Saturday, January 10, 2004

More on the 10th Congressional District

An earlier post yesterday (see below under 9 December) discussed the campaign of George Moretz, chairman of the textile firm Carolina Mills, to replace Cass Ballenger in Congress.

Today we see a lengthy analysis of the textile -- or more specifically the hosiery -- industry in Hickory and the Catawba Valley, published in The American Prospect.

Reading about the plight of manufacturing down the mountain from us can induce something akin to light-headedness at how actually fortunate Watauga County has been with a non-industrial employment base (though various County Commissions of yesterday and today have vainly and wrong-headedly chased after such jobs as the only sort of "economic development" that anyone can think of).

First, some hard numbers from the article: "Last year the American economy shed more than half a million manufacturing jobs; losses in textiles and apparel accounted for 17 percent of those. Southern states have been hit hard: North Carolina, for example, lost 114,000 factory jobs between 2000 and 2002. So far, in the past two years, 18 of North Carolina's hosiery mills have locked their doors, leaving nearly 1,400 people without work."

There's the base-line for the anger expressed in George Moretz's TV commercials. The rest of the anger is aimed at the topic of the very next sentence in the article: "A large part of the problem is China."

Ah, China! George Moretz makes bold to name China as the culprit, while not making bold to also mention that both presidents named George Bush in the last 20 years have insisted on giving that culprit country the trade advantages that have decimated Catawba Valley industries.

Now add to China trade and Bush administration policies a third leg of exploitation, the "big-box retailers" like Wal-Mart. Here's the key paragraph from the article:

"In 2001, China's entrance into the World Trade Organization took the American hosiery industry by storm; within one year, the value of that country's exports of non-cotton socks to the United States soared by 462 percent. This occurred despite import restrictions set by an international pact called the Multifiber Arrangement (due to expire in 2005) that uses quotas to regulate the $350 billion world trade in garments. Those numbers continue to climb rapidly, due in significant measure to the dominance of big-box discount stores, whose numbers have ballooned over the past decade. Today stores such as Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart dominate the U.S. hosiery market. Consequently, a decision by Wal-Mart to award, say, a single large order to China allows that nation to capture a considerable share of the U.S. market through the chain's 3,200 stores nationwide. Such a transaction also radically alters the balance of trade -- in a single day."

What all this adds up to are "the politics of free trade," where you have a good solid "conservative" Republican businessman like George Moretz essentially running against the trade policies of his own Republican president.

The long and detailed article includes an interview with Phil Mullins, president of Menzies-Southern Hosiery Mills Inc. in Hickory who speaks bitterly about what Wal-Mart has done to retail business. Mr. Mullins' political affiliation is not mentioned, but we have to guess Republican, considering his role in life and the small fact that there are no Democrats in Caldwell or Catawba counties. So keep that in mind when reading this next paragraph:

"Mullins, 63, is a compact man with a neatly trimmed silver beard and sharp blue eyes. He speaks slowly, in the rolling cadence of western North Carolina. He doesn't trust officials in Washington to help Hickory's ailing manufacturing sector. 'I don't think our country has any honest representation,' he says. 'I've lost all confidence in our government, Democrat or Republican. They're all driven by greed.' He pauses. 'I hate to say that.' "

He hates to say it because it amounts to an attack on Republicans, the people in charge of every blessed thing in this country right now. But also supposedly chosen by God because they're good and always do the right thing.

One can't help feeling some of the same almost rueful anger behind George Moretz's run for Ballenger's seat.

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