Skip to comments.In a small town, workers question the future after factory shutdowns
Posted on 08/09/2003 3:39:59 PM PDT by Willie Green
For education and discussion only. Not for commercial use.
DOUGLAS, Ga. - When the fourth factory quit town, 535 more voices joined the luckless chorus asking what is happening to this rural centers hardest-won jobs.
Lewis Burkett knows the answer.
He knows because, when his plant closed last year, Intermetro Industries asked him to spend two more weeks on a special assignment _ smoothing out the bumps at a new wire-shelving factory replacing the one where hed worked for 17 years.
Burkett arrived in the northern Mexican city of Cuauhtemoc to find a spotless building housing many of the very same machines, rebuilt and repainted, that commanded the factory floor in Douglas.
A Catholic priest was ushered in and laborers gathered as he solemnly blessed the machinery with holy water. Then the production line wailed back to life.
When I went to the plant and saw them doing the same things we did ... well, to tell you the truth, I was kind of proud of those folks, Burkett says now, sitting at his kitchen table, hunched over a road atlas opened to a map of Mexico. Theyre doing for $8 a day what we were doing in Georgia for $11 an hour.
Understanding the quandary Douglas faces doesnt offer much solace, however.
Nor does it stop the situation from getting worse, as it did on June 30, when Tecumseh Product Co. closed its Douglas plant _ one lured here just seven years ago, where workers were frequently told that the quality of the small engines they built was so good that customers insisted on Douglas-made products.
The angst over lost manufacturing jobs is shared by rural communities across the United States. Many of the very towns that benefited from a rebound in manufacturing during the 1990s that helped them net thousands of new jobs, have now shuddered through three years of wrenching layoffs and plant closures.
All face more or less the same conundrum as people here in Douglas: What do we do next?
I wish I had jobs to offer for all my students. But Ill be honest, fellas, I dont, says George Foster, a former worker at a now-shuttered factory, addressing a class comprising mostly layoff casualties newly arrived for retraining at East Central Technical College in Douglas.
I dont know the answers. I wish I did, Foster says later, pacing through the workshop where he teaches refrigeration and air conditioning repair. I wish I did.
Of the 2.7 million jobs the U.S. economy has lost since early 2001, 2.4 million were in manufacturing. The downturn has been particularly tough on some rural communities, which have lost a significantly larger share of manufacturing jobs than urban areas, often because of outright factory shutdowns rather than partial layoffs.
The downturn has eliminated more than one in 10 of the nations factory jobs. Its much more than just a statistic in places like Douglas, where rumors of companies about to be lost or gained seem nearly as frequent as the blue and white semitrailers that rumble nonstop in and out of the towns sprawling Wal-Mart distribution center.
Douglas, tucked into south Georgias piney flatwoods, is a city in name but a small town in character. Its a place where people shake their heads at the crowds and pace of Atlanta, four hours north, and point to their towns suitability for raising a family.
It boasts a tidy downtown aspiring to be a tourist stop and a busy commercial strip of chain restaurants and discount stores. More important, Douglas has seeded a crop of brick and aluminum factory buildings amid the worn grain elevators and whitewashed tobacco sheds that gave the town its start.
Many of the factory jobs here are relatively unskilled, tapping a labor force of which nearly half lack a high school diploma. When state and local officials held a job fair downtown in July, more than 1,700 jobseekers flocked in over four hours _ in a city with a population of 10,600.
What we need more than anything is just jobs, says Herbert Tanner, a 57-year-old engine assembly worker at Tecumseh. Tanner is losing not just his paycheck but the health insurance that, last year, picked up $58,000 in medical bills, mostly for cancer care.
What good is drawing industry here if theyre just going to stay three or four years and leave us flat? he asked.
Douglas long depended on its role as a tobacco, peanut and cotton center, as well as on some apparel plants, now mostly closed.
About 20 years ago, some local bankers decided the town couldnt sit still. Douglas future would be made by aggressively pursuing new industries and training residents to fit the jobs.
The strategy worked. For a while.
The community pitched a cheap and willing nonunion work force, job training programs, incentives like tax breaks and ready-built, cinderblock factory buildings waiting for occupancy.
The first gains came in the early 1980s, when poultry processor Gold-Kist brought 1,500 jobs. Not long after, PCC Airfoils Inc. was lured here to make aircraft parts.
The town built its first speculative factory shell in the mid-1980s and Intermetro moved in. A second building was snapped up in 1995 by Tecumseh, a Michigan-based manufacturer whose engines supply the heart of Toro lawn mowers.
Tecumseh offered starting pay of around $8 an hour, generous health insurance and a chance to advance.
For around here, thats good money, said Maryland Winters, a former supervisor who got a raise to $12.13 an hour shortly before the shutdown. Youre not going to find something else like that even if you go uptown and put on your pretty heels and go to some office.
Douglas last year moved ahead with long-contemplated plans for a third building, in an industrial park on the west side of town whose only businesses are a commercial greenhouse and a mini-sports park.
If you build it, they will come, the weekly Coffee County News trumpeted hopefully atop its front page in late June, when completion was imminent.
Theres a problem, though. Both of the earlier buildings, and several others around town, are sitting idle.
Intermetro closed in January 2002, laying off the last 112 people from a payroll that had once been near 200.
Manufactured housing producer Fleetwood Homes closed one of its several area plants the same month, eliminating 120 jobs. In December, Owens Corning Fabricating Solutions, known locally as Fabwell, closed and sent its 130 workers home.
Some remaining businesses have also shed jobs. PCC has cut 283 in two layoffs since last spring.
But the damage was relatively limited. Until a Friday morning in early April.
They told us the day before we were going to have a plantwide meeting, says Rhonda Pease, a 32-year-old mother of two who worked on the engine line at Tecumseh, and whose husband worked in diecasting. They told us to be on time.
Close to 300 gathered in the open space of the shipping and receiving department that morning,
It all sounds so perfect ---send jobs to Mexico and Mexicans at least would have improved lives ---but it didn't work out that way. The more maquilas moved into Mexico, the more millions of unemployed, indigent Mexicans packed up and left to come to the USA. And for all Fox did to promote more immigration yet ---- the voters of Mexico just made a sharp left turn at the polls and rejected his politial party.
What do these spoiled Merkin workers want? Running water? Central heat? Electricity???!!!
Labor is just another raw material to exploit - DAMMIT!
it's super easy to blame it all on chicom/wto/globalists/elvis, but in the 21st century unskilled labourers without HS diplomas should stop thinking anyone owes them a job.
Why do you suppose this tidbit of information was added to the article from a newspaper in Georgia?
It certainly proves capitalism works, but my argument is, what are we supposed to do now? If we arent making things at a salable cost rate, what are WE supposed to manufacture for ourselves? Where does OUR employment come from?
IF it costs too much to run a company here that can make an item at a profit because of overseas competition, what am I supposed to produce? And how am I supposed to pay people to work for me if all my costs are eaten up because of payroll that while 1/2 the American norm, it is still 10X the World standard wage?
That is what I see is going on here in America. We are letting in competition who did not pay for the right to do business in America or who did not pay for the right to do business with corporations that depend upon the American market.
Know what else burns my buttons?? THEY didnt even invent these new technologies that made us prosperous in the first place, nor did they invest in all the new machines or processes that took years and millions to develop!
And we just went over there, set up OUR machines, sent in OUR people to teach them how, they pay them slave wages compared to ours, put ourselves out of business all in the name of competition to wipe us out of the market!! We are selling them the rope to hang us, and we are making the rope ourselves!
Where do certain materials come from? Isnt it true that we cannot just mine a hole in the ground to get Bauxite? How about Copper? Arent we supposed to go to a particular spot where we know there is Copper? Now, if someone wanted to deny us Copper, they would be starting a war if they cut us off, or they would be causing undue influence on our way of life if they controlled it and raised its prices above that which we pay.
Now, that same logic applies to industry. Any industry. If we cannot make a bearing in a cost effective way in this world, where is the logic to send the means and knowledge to make bearings to another country where competition does not exist?
We are sending away the means to produce the most basic materials we use in industry! This is not about singular items like sneakers or IT programmers; it is about entire means of creating anything.
The machines we send over to these countries are used to create other machines. These new machines are going to, if not already, be used to create the competition for our remaining industrial goods, to be operated at slave wages by people who did not have to be trained in high tech skills to operate, but only told when to press a button, thanks to Computer Controlled Machining.
We are not sending over looms and combines to people to allow them to live better, we are sending over complex CNC machines and devices that are used in Aerospace, Automotive, and computer industries, and they are being setup by us, used by them, and they are not worried about profit in making their business run, they have governments run their businesses, and that means profit is not the motive! At least not where the operation of the company is concerned!
What product am I going to make that cannot be reverse engineered by a geek with a set of verniers and a tape measure and calipers and shadowgraph??
Why in God's name is this so hard to see for some people??
We design and build a machine capable of cutting steel, we design and build a product using that previous machine, and we mass produce it, make a profit from it, only to sell the metal cutting tools and production tools and the technologies necessary to repeat the previous processes to a country that does not engage in free market competition because the government props up the business and prevents it from operating at a loss...and you say we can compete against that?
Humans are human. They can be educated to run complex machines. If we design through our own efforts new technologies that give us great advances that cause our people to advance in technology and culture, what in the world are we doing giving away these technologies to other countries that are our ideological enemies?
WE spent the money to advance these technologies, to develop it, to debug it, using monies from profits, not government, losing our shirts in the process in a capitalist society where the fittest survive only to give it away to a communist nation that pays its workers of these new companies in rice bowls? And you say that is what we are able to compete against?
I got a news flash for you: My friend from High School runs a small machine shop; He just had a new machine put in. When the guy came to install it, he told him of his recent trip to China to install a new machine there. Once the machine was leveled and wired in, they brought down the worker for this machine...removed his shackles and handcuffs...did you get that? He was hand cuffed; he was shackled, barefoot, and brought out of is cell to run the new 4 axis miller.
We cannot compete against this type of manufacturing. This is not a backward country trying to use a crude lathe to make cheaper table leg. This is an industrial giant using computer controlled machines where all a person has to know is what button to push and when thanks to developments in CNC technology. And they pay them in rice bowls, and when he makes a mistake they make a new part until they fill the quota for good parts because they can afford the training curve to run the machine right to eliminate errors.
Socialist Countries propping up their companies is NOT FREE TRADE; neither is American Companies moving off shore, providing the means and personnel to run these companies that formerly employed Americans Capitalism, either!
Not one of these countries developed these technologies themselves, not one of them spent the money to do the research and development to achieve the high quality that these products are now, and not one of these countries started these companies with an individual who is competing solely on Free Market Capitalist Ideals!!
This isn't about whining, it is about giving away the company store to those who are trying to destroy us economically!! It is about giving away the means and technology to compete against ourselves!! That is not sane!!
We are not talking about an individual or group of individuals starting up their own little version of Microsoft in the open market, we are talking about Socialist Governments using Government funds to support all the waste and error that would bankrupt any other company by buying all the machinery from us, the instructions on how to use it coming from us, and then demanding that we use this new company to provide a product, thereby depriving an American competitor a chance to make the product at a cheaper price only they cant BECAUSE THESE FOREIGN COMPANIES ARE USING SLAVE LABOR!!
Capitalist companies cannot compete against that because we are liable for our losses in manufacturing through human error, we use our own money not the governments, and when we go under, it is our tough luck.
Not so in China or Malaysia or Thailand or India or Mexico....
And there is the rub. This guy saw his companies old machines down there running. This Mexican who set up business didnt design these machines, they didnt develop the machines, they bought them lock, stock, and barrel.
Even a college education is no gurantee for a job. For years we have been told that a bachelor's degree will get you work. Not true anymore. Now, you will have to figure out what the rich will be willing to pay you to do for them. It's sad!!
I think we're seeing a sea change in America. I believe there is a good chance that this experiment we call America, which after all at only 200+ years is still in its infancy, will fail by the end of the 21st century.
When the money flow slows to a trickle, some will make due with less and others will take from those with more.
Unless some new technology( religion ) creates jobs in the next 8 months the next presidential election will produce some very interesting demagogues. Eva Perone are you listening?