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.