From the president: Build/BuyUSA

President – Dennis Williams

Keep Communities Strong Through Consumer Action

The “Buy American” movement isn’t new, but it looks different from how it did in the 1970s. Back then there were almost 20 million workers making goods in factories across the country. These workers made the clothes we wore, the goods we bought for our homes, the televisions we watched, and the toys our children enjoyed. We shopped for and purchased these goods at stores in our communities — maybe even down the block in our neighborhood. Now, there are only 12.3 million workers making goods in factories. Neighborhood stores have disappeared and our communities have changed because we shop online or drive to shopping centers to buy stuff that was made thousands of miles away — most likely by nonunion workers who don’t have a voice in their workplace.

Build it Here

In 2017, we can’t just declare, “Buy American!” because after decades of anti-worker/pro-corporate profit policies, there’s not much made here anymore. We know making products here builds stronger communities because the last 30 years have taught us about the importance of a strong manufacturing base in the U.S. According to a 2016 report by the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, one new full-time job created in manufacturing leads to three or more full-time jobs in related non-manufacturing industries. Bringing back manufacturing jobs won’t be easy, but we have to fight for our children and grandchildren’s future, and rebuild our communities that have lost good manufacturing jobs.

We also need to develop a strong industrial policy in this country. Most developed countries have well-thought out industrial policies that drive the legislation and regulations of that country. In the U.S., we have it backward: our “industrial policy” reveals itself after tax subsidies have been awarded and the decisions are already made regarding trade, the environment, job training, investment in infrastructure and education. We give companies economic subsidies to build factories that pay our workers less than what taxpayers are giving the companies to locate here.

Our country’s agenda should lift everyone, not make it easier to race to the bottom. This is our government and we need to hold lawmakers accountable when they don’t support policies that help working families or when they favor trade deals that exploit workers in other countries. And as we demand that manufacturing jobs be created here, we have to remain mindful that not all jobs are equal. Our goal should be well-paying and safe jobs where the workers have a seat at the table.

Buy it Here

Taking action is about more than just political engagement; we can do so many things in our daily lives. Shopping is one example. We look at products for good value, but measuring that value is more than just looking at the sticker price. As consumers, make your voice heard by encouraging and commending stores for carrying union/USA products. Each purchase is a choice. Use the power of your wallet to support good-paying jobs. When you shop, consider these categories of goods:

Imported, Made by Nonunion Labor:

This is the majority of consumer goods that are imported into the U.S. These goods are sometimes cheaper, but often come with a price. Were the workers who made it exploited? Are there serious health and safety issues at the worksite?

Imported, Made by Union Labor:

Solidarity is global. In fact, the UAW vehicle guide includes cars made by UAW members and union brothers and sisters who are part of Unifor in Canada. But not all unions are free and independent and a global union label is meaningful only if those workers truly have a seat at the table.

Made in America by Nonunion Labor:

It’s great that a company is building it here and creating jobs. But we have to go deeper to distinguish that “USA made” products are made by nonunion workers and we have to call out the employers who are socially irresponsible. If a company engages in anti-union campaigns, breaks environmental laws, scoffs at safety regulations, or takes advantage of the community with no regard for the people who’ve been living there, there is no benefit to buying its “USA-made” products.

Made in America by Union Labor:

Though union density in the private sector is 6.4 percent, labor unions are among the most ardent advocates for keeping jobs in the U.S. Through collective bargaining, workers have a voice in their working conditions and are mindful of safety on the job. Collective bargaining lifts wages not only for the workers covered by the contract, but also those in the area and industry.

Free trade agreements have allowed corporations to exploit workers in other countries at our expense in return for cheap goods and higher profits. Asking people to “Buy American” makes no sense unless there are things to buy. Furthermore, asking people to “Buy American” makes no sense if the corporation treats its workers unfairly, engages in despicable business practices, and pays low wages with no benefits. We can reward good employers with our purchasing power while investing in a future for the next generation.

Bringing strong, well-paid and sustainable manufacturing jobs to the United States can happen if we demand it. We can have the future we want, but it won’t happen through grandstanding or flag waving. By working together, our actions and choices can bring change. Let’s have 2017 be the year that we get this right. Build/BuyUSA: Build it here, so we can buy it here.