Tell Sen. Snowe that more fair trade will save jobs

Posted April 18, 2010, at 7:06 p.m.

I read with great interest the recent Bangor Daily News story on Sen. Olympia Snowe’s new priorities on unemployment benefits and jobs, jobs, jobs.

However, there was no mention of NAFTA, currency manipulation, or free trade, which are the three main reasons for the loss of well-paying American manufacturing jobs. The recent closing of the Lemforder Corp. plant in Brewer is a good example.

Where did that plant and its well-paying jobs go? To Mexico! Why? Because of NAFTA and so-called free trade those jobs have joined thousands upon thousands of well-paying American jobs exported to Mexico.

The Chinese communists manipulate their currency, subsidize their manufacturing industries with free loans, power and materials while Sen. Snowe talks about extended unemployment benefits.

The bleeding of well-paying American jobs began well before the great recession. It began with NAFTA, got worse with the granting of the most-favored nation trading status to China, and will be the end of American industry if we do not disengage from the World Trade Organization.

These issues transcend to every remaining industry. I have worked in the paper industry for 36 years, 30 at Great Northern Paper in Millinocket and the last six at Verso Paper in Bucksport. I have seen too many good paper, pulp and lumber mill jobs disappear — including my own job. Some of these jobs disappeared due to bad business decisions and corporate greed, some due to environmental group opposition, but most due to trade issues.

I was chairman of the Millinocket Town Council in January 2003 when GNP went under. I’ve seen what happens to a town and its people when they lose a mill. It’s not good. Where and when will it stop? If we don’t do something soon, these jobs will just be a memory.

The gridlock in Washington needs to end. The Democrats and Republicans have to quit blaming each other for all of the nation’s ills, because they both share equal blame. They need to remember why they are there, that they work for the American people, not a political party.

This country is not about political parties; it is about all of us. Sen. Snowe could be the one to get them working for the American people again. I can remember her early and continued opposition to NAFTA, her battles with the Canadians over lumber imports, her opposition to most-favored trade status for the Chinese, and her questions and concerns about the WTO. For these reasons and others it surprised me greatly that in the BDN story she never once mentioned trade or NAFTA in relation to the loss of jobs across the U.S. or Maine.

Sen. Snowe could do much to get our nation back on the right track. Before Congress now is a bill called the TRADE Act. Our own Rep. Mike Michaud is the lead sponsor in the House. Sen. Snowe could sign on as a co-sponsor in the Senate. This would be a great help in getting this bill moving forward in the Senate.

We need to level the playing field so that all players have an equal chance. I am not opposed to trade, but we need fair trade, not free trade. Why do companies take their plants to Mexico and China? Because the rules are lax or nonexistent. What do they have for environmental or worker safety laws? None that they pay any attention to. That is what the TRADE Act is all about — fair trade so we all play by the same rules.

Sen. Snowe needs to understand that the workers of America and her home state need her help. She should listen to the James McMurtry song “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore.” That says it all.

Sen. Snowe should sign on as a co-sponsor to the TRADE Act and get it voted on in the Senate. Now is the time to act.

I ask all who read this and agree to either call or write Sen. Snowe and urge her to help the American worker. We need the TRADE Act now.

Don McLaughlin lives in Bucksport and is the president of USW 4-0261.

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