Bankole: Trump’s play for labor votes a long shot

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Donald Trump is making a play for union members distraught by the debilitating effects of NAFTA — the North American Free Trade Agreement — that was signed into law in 1994 by former President Bill Clinton. His wife, Hillary Clinton, will accept the Democratic nomination for president Thursday in Philadelphia.

That key legislation to this day has been cited repeatedly as the No. 1 reason why thousands of union jobs have been shipped oversees.

The Republican nominee for president, despite the fact that much of his family’s brand name products are manufactured overseas, made outsourcing of jobs a central theme of his acceptance speech at the GOP convention in Cleveland last week.

“Remember it was Bill Clinton who signed NAFTA, one of the worst economic deals ever made by our country. Or frankly any other country. I am going to bring our jobs back to Ohio and Pennsylvania and New York and Michigan and all of America and I am not going to let companies move to other countries firing their employees along the way, without consequences,” Trump told delegates at the convention.

NAFTA remains a thorny issue for Democrats because of the loss of jobs and former Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, made it a major focus of his primary campaign.

Trump is hoping to win in some of the states cited in a 2011 Economic Policy Institute report, “U.S.-Mexico Trade and Job Displacement After NAFTA,” where 682,900 jobs were lost as of 2010 since NAFTA went into effect.

According to the report, states that saw severe job losses were Michigan (43,600), Indiana (24,400), Kentucky (12,100), Ohio (34,900), Tennessee (16,400), New Hampshire (4,000), Illinois (34,700) Alabama (11,100), Massachusetts (17,100) and Texas (55,600).

Bob King, a former UAW president, said: “I think these trade agreements have hurt us. It is a legitimate issue. But Hillary Clinton would do better on trade, not Donald Trump, who has a tremendous anti-worker history.

“Trump is talking about the opposite of what he has done. His management team at his businesses always files lawsuits against workers and contractors not wanting to pay them their wages.”

Trump is positioning himself as the voice of struggling workers by using NAFTA to make his argument that he will protect their jobs at home. But that is not what Robert Lawrence, a Harvard University trade and investment professor, found about the Trump merchandise when he visited, the website of Trump Corp.

Lawrence wrote in a March 8 column for PBS that “of the 838 Ivanka products advertised through the site, none appear to be made exclusively in the U.S.; 628 are said to be imported and 354 made specifically in China.”

“Trump argues he has no choice, since foreigners have made their products so cheap by manipulating their exchange rates. But then how do you explain the utter contempt he has expressed on the campaign trail about others who outsource when he is doing exactly the same thing? If Trump won’t buy Oreos on moral grounds, why should any moral person, following his example, buy Trump-branded merchandise?”

Rory Gamble, the director of UAW Region 1A, said a small percentage of the group’s members are listening to Trump’s argument against NAFTA.

“There is a small percentage of our members who are listening to Trump. We always have people swinging to the left and right,” Gamble said. “But the vast majority of our members know that we need Hillary Clinton in the White House for working families. We are planning an aggressive education campaign to let our members know the facts about Trump and not the sound bites they hear on TV.”

For Gamble, Clinton shouldn’t take the hit for NAFTA.

“A lot of people have a bad taste in their mouth about NAFTA. But she cannot be blamed for what her husband did. She was not in Congress at the time.”

In criticizing NAFTA, Trump has also set his eyes on the domestic auto industry by singling out Ford Motor Co. for producing some of its cars in Mexico.

But the Manhattan billionaire hasn’t fully addressed the inconsistency of his NAFTA message in that the trade deal also has also worked well for him because it enabled the real estate mogul to produce some of his own products like the Donald J. Trump Collection in places like Mexico and China for cheap labor.

That undercuts Trump’s message of fighting for the little guy and trying to keep the jobs of workers from being outsourced.

While this campaign season is seeing an understandable increase in voter frustration against the status quo, if Trump wants to be a credible voice against NAFTA, maybe he should announce that he is stopping all oversees production of his products and give those jobs to workers here at home.

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson” on Super Station 910 AM Wednesdays and Fridays. His column appears Mondays and Thursday.