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Providence Journal
Providence, RI
Sept. 11, 1992

Free-trade future: The horror!


PRESIDENT BUSH HAS A DANDY little plan for the United States of America. He proposes the creation of a "common market" to include Mexico, the United States and Canada?no imposts, no duties, a free and easy exchange of goods from one country to the other.
In Monterrey, Mexico, there is a plant called the Iga Toy Factory. The assembly workers make on the average of $4 a day for a 10-hour day, or 40 cents an hour The equivalent workers in the United States would earn at least $5 an hour, or $40 for an eight-hour day.
Question: Why should any toy manufacturer in the United States manufacture toys here and pay $40 for an eight-hour day, when he could move south of the border and pay $4 for a 10-hour day?
Question: Why should any automobile manufacturer in the United States pay his workers $15 an hour, when he can move south of the border and pay his workers $1 an hour –workers more skilled than those in the above-mentioned toy factory?
Question: Why should any manufacturer of refrigerators, trucks, tractors, bicycles, dresses, suits, baby carriages, bathtubs, sinks, pipes, furniture, steel beams, plastics, rugs, shoes?or a thousand other products stay in the United States and pay the going wage, when he could move south of the border and pay a dollar an hour or less?.
Fifty years ago, the population of Mexico was only 30 million; today, it is well over 90 million and rising fast, producing an unlimited supply of labor. There is a one-party government, no real democratic tradition, and few opportunities for Mexican labor to struggle for higher wages.
The results of this plan that Bush puts forward are very interesting indeed. The profits of the leading corporations here would rise enormously. They would be able to compete successfully with other countries, and, indeed, undersell them at times. Five percent of America would become very wealthy, and another 25 percent? stockholders, professionals and merchants – would share this increase in wealth, but to a much lesser degree. Perhaps 20 percent more would share to one degree or another?service workers, people on fixed income, landlords, etc. And then, there would be those engaged in office work, electronics, and certain skilled manufacturing work requiring a degree of education not yet to be found in Mexico. Altogether, this could amount to no more than 60 percent or 65 percent of our working force and even with additional jobs in transportation and retailing and government, we would most certainly lose 20 to 30 million manufacturing jobs, and we would create a pool of the unemployed that would have to amount to many more millions than we have today.
It is pure fantasy to imagine that we could ever create jobs for this pool of the unemployed men and women who would very soon become unemployable. Either we would provide a dole to support them, or in their hopelessness and desperation they would repeat on a scale a hundred times larger what happened recently in Los Angeles; and because they are well-armed (by virtue of Bush's attitude toward guns), these uprisings would be bloody indeed.
Every large city would become a prison of hopelessness and horror; government would become increasingly arbitrary and militaristic. With its tax base exhausted by the flight of the middle class and the increasing frustration of the millions of unemployed, American cities would become something more awful than any horror story of Stephen King.
One can only predict that such a future would be awful beyond belief; one cannot predict the details. But one can look back at ancient Rome and reflect on what happened when the great slave-holding plantation owners replaced the small independent farmers. A huge city population of plebs was created, men and women who had no work or hope of work, who were fed by a dole and kept in leash by a combination of brute force and circuses of brutality and horror, and who eventually brought about the end of Rome.
Now, the administration economists will assure you that none of the above will take place, that new wonder-industries will be created to replace the dull and ordinary manufacturing jobs that go to Mexico, that we will all of us share the golden flow of profits that come from cheap Mexican labor, and that we can all look forward to a prosperous and peaceful future. But I wonder whether the thousands of men and women who have lost their jobs to Japan and Hong Kong and Korea and still have not found new jobs will believe them.
Howard Fast is a author, playwright and screenwriter whose works include Freedom Road, Citizen Tom Paine, Spartacus, The Immigrants, and, most recently, the autobiography Being Red.