The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Free Trade or Free Propaganda?

Apr 11, 2016

Candidates for president, Republican and Democratic, blame international trade deals pushed by U.S. corporations for supposedly destroying U.S. jobs and “taking advantage of cheap foreign labor” overseas. Sanders and Trump have especially used this as a part of a “populist” appeal aimed at getting working-class votes.

Certainly, in the U.S. there are seven million fewer manufacturing jobs than there were in 1990, a devastating loss. This is often blamed on the rapid rise of industrial production in China, with much of that production aimed at export markets, including to the U.S. We are told, for instance, that all the products we buy at the store are “made in China.”

But the reality is that almost three-quarters of the products that Americans consume are produced in this country. And to produce all those goods for the largest domestic market in the world, U.S. manufacturing has to be gigantic. Especially since the U.S. is also the second largest exporter in the world, as well.

How big is U.S. industrial production, compared to the rest of the world? Taken alone, the U.S. manufacturing industry would be the ninth-largest economy in the world. Only eight other nations (including the United States) would rank higher in terms of their GDP (Gross Domestic Product). And according to UNIDO’s (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) latest statistics, the U.S., with a population that is one-fourth the size of China’s, still produces as much or more than what is produced in all of China.

Since 1990, to meet this demand in the domestic and international marketplace, U.S. manufacturing production has almost doubled, according to the U.S. government’s own statistics!

So, what is really happening? Manufacturing production in this country has doubled but employment has fallen rapidly. This is the problem. The Chinese are not stealing U.S. workers’ jobs. No, U.S. companies are stealing them, primarily by pushing U.S. workers to produce more, through speed up, job combinations, and big increases in the amount of time workers have to spend on the job. U.S. productivity in manufacturing has more than doubled since 1990. And it has increased even faster in some sectors, such as among domestic automakers. All the talk about the threat from low-wage jobs in China is aimed at convincing American workers they have no choice but to work harder and faster.

But the more that workers produce, the more companies downsize their workforce.

The basic message from Trump, from Sanders, from the media – and from the unions – is the same. They all tell us that American workers’ jobs are being stolen by impoverished workers overseas. It’s a diversion, a trap for U.S. workers. It pits U.S. workers against workers in other countries. It paves the way for “American bosses” to take “American jobs” right here in the good old USA.

Yes, a fight has to be made for jobs, but a real fight for jobs obviously would target those who are taking them, the U.S. corporations. It would mean a fight for better working conditions and a shorter work week. It would mean a fight to spread the work around, so that one part of the working class is not overworked, while the other part is chronically unemployed. And it would mean a fight to push up wages – taking it from the immense wealth the workers’ labor has produced – so we could all work fewer hours.