Buy American?

A progressive message?

A progressive message?

On Wednesday I attended what was billed as a “Save America” rally organized by the United Auto Workers.  It was an odd experience, and it illuminated the ways that labor “gets it” and the ways that they don’t.

To the degree that it focused on trade policy, I think events like yesterday’s rally are helpful and positive.  I have a history of putting my ass on the line when it comes to trade policy, so it’s good to see more mainstream voices pick up that message.  And these policy arguments can be effective — the Obama administration is apparently backing away from a NAFTA-style agreement with Panama in the face of labor opposition.

Unfortunately, most of the message coming from yesterday’s rally wasn’t about trade policies.  Instead, it was an appeal to “Buy American” based largely on naked nationalism.  I didn’t hear concerns that shipping jobs overseas sets in motion a race to the bottom that’s bad for workers everywhere.  Or concerns that outsourcing leads to more work being done in countries without environmental or worker safety standards.  Or that solidarity with workers in Mexico and China is what’s needed in the face of policies that are explicitly aimed at pitting worker against worker.  Instead of attempting to meet globalized capital with globalized solidarity, yesterday’s message was local, parochial, and nationalistic:

“Enough is enough,” said Robin Maloney, who was laid off last December from her assembly job at Delphi’s Rochester plant. “Build it here, buy it here . . .”

“Every time someone in our community loses a manufacturing job, we are all hurt in some way,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown . . .

Joe Ashton, regional director of UAW Region 9, gave an impassioned defense of the benefits that union retirees receive, saying the retirees “built this country and fought the wars.”

He also lashed out at U. S. companies that move their manufacturing to ever-lower-cost countries, saying “if they could get it cheaper on Mars” that is where production would go.

America -- fuck yeah!

America -- fuck yeah!

I can understand the frustration felt by workers who fear that their jobs will be sent overseas, but Mexicans and Chinese aren’t Martians.  Their labor is cheaper because of a whole set of policies championed by the government of the country symbolized by the red, white and blue flags that were out in force yesterday.  Rather than trying to shame companies into keeping jobs in the country, or consumers into buying US-made products — strategies that have failed for decades — maybe those concerned with keeping manufacturing jobs should stop resenting foreign workers, ditch their flags and go after the star spangled culprit.

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