This morning I received an email from American Rights at Work, a prominent online defender of US workers, inviting me to take action to protect US jobs:
$7 million. That’s how much America’s taxpayers gave Philips Global in stimulus funds to continue investing in U.S. manufacturing jobs. But Philips would rather take the money and run.
Philips is about to close one of its most profitable lighting plants, leaving 275 workers in Sparta, Tennessee, jobless and an entire community devastated.
Philips plans on shipping those jobs to Mexico, where the company knows it will find lower wages, little union organization, and almost no labor and environmental protections.
Today’s email provides a great opportunity to write about neoliberalism and Free Trade, one of the principal factors causing undocumented immigration (opens a PDF). Philips is a global company that’s permitted by the US government to both come into the country to set up business and to shut down shop and leave whenever it wants. Neoliberalism, or Free Trade, makes that possible. To neoliberals, it doesn’t matter that Philips received $7 million in tax payer money to invest in US jobs. And it doesn’t matter that the workers of their plant in Sparta, Tennessee have good, union-organized jobs. It’s much more important to Philips and neoliberals that in Mexico, Philips can find cheap labor and little environmental and labor protections.
And that’s what neoliberalism is all about: allowing the richest companies, managed by the world’s elite, to move their operations wherever in the world they can make the most money and have the most control. It paves the way for them to hop from country to country in search of lower wages and less regulation and gives them tools to threaten local, state and federal governments if they don’t get what they’re looking for.
Who are these neoliberals? Supporters of outsourcing, getting rid of unions, using tax-payer money to subsidize big business—sound like Republicans, right? Think again. While the Republican Party has been a major supporter of neoliberalism and Republican President Ronald Reagan set much of the neoliberal machine into motion, each president since, including Democrats Bill Clinton and President Obama, has supped up that machine. Most recently, President Obama has worked toward expanding the Free Trade deal with South Korea, despite widespread protest by South Korean farmers and ranchers who would be devastated by US imports of subsidized cattle and agricultural products. What’s more, the agreement allows investors to sue governments for negatively affecting their investments with things such as passing labor protection laws or blocking polluters.
No wonder Philip Global wants to transfer its Sparta, Tennessee plant to Mexico. Because of the Free Trade agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada (NAFTA), Philips knows that it’ll be guaranteed a business environment where what corporate investors say goes.
Both the Democratic and Republican Parties share culpability in the erosion of good jobs both here and abroad. And they both share the responsibility of ending neoliberalism and setting the nation back on the path that the labor and civil rights movements paved: the 8 hour work day, benefits, fair wages, environmental protections, and dignity and a voice on the job. But it’ll take a worker-led people’s movement, like the one cropping up in Wisconsin, to push our politicians to reverse their course on neoliberalism.
So for today, sign the petition to Philip Global and support Tennessee workers fighting for their jobs, and do whatever you can to support Wisconsin workers. And in the future keep supporting worker-led efforts to organize, build political power, and spread the awareness necessary to unplug the neoliberal machine.