by Leo Gerard
A trio of governors and a duo of lieutenant governors last week dined on pink slime burgers and pronounced them mouth-wateringly-delicious-and-nutritious as TV cameras rolled on their barbeque in a Nebraska factory that manufactures the stuff.
Shoppers have reacted somewhat differently to pink slime secreted into their hamburger, so much so that three national supermarket chains stopped using it, and an Iowa grocer now offers both slimed and unslimed burger.
The politicians insisted that identifying slimed beef is not necessary, or even wise, because the fabricated-sans-fat- smashed-meat-scraps-seasoned-with-ammonia mixture is more nutritious. It’s so great that announcing its presence on the burger label is unnecessary, the politicians insisted.
The governors and lieutenant governors chose to champion not consumers but slime producers. The reason is obvious. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who organized the slime plant tour and barbeque, got $150,000 in campaign contributions in 2010 from the factory’s founders. Rather than rally to the public, too many politicians prostitute themselves to corporations. Thus, American workers have a government that incongruously rewards corporations that ship jobs overseas. Somewhere the government of the people, by the people, for the people got lost.
Just as in the case of pink slime, the interests of flesh-and-blood people and corporations frequently conflict. In those instances, a government of the people, by the people, for the people should take their side. But a government run by politicians constantly hounding corporate campaign contributions often fails to favor flesh-and-blood people.
Professor, researcher, writer and mathematician Ralph Gomory discussed this problem last week at the Second Annual Conference on the Renaissance of American Manufacturing, held in Washington, D.C. Many speakers before him recommended recharging manufacturing with fixes like tax breaks, improved technical education and cheaper energy. These, Gomory argued, are no more than tinkering around the edges.
Real solutions exist, he said. There is, for example, billionaire Warren Buffett’s proposal to eliminate the nation’s massive trade deficit and promote domestic manufacturing with certificates that would limit imports to the level of exports.
“Why are these not even seriously discussed?” Gomory asked, then answered:
“That is because the we is not clear. Who is the we of the United States?”
What should be we the people operates as if it were we the corporations. Gomory said:
“The present system is working well for global corporations, but not for the mass of Americans. When you come to the legislative system, it does not act for a single we. They are affected by global corporations that have tremendous political impact. We may not be taking the actions we could take because it is not clear who the we is.”
Corporations that once described themselves as duty-bound to their workers, communities, customers and shareholders now serve only shareholders. Profit, they say now, is their only responsibility. So they move production to Asia where they get tax waivers, free land, free reign to violate environmental and labor regulations, and other breaks that make operations more profitable, at least in the short term.
The result for the United States is factory losses, unemployment and trade deficits. Gomory, who is co-author of the book Global Trade and Conflicting National Interests, pointed out:
“With unbalanced trade, we are consuming more than we produce and that cannot go on without us being poor and in debt to everyone else.”
Multi-national corporations are not citizens, though. They have no allegiance to the United States and don’t accept either poverty or national indebtedness as their problems.
Not all factories off-shore production or produce slime, however. And some of their owners are as bitter about a government that fails to protect them as workers are. Roger Berkley, former chairman of the National Textile Association, spoke at the manufacturing conference with Gomory.
Berkley, who was the fourth generation in his family to run its textile business, sounds exactly like a worker whose job was outsourced. They share values and commitment to country, community and family. Berkley said, for example, that when he ran the family business, Weave Corp., he operated on the belief:
“Your company is only doing as well as its lowest-paid employee. And when that employee is making minimum wage you are not doing well at all.”
He says former President Richard Nixon gave away the U.S. textile business to China:
“When Dick Nixon stepped off that plane in China, we could feel the noose around our necks tighten.”
His company closed, but some of the nation’s textile industry is preserved, he said, by the Berry Amendment, which requires the U.S. military to purchase supplies made of fabric from American manufacturers. Without it, Berkley asked:
“What will soldiers wear when the Chinese get pissed off at you? You will have a bunch of naked soldiers running around the field.”
Still, he said, every time the amendment comes up for renewal, politicians attack it and try to repeal it.
Thus Berkley’s bitterness is understandable. As is that of unemployed workers who saw their government reward corporations for sending their jobs overseas. As is that of consumers who watch politicians put on a pink slime show rather than defend the right to know whether burger contains ammonia-infused scraps.
Those pink slime politicians don’t need a barbequed scrap-burger. They need a lesson in American history. It’s we the people. Not we the multi-national corporations.
Leo Gerard is international President of the United Steelworkers.