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Synthesis/Regeneration 6   (Spring 1993)

Spring Union-Busting and Runaway Shops

by Alice Senturia, International Ladies Garment Workers Union

NAFTA is a lose-lose situation for Canadian, Mexican, and US workers. It's our job to insist that elected officials pay attention to the human faces behind the abstractions and the statistics that NAFTA supporters find so comforting. While Representative Christopher Cox, (R-Calif.), spoke on CNN recently, he spoke of the need to look at the big picture of harmonizing the economies of the three countries.

Free trade economists argue in the New York Times about the Smith-Corona shutdown in Portland NY. It says that "Towns like Portland may be hurt." We're talking about 900 people being put out of work permanently!

"While they may be hurt by the trade pact, the nation overall will benefit." Who is the nation overall?

"...will benefit as consumers." Who are consumers?

"Consumers will save on everything from cantaloupes to t-shirts. " How about mortgages? How about gasoline for your car?

Some factory relocations, free market economists say, are a good thing because they show that companies are doing business wherever they are most efficient, thereby increasing overall North American output. American employers are depressing Mexican wages in the maquiladoras where they are lower than the Mexican average. Closer to home, NAFTA would enable those employers to use an even bigger hammer than they currently use.

I'm a union negotiator. I used to be a union organizer. When we talk about someone having a hammer over negotiations, we're talking about a company like J.P. Stevens. When I worked for ACTWU [Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers] and we organized all of their terrycloth industry, they went to North Carolina to buy another terrycloth operation to use as a hammer so that we wouldn't have the power that we would have otherwise.

NAFTA is going to enable American employers to have an even bigger hammer over contract negotiations—threatening job migration to Mexico. Here are two examples. The first is Smith-Corona in Portland NY, a company that had a 13% increase in multi-million dollar profits the year they decided to move.

The other is Green Giant which moved from Watsonville CA to Irapuato, Mexico in the interior. Those workers started a boycott of Pillsbury-Green Giant and we're asking you to join us. I'm speaking about my union, the ILGWU, which has lost many jobs to Mexico. In the first five months of 1992, payrolls in the industry shrank by 12.8%. Next is your industry.

There's also a new tactic being used. While moving many jobs, they are leaving a few hundred workers, as in the two cases, Smith-Corona and Pillsbury-Green Giant. The message is, "Keep your mouth shut, or you'll lose the last 100 jobs."

They've done it in Portland NY. They've done it in Watsonville. But we must fight back. There is no choice. The workers who were left stranded there with a few of their union brothers and sisters understand the reason for the boycott.

The Green Giant boycott is by Teamsters Union 110. President Carey has announced that he will lead a multi-union caravan to Irapuato in the interior of Mexico. Spiritually, I hope that all of us will be with them. I hope that physically all of our unions will have a presence when that caravan goes and continue to object to the loss of American jobs and the depression of the economies of all three countries.

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