Star-Spangled Knockoff

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Image by Getty ImagesAn American flag made in China is not an American flag. It’s a knockoff.

New York Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara wants a guarantee that flags flown at New York events and on New York poles are made in America. He introduced legislation last week to require that after learning millions of flags are imported annually.

Good for him. Because nothing symbolizes the weakened state of American manufacturing as much as a foreign-made U.S. flag.

America’s manufacturing sector has been decimated. NAFTA and China’s unfair trade practices are major culprits. That’s a sorry state of affairs for a superpower.

NAFTA did exactly what the United Steelworkers (USW) and other unions predicted it would 25 years ago. It encouraged greedy American corporations to move U.S. manufacturing and jobs to Mexico.

Those companies couldn’t wait to flee across the border. Manufacturing costs less in Mexico because environmental laws there are weak, wages are as low as $2 an hour, and there are few independent labor unions to fight for workers’ pay and safety.

So far, more than 1 million U.S. jobs have been lost to Mexico under NAFTA. That includes thousands of jobs at Carrier, Goodyear, Joerns Healthcare, Rexnord, Polar Tank and Whirlpool, where workers were represented by the USW. It also includes jobs in automaking, computer manufacturing, wood products and transportation equipment.

These corporations call themselves American, but they’ve abandoned American workers.

Job by job, the loss of manufacturing capacity crucial to the nation’s vitality and security also took a toll at the local level. NAFTA was a plague that turned manufacturing communities into hollow shells of their former selves. Stores closed. Local governments, short on tax revenue, struggled to pave roads and operate decent schools. Idle plants became rusting reminders of NAFTA’s failures.

As communities withered, Americans’ life expectancy declined and drug use, suicide, liver disease and income inequality rose. These things are hardly a coincidence.

The new NAFTA is a good place to start rebuilding the nation’s atrophied manufacturing muscle.

President Donald Trump campaigned against the original agreement, calling it one of the “worst legacies” of Bill Clinton’s presidency. But the replacement he negotiated—now before Congress—isn’t much better.

True, the tentative deal includes some provisions that appear to be improvements, such as requiring that 75 percent of vehicle components be made in North America. That would be up from the current 62.5 percent, but there are big questions as to whether the deal would stop automakers from meeting the new requirement simply by doing more work in Mexico.

The new agreement must stimulate American manufacturing and provide real safeguards against the outsourcing of jobs to be acceptable. It must promote the formation of real labor unions in Mexico and allow the United States to turn back at the border any goods that don’t meet tough new labor standards.

That’s a tall order. But for Americans to stand tall as they recite the Pledge of Allegiance, they need to know that their government is fighting for them. And good, family-supporting manufacturing jobs will continue to disappear until all U.S. trading partners play by the same rules. That includes Mexico and China.

Those Chinese-made flags that Assemblyman Santabarbara wants to ban in New York are just the tip of the iceberg. America’s goods and services trade deficit with China has grown to more than $400 billion a year. That’s resulted in the loss of 3.4 million U.S. jobs, the vast majority of them in manufacturing.

Over the past several decades, buying American took a backseat to buying bargain-basement. China can make goods cheaply because it controls wages and labor organizations even more tightly than Mexico does and because it violates international trade regulations by subsidizing its industries and hacking into U.S. corporations’ computer systems to steal trade secrets. Even as China conducted espionage against U.S. companies, it has tried to make inroads into industries—bus and railcar manufacturing, for example—that could provide opportunities for still more spying and compromise America’s national security.

In Florida, Miami-Dade County officials decided to bar Chinese firms from a monorail project. That was a smart move which other cities and states should follow. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority just unveiled a five-year $51.5 billion capital plan that will include investing more than $40 billion in the city’s subway and bus systems. Infrastructure projects like these are funded with Americans’ money, which means they should be built with American materials and labor.

American tax dollars should create American jobs, not foreign jobs. They should fortify American industry, not foreign industry. 

That $51.5 billion – whether it’s taxpayer dollars or rider fare money – could create thousands of jobs in America and support untold numbers of manufacturers – from pipe makers to seat manufacturers to aluminum smelters. To spend that money overseas is to burn that opportunity.

“Buy American” isn’t just a catchy slogan.  It’s what every American should look for when purchasing an American flag. It’s a path back to the strength and prosperity that Americans of past generations struggled to achieve. 

Posted In: From the USW International President

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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