POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

They Toil not, Neither do They Spin.

by David Trumbull

November 18, 2005

"...they toil not, neither do they spin.." --Matthew chapter 6, verse 28.

Actually there remain but a few companies that spin yarn in Massachusetts and a few more that weave or knit cloth. Ditto for clothing manufacturers. "Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" Increasingly the answer is that we don't need those jobs because we'll buy all our clothes cheap from overseas. And it's not just clothing. In furniture, automobiles, construction materials, and in industry after industry, we have seen U.S. jobs go, first to Mexico, and then overseas.

It took nearly four decades to get to this point. Now we see the results of this failed economic policy. Whole communities have been devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs that supported the local economies. Sure, we can buy lots of stuff cheaply, but at what cost? A nation cannot spend its way to prosperity.

In my work as Director of Member Services at the National Textile Association I was the drafter of many of the industry petitions that resulted in short-term limits on imports of Chinese-origin fabric and garments in 2004 and 2005. We got a one-year restraint on the growth in imports of brassieres after we demonstrated that a 291 percent increase in imports had throw thousands of Americas out of work. In the case of knit fabric it was an astounding increase of 16,396 percent in imports that prompted us to seek a one-year limit on growth in imports.

"If something cannot go on forever, it will stop." --economist Herb Stein.

When will we stop shedding good-paying manufacturing jobs? Well, perhaps when the U.S. Department of Defense finds that it can clothe our men in uniform only by relying on foreign, possible hostile, sources. We're getting awfully close to that now. Remember in the early months of the war in Iraq when our soldiers wore forest green camouflage as they crossed that sandy land because there wasn't enough desert camouflage to go around?

Are we turning the corner? Perhaps. Earlier this month President Bush and the government of China agreed to a program to limit imports of certain textiles and garments. It was a hard-won victory for U.S. manufacturers and their employees. The Chinese had said they would never accept an agreement that went beyond 2007 (the termination of a similar agreement they have with the European Union). President Bush's negotiators held out for, and got, an agreement through 2008. The Chinese said they could agree to only a dozen or so products, the final agreement covers most of the products of interest to U.S. manufacturers.

Next month I'll be off to Hong Kong as an official observer at the next round of world trade talks. You can be sure that protecting the remaining manufacturing jobs in the U.S. will be on the agenda for many of us there. I'll give you all a report when I return. Happy Thanksgiving!

David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee; he may be contacted at (617) 742-6881 or Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.