I don't know about you but I am rather eagerly awaiting next weekend's Democratic Primary in South Carolina. All the speculation surrounding racial politics certainly will be interesting to see played out at the polls, but more specifically, I am eager to see which candidate garners the votes in a state where manufacturing jobs have been flying out of town for the past two decades and how the three candidates answer the hard question of why this keeps happening.
Even for those of us who will happily tell you our jobs are at the fringes of the textile industry, we still share in the burden of lost jobs and exported manufacturing. Most simply, I can explain it by saying that we too suffer from exporting textile manufacturing overseas and from the ever increasing reliance on foreign sweatshops for garment production. Dropping prices for things make it increasingly harder to fetch a fair wage for producing things inside the borders of this country, even as a hip diy small company like FH. For the larger factories and industrial outfits, its pretty near impossible to pay extra shipping for your raw materials and living wages, when competing factories on the other side of the ocean can undercut every single one of your costs. In terms of policy, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the most recent CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) are largely responsible for allowing transnational companies to send goods back and forth across borders without financial or legal repercussions and these policies hurt textile workers on both sides of the ocean.
And I'll agree, this issue is far from from simple. I'm not sure exactly how I would tackle it if I were running for president. And this is why I find myself even more curious about how the candidates will tackle the issue in South Carolina, facing a state that lost nearly 13,000 manufacturing jobs between August 2006 and this primary, mostly in the textile industry. Because these manufacturing jobs are not coming back. In Lancaster County, SC, where several recent plant closings have brought the unemployment rate up to 9.9%, people have turned instead to service industry jobs, the union of which is the largest in the state and growing. The trend to replace manufacturing jobs with service jobs, which is evident nationwide, is also unsustainable, I maintain, as service jobs frequently offer nothing in terms of benefits, healthcare or job security.
So far Obama, Clinton and Edwards have all indicated that they will work to amend NAFTA when they take office, to fix some of the problems with it and help to protect American jobs. Kucinich goes a step further and pledges to flat out "end America's participation in NAFTA and the WTO." Kucinich is the most radical of the four frontrunners, but Edwards has the homefield advantage and a heartwrenching ad running currently:
I will be watching the South Carolina race a little more closely to see the outcome of a race when global economics is thrown into the mix. We'll see if an issue this integral to a state community can sway the voting populace away from the two most well-funded candidates. I really can't say. Thanks to NPR, my brain is all tangled up on this.