Article Title

World Trade & U.S. Jobs


David Bensman


[Excerpt] It has become obvious to everyone in and around the U.S. labor movement that our problems involve the global arena. Hundreds of thousands of trade unionists have seen their employers shut down plants and shift production overseas. Countless union negotiators have seen the boss play the foreign card at contract time: "You have to give concessions to meet the foreign competition."

U.S. trade unionists are a diverse lot, and they have come up with numerous interpretations of the international challenge. But, in practice, the primary way the U.S. labor movement has responded to the internationalization of labor relations has been to push for protective legislation against the unfair trading practices of foreign nations.

This article takes a different tack. While it is true that unfair trading practices have deepened America's economic problems, our trade deficit is itself a symptom of a deeper problem — global economic stagnation — that afflicts not only American workers but workers all around the world.

The world economic situation now resembles that of the 1930s, when farmers dumped surplus food on the highways and factories lay idle because ordinary working Americans could not afford to buy what they produced. Today this crisis of underconsumption has returned — but on a global scale.

As long as the world's workers can't afford to buy what they produce, competition for markets will remain feverish, trade wars will spur demands for protectionism, and workers will continue to find themselves under severe pressure to restrain their wage demands. The restoration of "fair trade" is desirable, but in itself it is no solution to the fundamental crisis of underconsumption caused by workers' lagging spending power.