Mitt Romney’s campaign bus conveniently bypassed Freeport, Ill., on his recent “Every Town Counts” tour across the Midwest, hoping to avoid more political fallout from another Bain Capital subsidiary, Sensata Technologies, sending about 170 jobs off to China. But Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp, the Sensata workers, and a community coalition are not going to let Romney just cruise past and forget about their city.
With Freeport’s identity tied to its role as the site of an 1859 Lincoln-Douglas debate over the moral crisis posed by slavery, Gaulrapp and the City Council of Freeport — with the workers’ support — are very publicly calling for GOP candidate Romney and President Barack Obama to come to Freeport for a debate on the contemporary moral question of shipping jobs overseas, abandoning U.S. workers and communities to harshly exploit overseas, low-wage workers.
“We have a lot of history here that would make this perfect for a debate,” Gaulrapp says. “We need to have a national debate essentially on what communities like Freeport are going through. You can’t sustain the people and the communities without good jobs. Who will buy our products? We would just like to see them [Romney and Obama] debate these issues. Both parties must be working on this. It’s time that we just get the work done to keep jobs in America.”
The imaginative call for a debate in Freeport may help to promote a shift in the media debate away from Romney’s precise degree of culpability as the former CEO, chairman, and owner of Bain, and toward looking at the impact of “vulture capitalism” on workers and communities. The flight of jobs from the United States, which has contributed significantly to declining wages, declining physical and mental health, and community decay, has been a major concern for 86% of Americans, a 2010 poll showed.
But supposedly neutral sources like Factcheck.com and Politifact.com take for granted the right of corporations to move family-sustaining jobs from the United State to take advantage of low wages and brutal conditions under authoritarian governments. When Politifact proclaims, “We make no judgment on whether outsourcing is good or bad,” it is accepting corporations’ “right” to maximize profits at any human and environmental cost.
At the same time, Politifact and Factcheck.com have dwelled with moronic literal-mindedness on whether Romney was in control of Bain at the time of various shutdowns and relocations, ignoring entirely the fundamental question of Romney’s full-throated embrace of “vulture capitalism.”
Sensata has been actively reducing its U.S. workforce since Bain took a controlling interest in 2006. As Josh Eidelson has reported,
Under Bain’s ownership, the U.S. share of jobs at Sensata dropped to 17 percent in 2007, 12 percent in 2008, 10 percent in 2009, and 9 percent in 2010 and 2011. Planned layoffs could bring that percentage down to 7 percent.
There is no doubt that Mitt Romney will stay far away from Freeport and any debate over “outsourcing.” But the Freeport community’s bold call for the debate is precisely the demand that American workers and communities need to make to Romney and President Obama.
While Obama and his campaign have seized the moral high ground on the question of offshoring, they and wealthy Democratic donors (here, here and here) must be confronted on their support for job-destroying (see here and here) “free trade” agreements.
In the case of Freeport, it is heartening going to see a community go beyond the usual routine when a plant relocation is imminent. Normally, public officials make a token acknowledgement that the job losses will hurt but maintain the community’s future is bright and poised for a rebound, petrified that any effort to demand corporate accountability will lead to an “anti-business” label. But as Freeport is showing, it’s long past time to do more than that.