Maine Workers Ask Obama to Walk a Mile in Their Shoes
Blue collar workers in Maine have a message for President Barack Obama: come see the devastation of America’s failed free trade policies firsthand before passing anymore job-killing agreements.
Leaders of the Maine Labor Council claim that things like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization have devastated the paper industry in their state, and pointed out that the pending agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia would only exacerbate the problem.
“Before he moves forward with these trade deals, we call on President Obama to come and walk a mile in our shoes,” Patrick Carleton, president of the Maine Labor Council, told The Bangor Daily News.
“These rigged trade deals have shut down mills like the ones in Millinocket and East Millinocket, in Jay and Ashland, yet Congress is considering more of the same failed policies.”
The paper industry across the country has been rocked by American trade policies that allow a flood of imports at prices so low American companies cannot compete.
Since entering the WTO in 2001, China has become a force to be reckoned with in the paper market. Not because they do it better than everyone else, but rather because they receive more illegal government aid than anyone else.
Despite its lack of a competitive advantage in paper production and natural resources to make paper, China has surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s leader in that department in just under a decade.
Since 2000, China has increased its paper output threefold, which seems like a daunting task given the fact that China’s forest base is the smallest in the world per capita, it has an already saturated domestic paper market and very little competitive advantage, even in labor costs.
Instead, China’s growth has been fueled through illegal subsidies, mostly in the form of tax breaks, loans – some of which are not expected to be paid back – and discounted electricity and raw materials.
From 2002 to 2009, the Chinese government poured $33.1 billion into what should be an unproductive industry. But, with the help of government subsidies, China was able to ride export-driven growth to become the world’s leading producer of paper products.
In the same time frame that China pumped $33 billion into its paper industry, U.S. employment in the industry fell 29 percent, from 557,000 workers to just 398,000. That amounts to a seven year total of 167,000 jobs lost for an annual average of nearly 24,000 jobs in the industry.
“These trade agreements benefit American companies by letting them go overseas and exploit low-wage workers,” said Duane Lugdon, a United Steelworkers Union, according to The Bangor Daily News.