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Siting Factories

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Why should a corporation be allowed to move its factories wherever it wants? Take General Electric, who is moving its Ford Edward, New York production to (ironically) Clearwater, Florida.

In response to this threatened closing, UE plans an extensive campaign of action and community outreach. “Solidarity Saturdays” send members out to solicit thousands of signatures from the surrounding communities that will be affected by the job loss. UE representatives have fanned out to meet with unions across the region.

At a picket last Thursday at the plant, every AFL-CIO central labor council was represented, despite the fact that UE is an independent union not affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

Gene Elk, secretary of the UE-GE Conference Board, told the assembled workers and supporters that GE’s response to the union’s request for information was to call it “burdensome.” What the union got, Elk said, was “15 sheets of paper… and we had to sign an agreement pledging that we wouldn’t divulge much of that information to the public.”

Why shouldn’t it be “burdensome” for a powerful, profitable corporation like GE to close a plant? I asked UE Political Director Chris Townsend.

“It shouldn’t be easy to close a plant,” said Townsend, “or it shouldn’t be this easy to close this plant. The General Electric corporation has been shown every imaginable consideration—by the taxpayers, by the state government, by the federal government, by this community, by the environmental regulators, everyone.

“Our members have worked with this company to keep this plant profitable. Now the company decides to walk off, leave hundreds of people stranded with no jobs, no income, and leave this community and this state in possession of the nation’s largest Superfund site.”

I asked a young couple who work in the plant, Kim and Chris, about the local job situation. “Where do you go?” they said.

Upstate New York is littered with abandoned factories. State officials tout the massive GlobalFoundries chip fabrication plant south of Fort Edward, but production jobs there pay about $15 an hour, hardly a family-friendly wage.

UE is United Electric Workers. Townsend has a really good point here. Why should it be easy for corporations to move? You can talk about property rights, but why should the property rights of corporations supercede the property rights of homeowners, shopkeepers, small businesses, and others negatively affected by captial mobility? After turning the area into a Superfund site, GE is outta there, leaving another New York community decimated? Why should governments and people allow corporations to do this? These issues are almost never critically examined. The right of corporate mobility and the race to the bottom is seen as an obvious right. But it shouldn’t be. As I’ve said before, the only way to stop corporate mobility from destroying communities is to create standardized regulations, wages, and working conditions across states and nations. Only then will corporations be unable to play state against state, nation against nation, worker against worker, all in the service of concentrating wealth at the tippy top of society.

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