By Christopher Kromer
In recent decades, it has become a favorite theme of local manufacturing workers and the unions that represent them to decry the increasingly globalized economy for the loss of local jobs.
The blame for job losses, these sources claim, belongs squarely on the shoulders of politicians who arrange more liberalized trade agreements.
Mahoning Valley workers must stop blaming politicians for the emergence of a globalized economy and start getting real about what is actually occurring.
Globalization is not a political choice; it is an economic reality. Through advances in technology, travel and communications, the development of a single, interdependent marketplace has become inevitable.
No politician or political group can take all the credit for the vast technological progress achieved in the 20th and 21st centuries, and it is equally absurd to blame those same politicians for the effects produced by those advancements.
The Mahoning Valley has a long and cherished history of innovation and leadership, two traits that placed the Valley at the forefront of the steel and auto industries for decades. While market forces have taken their toll on the Valley, union-induced hemorrhaging also has played its part in the area’s economic decline.
According to a Buckeye Institute study measuring job loss between 1982 and 1998, it states that mandated union membership for manufacturing workers lost approximately 996,000 jobs. States without such laws enjoyed a net gain of 493,000 jobs.
The lessons to be drawn from this data are clear. Union power has peaked in the last few decades, resulting in an undue strain on Ohio’s economy.
Instead of allowing unions to lobby for benefits that outpace market growth, Valley workers should embrace new opportunities for development and innovation.
The alternative energy sector, for example, is ripe for new contributions, and the Valley has historically possessed the initiative requisite to take the lead in emerging fields.
Much of the dishonest rhetoric surrounding international trade needs to be exposed. Local opponents of more liberalized trade maintain that such arrangements are completely harmful to America’s well-being. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Not only do free-trade agreements preserve peace between interdependent nations, they also allow American goods to be exported to more foreign markets. Ohio has particularly benefited from agreements like NAFTA, which have helped Ohio to become the nation’s sixth largest exporting state.
Common arguments against free trade tend to focus on international labor standards and the treatment of foreign workers. While it is true that much needs to be done to alleviate these concerns, the solution most certainly does not involve a policy of isolationism, which would only serve to limit the capital flowing into other countries, thereby further lowering living standards.
If unions who oppose global trade really meant what they said, why wouldn’t they argue for more liberal trade with the poorest nations, using their political influence to demand higher standards for all the world’s workers, rather than just pushing for ‘‘America-only’’ policies?
Are local unions really concerned about the well-being of foreign laborers, or is this just a smokescreen for crippling isolationism?
The time for a union-driven economy, in which redundant jobs are protected through political intimidation, is over. Rather than continuing to browbeat manufacturing firms for market developments that lie outside their control, unions should shift their focus.
While the federal government cannot be held entirely responsible for the emergence of the global economy, it can be lobbied to promote the development of training and educational programs for displaced workers.
Only through the acquisition of new skills can Mahoning Valley residents hope to survive in a bustling, ever-changing modern economy.
The Valley can no longer afford to rely on vote-seeking demagogues who play upon residents’ fears and misconceptions regarding globalization.
It is time for the Valley to shed its self-pitying outlook and engage in an honest and informed debate on the new economy.
Kromer of Champion attends Mount Union College and is a community columnist for the Tribune Chronicle. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org