Guest Column: Free trade, not unions, has damaged the job market

August 31, 2011

By John Stassi

In his Guest Column (“Unions need to sacrifice, too” — Aug. 3), State Rep. Jim Sacia suggests that because labor unions are “out of control,” compensation for Illinois state government workers has far outstripped that for private sector workers.

His analysis, however, neglects to account for the suppression of wages in the private sector that is the consequence of so-called “free trade.”

Free trade forces private sector workers in our prosperous democracy to compete with poorer workers in developing countries where prevailing wages barely sustain them and where their right to form unions, their workplace health and safety, their nation’s environment, and even their inalienable human rights are not protected by law.

For example, let’s look at what used to be a major industry in Rockford, the furniture business. Furniture workers in China earn about $170/month, and those in Vietnam, less than $80/month. Americans who still have jobs in this dying industry earn about $12/hour. As a result of this uneven playing field that is an inescapable consequence of “free trade”, imported bedroom furniture now accounts for about 70 percent of the U.S. market for those products.A

This catastrophe for American workers is neither limited nor recent. Since 2000, when Republicans like our Congressman Don Manzullo joined with Democrats like President Bill Clinton to throw open access to our marketplace to goods manufactured in Communist China and other totalitarian countries, the U.S. manufacturing sector has lost a third of its workers, down from 17.3 million in 1999 to 11.7 million in June 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.B

So, indeed, let’s talk about sharing that sacrifice that U.S. private sector workers have been forced to make by what I call free trade treason.

State Rep. Jim Sacia earns $67,836/year plus $139 for every day that the state legislature is in session. State legislators in Nebraska earn $12,000/year plus $39 to $109 per session per day, depending on how far they live from the state capital.C Would Rep. Sacia care to “give a little” by sponsoring legislation to reduce his salary to that level? Don’t legislators need to sacrifice, too?

But let’s not stop there. I’m sure there are many bright, talented young people in Latin America, Africa and Asia who could be trained to do government sector jobs in Illinois and who would be happy to work at those jobs for a fraction of the salaries currently paid to those now working them. And when they get good enough at that sort of work, we can employ them to do Rep. Sacia’s job for even greater savings.

The free working people of the USA have a problem, but it has nothing to do with unions. They have been betrayed by an out-of-control two-party tyranny.

In return for billions of dollars in legalized bribes from greedy corporations and in the name of “free trade”, our Republicans and Democrats have entered American private sector workers into a “race to the bottom” with low-wage foreign workers, none of whom will ever win anything except ever lower wages.

Now, Republicans like Rep. Jim Sacia (89-R) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Democrats like Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) would like to extend that wage suppression therapy to government workers and use the savings that result to fund tax breaks for their corporate sweethearts.

When you consider their shared contempt for the well-being of American working people, you can only conclude that Ralph Nader had it right. There isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans.

Until American workers abandon their irrational devotion to the two-party system, they will continue to get nothing more out of that corrupt system than the “sacrifice” that Rep. Sacia would like to impose upon them: lost jobs and low wages. And they will deserve it.

References/Footnotes

A — “Chinese make a run around U.S. tariffs,” by Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, May 24, 2011 www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia-pacific/from-china-an-end-run-around-us-tariffs/2011/05/09/AF3GR19G_story.html

B — “Democrats turn to Manufacturing for Jobs,” by Lori Montgomery and Brady Dennis, Washington Post, Aug. 4, 2010 www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/03AE2010080302685.html

C ­— 2010 Legislator Compensation Data, National Conference of State Legislatures http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=20117

John Stassi is a native Rockfordian who believes in liberty and justice for all.

From the Aug. 31-Sept. 6, 2011, issue

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