” and not just an uncontrolled, unregulated policy of “free trade.”

There are those who theorize that free trade is the answer because it encourages competition in private markets and rapidly increases living standards around the world. They argue that America’s trade deficit is not a cause for alarm. To those individuals, I say come to northern Illinois to see first hand the harsh economic effects of unfettered free trade policies under NAFTA, MFA, PNTR with China, GATT and the WTO. In reality, trade deficits do mean lost jobs. Pure and simple. People here in northern Illinois are asking, “If the economy is recovering, and if America’s trade deficit and free trade policies are so good for our economy, why am I losing my job?”

The thing about “theories” is that they seem to always look wonderful on a spreadsheet; but in reality, theories fall short because manufacturing jobs are lost and families suffer greatly. And if job losses are not bad enough, our current trade policies have resulted in the lowering of wages for workers. Americans should not be required to compete with people in countries where wages are only a few cents per hour and where workers are imprisoned for attempting to form a trade union or fight for basic fundamental rights.

Congress has been supportive of free trade policies largely because of the ongoing lobbying of large, multinational corporations on Capitol Hill. Also, my opponent, Mr. Manzullo, has supported the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Export Import Bank. Even the very conservative Cato Institute has placed both of these organizations on its “12 Worst Corporate Welfare Programs” list because of the federal subsidies to private businesses which cost taxpayers $87 billion per year. If corporate welfare were eliminated, the federal government could provide taxpayers with an annual tax cut more than twice as large as the tax rebate checks mailed out in 2001. For someone who preaches the virtues of cutting taxes, it amazes me that we have not caught up with Mr. Manzullo by challenging him on his support of OPIC and the Export Import Bank.

To our current free trade proponent Congressman, I must ask you:

“Why do you continue to encourage corporations to take manufacturing jobs out of northern Illinois to countries with limited environmental standards which routinely deny workers their rights and a reasonable wage?”

Perhaps we can discuss this issue in a debate if your busy schedule permits.

John Kutsch is the Democratic nominee in the 16th Congressional District of Illinois.

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