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How Trump’s Trade Policies Failed American Workers

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute

Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “great negotiator” and author of The Art of the Deal, promised to use his bargaining skills to help the American worker.

Trump vowed to rewrite trade deals, stanch the offshoring of U.S. jobs and reinvigorate American manufacturing.

His behavior tells a different story. Both of the trade deals he produced so far—the original United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the “phase one” agreement with China—failed American workers.

Bad trade deals cost millions of American jobs. Trump’s brand of deal-making won’t bring them back.

Make no mistake, Trump inherited real trade problems. For more than 20 years, politicians of both parties failed to fix a broken system.

Corporations exploited trade agreements to shift family-sustaining manufacturing jobs to MexicoChina and other countries that pay workers low wages and deny them the protection of labor unions. They made boatloads of money offshoring jobs, but in the process, they robbed U.S. workers of their livelihoods and hollowed out countless American communities, decimating their tax bases and exposing them to epidemics of crime and opioids.

Cheating compounded the job losses. China subsidizes its industries, manipulates its currency and then floods global markets with cheaply priced goods, severely damaging U.S. manufacturing in steel, aluminum, paper, furniture, glass and other products.

“Work just started to dwindle,” recalled Bill Curtis, who eventually lost his cloth-cutting job at a Lenoir, North Carolina, furniture factory swept under by cheap Chinese imports.

Trump made fair trade—and standing up to cheaters—a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign.

He railed against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which empowered corporations to shift more than one million manufacturing jobs to Mexico. He excoriated China for illegal trading practices that siphoned off more than three million American jobs, and he vowed to stop the bleeding.

The labor movement was prepared to work with him to achieve its long-sought goals. But as president, he let workers down. America needs a comprehensive trade solution, but Trump’s policy lacks vision.

The omission of enforceable labor standards in the original NAFTA enabled U.S. corporations to move manufacturing jobs south of the border and take advantage of Mexican workers.

Mexican workers make a few dollars an hour, much less than their U.S. counterparts, and they lack the protection of real labor unions. Companies make deals with protection unions to muzzle complaints about wages and dangerous working conditions. Workers have no voice, and U.S. corporations get rich gaming this system.

But Trump’s version of the USMCA also lacked specific mechanisms to enforce labor standards. Because he failed to deliver, labor unions and Democratic members of Congress stepped into the breach and did the hard work of fixing the deal so that it provides real protections for workers and jobs in all three countries covered by the agreement.

Congressional Democrats traveled to San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to visit a Goodyear plant that pays some workers less than $2 an hour, exposed them to hazardous conditions and fired dozens who dared to strike. Goodyear, which laid off workers in Virginia and Alabama while operating the low-cost Mexican plant, refused to let the Congress members through the door.

But the visit showed the importance of incorporating worker protections into the USMCA. Prominent Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. refused to pass the legislation until it represented a significant improvement over NAFTA.

Under the revised version of the USMCA, Mexico must follow through with promised labor reforms, such as giving workers the right to organize, or face enforcement actions. When Mexican workers join unions, their wages will rise, giving U.S. employers less incentive to relocate jobs.

In addition, the revised version makes it easier for the U.S. to initiate complaints against Mexican companies for trade violations, provides for multinational inspections of Mexican factories and gives the U.S. the authority to impose significant penalties and ultimately to block violators’ goods.

That’s real enforcement.

Congress passed the revised version of the USMCA, not Trump’s toothless version. The deal is far from perfect, but it’s a significant improvement over NAFTA.

Trump’s failure to follow through on labor standards in the USMCA showed his murky strategy on trade. His use of tariffs does, too.

In 2018, he slapped steel and aluminum tariffs on the whole world—alienating global trading partners—when the right approach would have been a strong, surgical strike against China’s dumping. While the tariffs had some positive effects, they’re no substitute for big-picture fixes Trump has yet to deliver.

On January 15, Trump unveiled “phase one” of a new trade deal with China. It’s little more than window dressing and an effort to defuse bilateral tensions during an election year.

The deal removes some tariffs on Chinese goods and theoretically commits China to purchasing $200 billion in pork, jets, energy and other U.S. products. It gives new market access to U.S. financial firms, allowing Wall Street to line its pockets. But it does nothing to address job loss.

The U.S. lost 3.7 million jobs to China since 2001, 700,000 of them during Trump’s presidency, and the trade deficit actually increased during the first two years of his term.

The loss of American jobs is no accident. It’s part of China’s policy to destabilize competitors and boost its own power.

China subsidizes its industries, giving companies raw materials, land and cash. Then the companies sell their products abroad at prices that U.S. companies—lacking government handouts—can’t match.

In addition, China allows its industries to overproduce and flood global markets, further driving down prices with gluts of steel, aluminum and other products. And it artificially depresses the value of its currency to encourage still more overseas sales.

These are the major problems that U.S. trade policy must address, but Trump’s phase-one deal doesn’t resolve any of them.

Instead, before announcing the phase one agreement, he backpedaled. He rescinded China’s designation as a currency manipulator.

Now, just like they did with the USMCA, labor unions and Democratic members of Congress must be ready to wade in and demand improvements to the China deal.

More jobs will disappear unless Trump pursues a cohesive trade strategy that prioritizes the American worker. Now, he’s just helping to perpetuate the broken system he bitterly criticized.

Do Americans Even Want Time Off?

A new Gallup survey finds that about half of Americans who hold second jobs say they don’t do it out of financial necessity. Why, then, do they put in the extra hours? Do they just like working?

Europeans, in stark contrast, relish their free time. Workers in Denmark actually went on a general strike because they were entitled to only five weeks of vacation. They wanted six.

Many American workers get a lousy one or two weeks off, if that much. Yet 55 percent of Americans with paid vacation said they didn’t even use all the time off, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

John de Graaf, who writes on free time and consumption, has a theory on why Americans don’t pound the table for more paid vacation. “Until you actually get a block of time off,” he said, “you don’t really appreciate it.”

He cites an interesting case in Amador County, California. After the 2007-09 financial crisis, California trimmed its contribution to every county by 10 percent. County officials in Amador decided that rather than lay off public workers, they would cut their working hours by 10 percent.

The Service Employees International Union cried foul. It preferred layoffs of low-seniority people over a shorter workweek for other public employees. The county stood firm but said that it would honor the union’s preference in two years if money remained tight.

Two years later, the budget still needed cutting. The union leadership predictably chose layoffs and restoring the five-day week for the others. But the workers said, “Wait a minute.” They weren’t asked. The union put the matter before the rank and file, which voted 71 percent to 29 percent to stay on four days with less pay.

What happened? As de Graaf observed, “Workers were now saying things like, ‘Now I go fishing on Fridays.'” (Only a few, mainly men, used the freed-up day to take on outside work.)

The female employees tended to like the four-day week more than the men, according to de Graaf. They would tell him, “Well, now what I do is the kids are in school on Fridays, so I do various chores on Friday, and then I have the whole weekend off.”

Amador County workers enjoyed the added advantage of all having the same day off, so they had friends to go fishing with. That’s the thinking in Europe, where nearly everyone gets vacation time during the same weeks of August. Europeans realized that people want time off when friends and family do.

During the Great Depression, a number of big American companies moved to 30-hour weeks. One of them, Kellogg’s in Battle Creek, Michigan, adopted a kind of compromise. The workweek was reduced to 30 hours, but the company paid the employees for 35 hours. Interestingly, Kellogg’s found that these workers had become more productive during the hours worked.

Those holding multiple jobs — now about a quarter of U.S. workers — are far rarer in Canada and France, according to Gallup. Why would that be?

Perhaps the stronger social safety nets in those countries make ordinary people feel more economically secure. Perhaps a consumer culture flashing luxury in our faces makes Americans see some expenditures not as extravagances but as basic necessities. Work is how they can afford them.

“Other things being equal,” de Graaf adds, “when Americans are given the choice of time or money, most will choose the money.”

But looking at the experience in Amador County, it’s possible that we just don’t understand the value of time off because we’ve had so little experience with it. If so, what a sad commentary on the American way of life.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: lyncconf.com

Season Over, Eric Trump Fires Undocumented Workers At Trump Winery

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Railing against illegal immigration and promising to build a U.S./Mexico border wall are two of the ways in which President Donald Trump fires up his base at MAGA rallies, yet media outlets ranging from the Washington Post to the Spanish-language Univision network have reported that the Trump Organization has continued to use undocumented workers in 2019 — and some of the workers who were fired from the Trump Winery in Virginia this week are alleging that they weren’t fired until extensive use had already been made of their labor.

According to Post reporters Joshua Partlow and David A. Fahrenthold, supervisors at the Trump Winery fired seven employees on Monday because they lacked legal immigration status. And two of the seven are asserting that they weren’t fired until it became convenient for the Winery, which the president’s son, Eric Trump, oversees.

One of the fired workers, Honduras native and tractor driver Omar Miranda, told the Post, “They didn’t make this decision in the summer because they needed us a lot then.” And another worker, who was interviewed on condition of anonymity, told the Post, “I think they wanted to get their product out well, the grapes, to make sure that was taken care of — and once things were slow, they could fire us all.”

Partlow and Fahrenthold report that the Trump Winery “has long relied on a couple dozen immigrants — primarily from Mexico — who legally arrive year after year on seasonal work visas, living in a dormitory on the winery property during the harvest. But there has also long been a smaller parallel staff of undocumented employees who worked at the property year-round. This was the group fired on Monday.”

Miranda’s immigration status, according to Partlow and Fahrenthold, didn’t come up until this week. His productivity was praised, and he even won $500 after Eric Trump pulled his name during a holiday raffle in early December.

Anibal Romero, an immigration lawyer who is advising Miranda, alleges that when grapes still needed to be picked, the Trump Winery was willing to overlook workers’ immigration status.

“Donald Trump has known about these workers for months,” Romero told the Post. “He waits until the fields are tended, grapes picked, wine made. He then discards them like a used paper bag — happy New Year, you’re fired.”

What Can We Do About America’s Skilled Labor Shortage?

As the new decade begins, America is facing a difficult situation when it comes to employment and jobs. While more people than ever are graduating from higher education, they’re facing difficulty when seeking employment. Meanwhile, the nation faces an increasing lack of skilled labor, with trade professions having difficulty in staffing. With more people seeking employment after college, there’s increasingly a lack of people taking jobs in skilled trades, creating an employment gap based on education and training.

The Call Of Higher Education

With college education being more expensive than ever, why are more students attending when there are plenty of available jobs that don’t require a college degree? As a college education becomes more common, there’s increasing pressure from previous generations to pursue higher education. Often, attending college is now seen as the inevitable next step after high school. Public school systems tend to perpetuate this assumption. Half of the public school workforce consists of teachers. The other 50% are guidance counselors, nurses, speech therapists, etc. Regardless of staff status, many public school workers and teachers push their students to seek a college education, even when doing so is financially unwise.

Stigma Against Skilled Labor

In addition to the pressure to attend higher education, many Americans pursue college due to the seemingly prevalent stigma against careers in skilled labor. Trade professions, such as carpentry, plumbing, and repairs, often are seen as being “below” office work. This pushes many recent college graduates into part-time temporary or contract positions in an office environment. More than three million temporary and contract employees work for America’s staffing companies during an average week.

However, these skilled trade professions can actually pay more than the standard office job by a wide margin. Many skilled labor careers offer a high income, better hours, and better long-term prospects than college graduates will be able to find in other fields. Many capable individuals are, unfortunately, missing out on excellent careers due to widespread stigma against skilled labor.

Economic Impacts

The skilled labor shortage isn’t only impacting individuals’ career prospects; it also comes with a significant disadvantage for the nation’s economy. Current estimates suggest that the skilled labor shortage could cost as much as $2.5 trillion, with up to 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028. Additionally, the stigma against trade skills and the pressure to pursue higher education may worsen America’s existing student debt problems. Many students are forced to take out expensive loans to afford college tuition, pushing them into severe lifelong debt. This debt impacts all aspects of individual and national economics, with ripple effects as far-reaching as the settlement of life insurance payments. Approximately 86 percent of life insurance policies lapse without any benefit ever paid. With student debts climbing and more unfilled positions in certain industries, it’s clear that the nation will need to find solutions.

Fixing The Problems

Encouraging more people to pursue careers in skilled labor won’t happen overnight. Major cultural and structural shifts will need to occur for changes to take place long-term. During schooling, more students need to be made aware that there are acceptable career choices within skilled labor that pay well and don’t require a college degree. Not all of these careers require so-called “hard labor” either; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are an estimated 7,880 tailors, dressmakers, and custom sewers across the nation. Informing current students about their options ensures that a larger percentage of them will move into these positions in the future.

But what can be done for positions that are currently vacant? Is waiting for students to graduate from high school first necessary? There are several more immediate intervention options available, and almost all of them rely on educating and retraining unemployed or underemployed individuals. It’s technically possible for people to educate themselves for entry into these careers. There are over 119,000 libraries in the United States. Most have resources or learning materials available to help with retraining.

However, many of these careers require some degree of training through trade schools. Directing funds towards training and retraining could help, and in many cases, it already has. Several veteran programs allow veterans to gain an education that can help them enter into well-paying skilled trade jobs. Veterans of the Armed Services can apply for G.I. Bill benefits online, making it easier than ever to receive the necessary financial support for education.

As 2020 begins, the skilled labor shortage continues to pose problems for the nation’s employment and economy. However, with increased resources and promotion of skilled labor careers at earlier ages, it may be possible to combat the shortage and avoid continued employment gaps over time.