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The Courier-Journal
Louisville, KY
August 6, 1992, Thursday - METRO Edition
FORUM; Pg. 13A

WHAT ARE WE DOING?

HOWARD FAST

Perhaps because I am still wedded to a 40-year-old mechanical typewriter, I tend to react to stories about typewriter companies.
I can remember when you walked into a newsroom and saw the fine old Underwoods, the sturdy Smith Coronas and Remingtons standing row by row, ready to put the news and just about everything else into focus; before the glassy screens of the word-processors took over the world of writing.
And now I read that Smith Corona Corp., one of the last American companies in the business of manufacturing consumer typewriters, is closing shop and moving its factory to Mexico.
Mind you, this is not free trade, and this is not the free market; it's a heartless act of greed, taking the factory off American soil and putting it in a place where people work for 30 percent of the wages that are paid to them here in our country. There are nearly 1,000 workers in this plant, 781 full-time employees and 115 part-time people. There is also the town of Cortland, N.Y., that depends on this plant. Its population is less than 20,000, so when you subtract 1,000 jobs, you in effect deal a death blow to 20 percent of the local families.
This is, of course, small potatoes when compared to the massive layoffs in our great basic industries -- layoffs that seem to occur almost every day. This is not only an invasive procedure, to use a medical term, but it is like tearing a limb off a body that is already bleeding in a hundred places.
What are we doing to ourselves? What happens when plant after plant moves into Mexico or Korea or Burma or Costa Rica? We were once, and in my lifetime, the greatest industrial power on Earth. After the awful damage of World War II, we rebuilt Europe, and now we are closing down our steelworks, our auto plants, our coal mines, machine shops and shipyards.
It's true that McDonald's is left, and the men and women who once built the great machines of the 20th Century can now flip hamburgers at a quarter of the wages they once earned, and we sink deeper and deeper into depression because the man or woman who once made a dollar now makes 25 cents, and 25 cents is worth less than a nickel in pre-inflation prices.
And do you know, there are not enough rich people around to make a market; the one-time incredible American economy rested squarely on the shoulders of the working man and the middle class. Their power to buy made our country what it was, and when you take away their jobs and their four- times Mexican pay, you take away our power to produce -- which is the beginning of the end.
What happened to Smith Corona would be most unlikely in any European industrial country. The prime minister and the minister for commerce or whoever was in that spot would get together with the owners of the company that was beginning to slip, and they would say something to this effect: "Let's get together on this. Let's see what we in the government can do to keep you at home. Let's see what kind of adjustments we can make."
Such would be the case in almost any other industrial country on earth. In fact, such was the case here when President Carter bailed out Chrysler Corp. in 1979; but Chrysler was very big in the manufacturing of military stuff, such as tanks, and the Cold War was still going on then.
I would think that in cases like this, the president would be deeply interested, and that George Bush might gain more points by telling the people that he had given sustenance and hope to a thousand families, than by strutting in front of his "safe" audiences and boasting about the most stupid and unnecessary war in recent history.
But for Bush to face up to the very real problems that confront us is too much to hope for. These are mundane matters that deal with the family -- the same family that Dan Quayle holds forth on.
Quayle was very disturbed about a television character giving birth out of wedlock, and Bush's silence on this silly matter appears to underscore Dan Quayle's firm stance; but neither of them is in the slightest disturbed about a family in non-television agony, a treasured house taken away, no money for food -- a condition of dispair that rots out the heart of the family.
Copyright 1992 The Courier-Journal
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