Skip to main content

Harold Meyerson thinks so.  In his Washington Post column,  Obama's Factory Factor, he lays it out for us.  

the New York Times' Louis Uchitelle reported Monday, most of the rise in U.S. exports has come in corn, wheat and other agricultural commodities, not in aircraft or machinery.

 How many who post here are factory workers?  I mean workers not administrators or other types.  For that matter how many who post here have ever been a laborer other than as a summer job in school?  The answer to those questions is going to help determine just how concerned you are about this issue.  Look below the break to see what Meyerson says about factories.

I remember debating some of the local Republicans at Monican High School in Chesterfield County south of Richmond, Virginia in the  '76 presidential campaign.  I was asked to do it because they could not find a regular Democratic Party person who was willing.  So, I took a day off from teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University's Medical School and took on the big guys.  I don't remember too much else about my talk, but I won't forget my little bit of prophecy.  They laughed at me for it.  I used a ball point pen made in Japan and developed the theme of the impending loss of manufacturing in The United States.  Not bad for a University Professor of Physiology was it?  Well here we are 32 years downstream and what do we have?  Meyerson puts it this way:

Will America ever get its manufacturing back? Not unless we move to level a steeply tilted playing field: China and a host of other nations offer generous subsidies to companies locating their plants there, while the United States shuns such mercantilist strategies. But even if we moved toward mercantilism, we'd still have to confront the global economic order of the past quarter-century. American banks and corporations have already made immense capital investments, bringing their technology and expertise to nations with far cheaper workforces. There's no evidence that they've hedged their bets with contingency plans to reinvest in Ohio.

 One of the questions I asked the audience was about what we now know as "globalization."  I asked a hypothetical "what if?" question, namely: What if the world's workers found some common wage scale?  Would it mean that the rest of the woorld would achieve our wages or that American workers would be paid like the rest of the world?  The answer seemed obvious at the time, but who had a crystal ball?

I wasn't quite sharp enough to see the whole mechanism.  The movement of skilled labor and  other higher paying jobs overseas leaving low paying service jobs.  It all seems so clear now.

The problem with the decline in manufacturing isn't simply that it has helped turn us from an exporting, creditor nation to an importing, debtor nation. It's also that manufacturing jobs tend to pay more than the service and retail jobs that have replaced them. The loss of several million manufacturing jobs during the Bush presidency coincides with the first economic recovery in American history in which the average family's income actually declined.

As it happens, the Americans most affected by these changes are the Americans most able to sway the outcome of the presidential election: the beleaguered workers of our onetime industrial heartland. Barack Obama can claim the allegiance of the black workers so affected, but it's the white workers clustered in these swing states who will determine our next president.

 Well that's not a problem is it?  How could John "Many Houses" McCain possibly woo these voters?  Somehow things said by Robert Reich in his book Supercapitalism come to mind.  Where do I go to remind these voters about all the great things the Democrats have been doing for them lately?  Reich points out that corporations are constantly threatened with non binding hand slaps instead of legislation with regulatory teeth.  Meyerson ends his article this way:

But positions are one thing and narratives something else. The Democratic Party has a compelling story to tell about African Americans and women -- groups, suffering from huge and historic discrimination, that the party has championed and whose interests it has helped advance. For the white working class, the Democrats can point to discrete pieces of economic legislation (some, like retraining programs for jobs that don't exist, hardly worth pointing to), but they offer no such narrative.

Yet if Obama cannot tell this story, of workers deprived of economic opportunity and security through no fault of their own, cannot convey his empathy with these workers and his outrage over Wall Street discarding them like so many gratuitous spare parts, he probably cannot win the election. Obama needs to extend the Democrats' historic concern for fairness beyond racial minorities, women and gays to an abandoned working class. His proposal to offer tax credits to employers that create jobs in the United States is a step in the right direction, and it's even better that he spoke of it yesterday to a group of southern Virginia workers who'd lost their jobs in plant closings. It's their story he needs to tell and their concerns he has to address -- not just to win the White House, but, should he win, to rebuild a nation in which broadly shared prosperity is fast becoming a distant memory.

 So there it is folks.  Meyerson seems to think that these workers need more than hope and slogans like "we can!"  When Joe Hill and Eugene Debs and others were doing their thing it was quite a bit different.  When FDR gave us the New Deal it was different to.  Someone standing up for the workers like they did would indeed be "change" with real meaning.  Are we going to pull it off?  Are we dedicated to the idea that those of us who live off the fruits of working people's sweat are the other part of the protective coalition that has traditionally been necessary to win them anything lasting?  Have we kept up our end of the bargain?  Can we abandon that way of thinking?  We are about to find out unless we act and act fast.

Originally posted to don mikulecky on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 10:21 PM PDT.


The American worker

31%22 votes
4%3 votes
5%4 votes
56%39 votes
0%0 votes
1%1 votes

| 69 votes | Vote | Results

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  TIP JAR (30+ / 0-)

    give a rec for the American worker's narrative

    An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

    by don mikulecky on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 10:21:34 PM PDT

  •  YES! We need more factories (14+ / 0-)

    We need Americans working, building and creating again. And that means Unions so anyone at this point who is against that is an asshwipe.  We also need some MAJOR repair work done on every level.

    Grandpa is mean and he smells funny.

    by MadAsHellMaddie on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 10:25:45 PM PDT

    •  Why is it not obvious? n/t (8+ / 0-)

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 10:29:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Short answer: We don't value work. (6+ / 0-)

        We value capital.
        Work: the application of force on an object to affect a change in, or move the object. In other words, dealing with the real physical world. Yes, there is work in just thinking, happens at the electro-chemical level of brain activity, but it won't build a house or take out the trash.
        OK, we'll automate everything, robots doing all the work (even building and repairing other robots), then what? 6.5 billion people pushing paper for investment bankers, watching TV, and doing their compulsory consumerism at Wal-Mart world?
        This current model of maximizing profit by moving the work or workers to the least costly place of exploitation has to come to an end before the "gilded ones" figure out that they've shot themselves in the foot, we'll all be legless before their reasoning skills win out over their greed.

        If McCain is the answer to America's problems, then the question must be ridiculous -David Paterson NY Gov.

        by geez53 on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 12:19:02 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I value work. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          don mikulecky

          One of the most interesting parts of my life was when Wayne taught me how to use the metal lathe.  Since I was a manager, I ordered a better one, and he loved it.  He taught me how to use the better one.  Not bad for a geek Ph.D., I suppose.  Warmest regards, Doc.

          Sometimes I feel like Robert Louis Stevenson created me. -6.25, -6.05

          by Translator on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 01:35:17 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I Work Small Machines, Lathe and Drill Press Etc. (11+ / 0-)

    In home craft shop though. So I'd say 2/3 of my job is blue collar, to make the materials for the other 1/3 which is specialized artisan.

    Image Hosted by

    I'm not all that good at it; well I'm terrific at the stuff the customer cares about but lousy at production and business. That's what happens when you deport technology careers of the 21st century and drive your programmers back to the Gilded Age and the Renaissance where I work.

    I once called for a wood turning job advertised here in the Pac NW and stated what I was inquiring about, but was told immediately that I wouldn't like the job, it was too boring. The rest of the story is incorrect on this site so I won't finish it.

    Last time I saw a breakdown, I think blue collar accounted for 1-2% here.

    Whatever questions you're asking, the answers are "no, we're not going to."

    We loaded that ship and sent her over the horizon in 1980.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 10:30:38 PM PDT

  •  I am a factory worker (14+ / 0-)

    in an industry America still holds the lead in.

    I may well be on strike 2 weeks from now, since my employer is trying to give the shaft to it's younger workers.

    Unions are the answer for an American Middle Class getting shit on by their corporate masters.

    It's time to restore balance and fairness to our economy,... It's time to stop giving tax cuts to corporations that ship jobs overseas... - Barack Obama

    by Lefty Coaster on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 10:31:47 PM PDT

  •  I'd be fairly certain (9+ / 0-)

    that the percentage of people here who have done factory work goes up  in proportion to age.  In my twenties I worked in a shoe factory, a textile mill, and a sheet metal fabrication plant, but already by that time the handwriting was on the wall.  Real wages went down annually, sometimes even the dollar wage rates would go down, the only responses the bosses had to economic pressures were speed-ups and wage freezes or cuts.

    Interestingly, the one force that seems could possibly reverse the globalists' trend to outsourcing the proletariat (and the nasty penchant of a large, dynamic and growing working class to put economic demands on the bosses) is skyrocketing energy costs that are making the costs of transoceanic shipping of heavy bulk goods  uncompetitive even with the vast labor arbitrage advantages manufacturing in the global south brings.  For instance, I've heard there's hiring going on now in the American steel industry, and when was the last time you heard that?  30+ years ago, or more?  Hell it was 30 years ago this year they killed Youngstown Sheet and Tube IIRC.

    A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves. ~Edward R. Murrow

    by ActivistGuy on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 10:33:55 PM PDT

    •  Yep. (9+ / 0-)

      The standard TransPac 40 foot container went from some $3,000 to $8,000 to move from China to California. Those costs aren't sustainable.

      I'm a huge fan of local manufacturing, because it creates an economic feedback loop. Henry Ford (for all his faults) realized that well paid workers could afford Model Ts. Those same workers would build a better product if they used it, and if their neighbors gave them crap when the thing broke down.

      The whole Adam Smith thing about an individual's economic roles has been forgotten. He posited that the more roles a person played in an economy, the stronger and more efficient it is. Being a consumer, investor and worker (manufacturing, not service) all at once used to define the middle class. Now, people are lucky to be anything but a consumer. Will the republicans stop corrupting their vaunted Adam Smith?

      Comments Signature: This will get attached to your comments.

      by Gravedugger on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 10:58:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  good point about age (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ActivistGuy, don mikulecky

      I worked in a factory when I was 20 back in the late '70s.  I remember one of the people I worked with had a girlfriend who took a job making shoes.  I was surprised by that at the time, now that would be unheard-of.

      Pretty sure almost all the jobs available in rural Wisconsin today are retail or service related.

  •  Excellent points (9+ / 0-)

    I've been trying to figure out how to get the swing votes, what makes them tick.  My brother is one and its all about this.  We need a complete overhaul of our foreign policy before we get into a fight with Russia and China.  But we also need a complete overhaul of our economic bases here at home.  I remember friends making $20. an hour 28 years ago for AMC in Kenosha, WI.   Amazing aint it.

  •  This is an issue I waver about m. (3+ / 0-)

    One the one hand I support the unions, being a member myself but on the other hand as a taxpayer the prevailing wage is out of control.

    As a taxpayer, I can't afford the ironworkers union prevailing wage of $50someting/hr.   I don't make that and can't afford to pay someone else that.

    Spraying for ghosts.

    by sylvien on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 10:38:05 PM PDT

  •  outsourcing manufacturing to china (10+ / 0-)

    loses jobs - wastes energy in transporting goods back here - creates debt & budget deficits - & results in us bidding against the chinese for our energy needs.
    it is lose, lose, lose, lose for workers, but great for the corporate bottom line.

    Anyone who advocates, supports, defends, rationalizes, or excuses torture has pus for brains and a case of scurvy for a conscience. - James Wolcott

    by rasbobbo on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 10:50:23 PM PDT

  •  It's simple, as Barack has said (8+ / 0-)

    You create manufacturing jobs here, to make things we need to use here. You create infrastructure renewal and repair jobs here. You don't need to outsource these types of jobs.

    We must take the position that this country needs to be largely self-sufficient. We can produce the energy we need using renewable technologies. We actually can produce the food we need. We can nuture our own children, educating them to become the skilled workers and professionals we need.

    Globalization has been a fraud, not only on the US, but on the underdeveloped countries of the world.

    We have been ripped off, sold down the river, all by the international corporate interests that could give less than a damn about this country-- or, frankly, any country-- as long as they get their obscene profits off the top.

    Let's get some Democracy for America

    by murphy on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 11:10:37 PM PDT

    •  Amd if we do that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      don mikulecky

      how do we cut our huge balance of payments deficit?

      Because there isn't any way a modern society can be self-sufficent. Raw materials and increasingly manufactured goods we require are only available in other countries - copper, aluminum, electronics, textiles.

      Are we going to export infrastructure to get those things - a few miles of interstate highway for a few tons of copper, a bridge for aluminum?

      We need to create tradeable wealth somehow, and the situation you're describing (and Obama if that's what he says) is the same as the Mark Twain quote about two Irish women who made a precarious living taking in each other's washing.

      Je suis Marxiste, tendance Groucho

      by badger on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 11:26:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's what we're heading for now! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kurt, don mikulecky

        All we have are service industry jobs, and we can't just all service each other.

        There needs to be a balance of good-paying jobs of all kinds if anyone expects consumers to be able to actually purchase anything ever again.

      •  Quit buying shit we don't need (4+ / 0-)

        from places we owe money to already. Gradually pay down what we owe and don't add to the bill.

        Same as you get rid of any credit card.

        Stop buying useless crap ! Why is it that China produces all our Christmas, Easter, Hallowe'en, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and every other kind of decorations ?

        Can't we do that ourselves ? Didn't we used to ?

        Less debris to put into landfills if we make our own biodegradable stuff, anyhow.

        Let's get some Democracy for America

        by murphy on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 12:11:49 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  If one person makes bread and the other (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        don mikulecky

        pays for it by doing washing, it's win-win.

        There are enough jobs that NEED DOING HERE to keep us all busy to the year 3000 !

        Let's get some Democracy for America

        by murphy on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 03:04:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  The video isn't great but the words bring back (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky

    memories.  Some of the memories are pretty good at that.

  •  What really frustrates me is (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brian B, happy camper, don mikulecky

    it took 30+ years for the idiots to figure out the real motivation behind globalization(cheap labor etc.), now the same idiots who were once OK with "free" trade are now Ok with illegal "immigration", which produces the same economic effect(cheap labor etc.), except that the peasant workforces are now here, overloading our social infrastructure, sucking up our tax dollars, along with what used to be good paying US jobs(construction, food processing industry, hospitality/leisure etc.)
    They always say, "But I'm not interested in those jobs". What they don't understand is that people who now work those jobs don't earn enough money to contribute to the economy, which does affect their jobs.
    And to top it off, they're falling for this "racist" spiel, to justify the deregulation of immigration, which has been allowed to go on for so long because it promotes the corporate agenda(cheap labor etc.). Anyone who thinks that 12 to 20 million additional workers don't affect US wages should read up on the law of supply and demand.
    By the way, they're also falling for the "labor shortages" spiel. Labor shortages do not cause wages to fall.
    I don't have another 30+ plus years to educate the same bunch of idiots who are just now figuring out globalization(which deregulated immigration is a part). And even if I did, corporate greed would just figure out another strategy to devalue work(which devalues people).

  •  I'm Not so Sure, Anymore (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky, blueocean

    The Y-Generation -- 18-30 year olds -- don't want those jobs at all. They like service and technology sectors. It's the old people who want those kind of jobs.

    In a cyberpunk world, the US doesn't make things. They invent thing. Or, write music or gaming code about things. Or, they make movies about things. Or, they deliver pizza to people working on movies, music, and microcode.

    The world has moved on.

    Overnight News Digest -- Midnight. Every night. Be smart. Be there.

    by Pluto on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 11:38:19 PM PDT

  •  I used to work in a factory, a sweatshop (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky

    I quit and started my own business the day after I witnessed the fraudulent manner in which CAL-OSHA conducted their safety audits.  The problem with manufacturing jobs is employers need to make a profit, and corners are cut with no regard for the most vulnerable workers.  Back when we had unions to protect workers this was not such a problem.  Todays unions protect the union first and foremost, finding common ground with employers, at the peril of workers.  High turnover among workers benefits the union as each new hire pays another initiation fee.  I am by no means anti-union, I just feel stronger about workers rights than my union did.  

    A motorbike has got two wheels and handlebars to steer it, you sit astride, its fun to ride, and everyone can hear it.

    by qi motuoche on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 01:44:43 AM PDT

  •  We still have factories, mostly without smoke (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky

    stacks spewing something, though we still have some of those.

    People still work in factories for $8 to $16 an hour, sometimes with benefits, but often not by only being allowed to work 30-36 hours total/wk. Overtime is where people who do work full time make their money in these factories since the pay is low. And during the dot com boom, there were plenty of factories making parts-- some paid quite well, some poorly. Most of those were eventually outsourced or went under after the computer bubble burst.

    There will be more factories of the above kind again when there's a new tech boom. Unions are needed to drive wages up, outsourcing needs to be countered through at least tax incentives to keep work home if not outlawing it.

    Children in the U.S... detained [against] intl. & domestic standards." --Amnesty Internati

    by doinaheckuvanutjob on Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 03:16:05 AM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site