Web Only / Features » September 26, 2012
Romney Loves American Cars; Obama Loves American Car Workers
While Romney was busy buying fancy cars, Obama was ensuring American cars are made in America by Americans.
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, son of an American Motors CEO, naturally says he loves American cars. His wife, as he put it, “drives a couple of Cadillacs.” He’s installing an elevator in his beach mansion just for his cars. Though a millionaire, he rejected flying his five sons to a vacation destination, instead packing them into a car, then strapping their dog Seamus’ carrier to the car roof for a ride that, shall we say, challenged the canine’s intestinal fortitude.
President Barack Obama, by contrast, has given some love to American car companies and American car workers. He rescued Chrysler and General Motors, preserving the American icon companies and hundreds of thousands of American car manufacturing jobs. He imposed sanctions on Chinese tires that received improper export subsidies, a move that saved thousands of U.S. tire-building jobs. And now he’s challenging illegally subsidized Chinese auto parts to sustain American companies and workers.
Romney has blasted Obama every auto-manufacturing-job-preserving step of the way. On the auto bailout, Romney admonished, “Let Detroit go bankrupt.” He condemned the tariffs on Chinese tires. Romney claims he loves American cars. But the actions of his private equity firm, Bain Capital, in buying companies that were “pioneers” in offshoring American jobs, suggest he’s fine with American firms making cars and car parts overseas. Obama, by contrast, took the action necessary to ensure American cars are made in America by American companies employing American workers.
Here’s what Romney actually said about his adoration for cars:
“I love cars. I love American cars. And long may they rule the world.”
When it came to helping them continue to rule the world, however, Romney dissed Detroit.
President Obama embraced Detroit. He took money from the Wall Street bailout fund and used it to help GM and Chrysler continue to rule the world. GM regained the title of world’s largest car company in January and hundreds of thousands of auto and auto part manufacturing workers retained their jobs.
Similarly, in September of 2009, President Obama imposed duties on unfairly traded Chinese tires. My union, the United Steelworkers (USW), filed the trade case that led to those duties. The sanctions saved thousands of tire-making jobs in the United States and contributed to creation of 1,000 more.
Earlier this year, the USW, the Alliance for American Manufacturing and 189 members of Congress urged Obama to take yet another trade action, this one to protect American auto parts manufacturers and their workers. The request followed publication of four reports detailing China’s illegal export subsidies to its auto parts sector. Nations may subsidize manufacturing for internal consumption, but international law prohibits subsidizing products to be exported because it distorts the market, causing the bankruptcy of manufacturers in countries where the artificially cheap products are sold.
The auto parts complaint says that forbidden export subsidies, including cash grants, preferential tax treatment and other perks valued at $1 billion over the past three years enabled China to jump from 16thlargest producer of auto parts in 2002, when it exported $7 billion in parts, to 5th largest last year when it exported $70 billion.
The upshot is that imports of auto parts from China increased seven fold, contributing to the loss of nearly half of all U.S. auto parts jobs – 400,000 – since 2000. An example is Olymco, Inc. a Canton, Ohio, metal-plating company where 100 workers, members of the USW, once made auto parts. Now, mainly as a result of subsidized Chinese competition, only 11 workers remain.
The predatory Chinese practices encourage U.S. auto parts makers to offshore manufacturing, and now some of the largest U.S. auto parts companies produce in China.
Sensata, a car parts manufacturer in Freeport, Ill. is among those on the way to China. The 145 workers in Freeport, who make sensors and controls, are training their Chinese replacements.
These workers may return to China to join many there who are packed into dormitories that rival turn of the 20th Century U.S. tenements for slum conditions. Romney described workers in a Chinese appliance factory he visited:
“working, working, working as hard as they could, at rates of roughly 50 cents an hour. They cared about their jobs; they wouldn’t even look up as we walked by.”
That’s right. These exploited workers kept their heads down. These 50-cent-an-hour laborers feared they’d be fired for the audacity of looking at a quarter billionaire American visitor.
Sensata is owned by Bain Capital, the company Romney founded in 1984, the private equity firm that Romney claims he left in 1999, even though it continued to pay him millions for a decade afterward. The workers at Sensata have publically begged Romney to intervene with Bain on their behalf to keep the factory in the United States. They’ve collected 35,000 signatures supporting their cause. They’ve got the backing of the Freeport City Council, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. They’re camping outside the factory in a tent city called Bainport. But Romney hasn’t responded. No word from the candidate who claims to love American cars.
He loves owning ‘em. He relishes riding them up and down on elevators. But when it comes to showing a little love for car businesses and car workers, Romney’s frigid. Just ask the workers cooling their heels at Bainport.
The auto parts case is Obama’s ninth trade action against China. The Washington Post wrote:
“The Obama administration has steadily amped up its enforcement actions against China at the WTO.”
Obama has repeatedly confronted countries whose illegal trade practices threaten American companies and workers, filing twice as many cases in one term as Bush did in two. He has tangibly demonstrated his love for American cars and American car workers.
Full disclosure: The United Steelworkers union is a sponsor of In These Times.
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Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President
Leo Gerard is international president of the United Steelworkers Union, part of the AFL-CIO. The son of a union miner; Gerard started working at a nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario, at age 18, and rose through the union's ranks to be appointed the seventh international president Feb. 28, 2001. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.
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