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How Capital Mobility Destroys Lives

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Now you can watch for yourself, as the furnace manufacturer Carrier announces to its workers that it is going to move 1300 union jobs from Indiana to Mexico.

I challenge every defender of the current system of global trade to speak to these workers directly and tell them why their jobs should go abroad. Supporters of unrestricted globalization are dooming these workers to poverty, to higher alcohol and drug use rates, to higher rates of domestic violence, and to all the social and economic instability that has hollowed out the American working class over the past 40 years. It’s hardly a wonder that white working-class voters are streaming toward Trump. They support his policy positions that they should continue to have jobs. None of the other Republicans support that. By not understanding this at the core of Trump voters, along of course with the racial resentment that is related to it, we can continue scratching our heads at why right and left populism are rising in this country. You can make a case that moving millions of jobs abroad is morally correct because it gives jobs to Mexicans and Bangladeshis. But the problem with that case is that it has massive domestic implications in the nation where you live. We are seeing those implications come to the fore in 2016.

And while you might also say that we should provide these workers with a slightly expanded EITC or better unemployment packages or retraining or a basic minimum income or whatever, the reality is twofold. First, all the jobs disappearing and none of these things are happening. Maybe we should stop moving jobs overseas until we have a real plan for these workers other than bootstrapism. Second, given that so many of these jobs are union jobs, each time a factory closes, unions lose more power which means that workers have less of a voice in politics and thus less ability to fight for some sort of fairer system when the jobs disappear. Instead, corporations fill the power vacuum and buy the political system. We have seen this develop over the last decades and to no small extent, both the Trump and the Sanders campaigns are responses to this. It has caused tremendous domestic instability that elites of both parties don’t want to talk about and neither do apostles of global capitalism on the internet.

Now, I understand that global trade has its benefits, etc. And as I wrote in Out of Sight, what we need is to build toward international labor solidarity by pushing to limit the incentive for capital mobility by establishing laws and standards American companies have to follow no matter where they move so that no matter where factories locate production, the workers there have the right to create a dignified life instead of see their lives ripped out from them when they start moving toward having a middle class. One of the reasons for Carrier to move those jobs to Mexico is that the nation doesn’t have real unions. We know that when Mexican workers fight for independent unions, American employers throw them on the street. Were Mexican workers to unionize, Carrier would probably start looking to move somewhere else again. Is this the world we want for the world’s workers? No, not if you actually care about those workers.

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