iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard

GET UPDATES FROM Leo W. Gerard

Speak Up to Stop Unfair Trade

Posted: 08/12/09 09:19 PM ET

They came first for the Communists, And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, And I didn't speak up because I was Protestant. Then they came for me, And by that time no one was left to speak up. --Martin Niemoeller

China is attacking the U.S. with a stealth weapon of mass economic destruction -- unfair trade. U.S. corporations -- and China -- which profiteer from it prefer to label this "free trade."

But industrial carnage is the only way to describe the devastation done to the U.S. economy by an accumulated trillion dollar trade deficit with China, the destruction of U.S. jobs by off-shoring them to China, and the disintegration of the U.S. industrial sector that is foreclosing America's ability to support itself or to manufacture weapons to defend itself.

The United Steelworkers union is challenging China and the profiteers. It has demanded imposition of duties and tariffs on imported Chinese products -- not because the U.S. can't compete but because China cheats.

We've watched our members lose their jobs as steel mills idled, paper plants closed, and tire factories shuttered. In this war, China came for our jobs. Virtually no one spoke up for displaced blue collar workers. Perhaps you don't wear a blue collar. A white one will prove no special shield. The Chinese will come for your job, too.

In this struggle, it is crucial to understand that so-called free trade isn't some lofty capitalist ideal. The U.S. engages in "free trade" with the Chinese because they hold $1 trillion in debt over our heads, an obligation they know we can't pay. We shrink in fear of them. They're world class bullies. They can do whatever they please. And they do. They violate international trade laws by which we abide. That's why their stuff is so cheap. The one factor on which the price difference always is blamed -- labor costs -- is only the tiniest fraction of it.

Labor violations are part of the cheating. The National Labor Committee and others, including reporters from the New York Times, have documented exploitation of Chinese workers that can only be described as modern slavery. We stand in solidarity with these workers and condemn these atrocities that include very young teenagers kept in locked buildings with caged windows where they are forced to labor 14-hour shifts under grueling conditions, but find it impossible to make money or to amass the "exit fee" required to leave. They include children, women, and occasionally men kidnapped and forced to work in brick kilns, coal mines, and sweatshops in the Chinese hinterlands, with no payment other than gruel and a sleeping mat. When Chinese companies treat humans this way, they realize a competitive advantage over American firms that routinely obey humanitarian laws.

China is also one of the most dangerous places in the world to work and live because corporations fail to provide safety equipment for workers, such as dust control devices, and refuse to protect the environment with pollution control equipment. Both practices are profitable for Chinese corporations, particularly when competing with U.S. firms, which must abide by environmental and worker health and safety regulations.

Much more significant, however, are other deliberate Chinese interventions in the market, such as the undervaluation of its currency, subsidization of its manufacturing, counterfeiting, forced transfer of American technology, and refusal to give American companies access to Chinese markets with licensing restrictions, complex regulations and local content rules.

China gives breaks to manufacturers on land, rent, energy and water. Manufacturers may receive bank "loans" they know they're not required to repay. China also exempts certain industries from income taxes and gives tax rebates on exports.

China's deliberate currency undervaluation works as a subsidy as well. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission explains it this way: "China's undervalued currency encourages undervalued Chinese exports to the U.S. and discourages U.S. exports because U.S. exports are artificially overvalued. As a result, undervalued Chinese exports have been highly disruptive to the U.S."

China cheats. Free trade is a myth. The American worker doesn't need special treatment. We're the most productive in the world. We just seek fair competition. We want fair trade. The USW wants trade rules enforced.

So the union demands it. Repeatedly, we've won cases seeking imposition of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on unfairly traded imports from China to protect our members. There was the glossy paper case in 2007 and the lightweight thermal paper case in 2008. The USW and four U.S. stainless pipe producers won a final order from the U.S. International Trade Commission in February on dumped Chinese welded austenitic stainless steel pressure pipe. Just two months later, the USW joined seven U.S. companies in seeking duties on imported Chinese welded and stainless steel pipes used in oil and gas extraction because of massive Chinese government subsidies.

But it's the tire case that's causing the commotion. That's because the USW filed it under "Section 421," which is supposed to allow the U.S. to combat unfair and damaging surges of particular Chinese imports. China agreed to abide by Section 421 until 2013 in exchange for support from the U.S. when it sought to join the World Trade Organization in 2001.The advantage of Section 421 is that the process is quicker that a typical trade case.

U.S. companies won four Section 421 cases previously, including the McWane Inc. ductile iron waterworks fittings case in 2003, in which the USW testified. The International Trade Commission recommended in the McWane case and the three others that former President George W. Bush penalize Chinese imports. He did nothing -- refusing to protect U.S. industry.

But it's a new day, with a new president. Thus the ruckus. If President Barack Obama adopts the recommendations of the International Trade Commission to use Section 421 to shield American tire manufacturers from unfair trade and preserve American jobs, more cases will quickly follow. That is what China and the corporate profiteers fear.

The USW filed the Section 421 tire case to defend the 15,000 rubber workers who we represented across North America. And we stood alone. No one spoke up for the tire workers. These U.S. workers watched during the past five years as Chinese tire imports increased 215 percent, making China the single largest source of consumer tire imports in the U.S. In that time, 5,000 U.S. rubber workers lost their jobs. Another 3,000 know they'll get the boot by year's end.

America's increased trade deficits with China since it entered the World Trade Organization have cost 2.3 million workers their jobs or job displacements, according to The China Trade Toll by Robert E. Scott of the Economic Policy Institute.

Most were manufacturing jobs, but, among them, Scott reports, were 127,710 professional, scientific and technical services workers. There were 66,986 managers of companies and enterprises. They even included 13,141 arts, entertainment and recreation workers.

Those, by any definition, are white collar jobs.

Who will speak up for you?

 

Follow Leo W. Gerard on Twitter: www.twitter.com/uswblogger