By James McNair
Enquirer staff writer
DOWNTOWN - More than 1,000 U.S. machinists attending their annual convention gave standing ovations and roars of approval Wednesday not for a labor leader or like-minded politician, but for a journalist.
Generating the cacophony was Lou Dobbs, the CNN business news anchor who has elevated his views on the offshoring of American private-sector jobs into a national crusade. Knowing that his remarks would strike a chord with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers members, Dobbs told the group that offshoring - like the wars against Iraq and terrorism - should galvanize the American people.
"We have put our middle class directly in competition with third-world labor," said Dobbs, author of the recent book Exporting America: Why Corporate Greed is Shipping American Jobs Overseas. "One doesn't have to be an economist to understand that the middle-class dream is under assault by our trade policies."
A Texan and lifelong Republican, Dobbs said his views on offshoring have made him the object of vitriol from the Bush administration, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. He even conceded the possibility of drawing heat from Democratic challenger John Kerry because he doesn't believe Kerry's proposed curtailment of tax incentives will go far enough to stop the torrent of U.S. jobs going overseas.
Dobbs maintains that U.S. free trade policies have had a disastrous effect on American workers. While almost all apparel and electronics items are made overseas and enter the country freely, he said some foreign markets remain closed to some U.S. goods. And as for the offshoring of jobs in the name of efficiency, productivity or competitiveness, Dobbs said those are code words for cheap labor.
Among local companies, General Electric, Convergys, Procter & Gamble and Lexis-Nexis have moved customer-support, employee-support and computer programming functions offshore in the name of cost-saving and competitiveness. Only Convergys, the call center operator, would say precisely how many jobs it has offshored: seven.
Dobbs said corporations are not willing to say how many jobs they have sent offshore. He said voters should engage elected officials in discussions on the subject.
David Brandenburg, the Machinists' district business representative in Dayton, estimates that a quarter of the 70 employers of his union's members in Southwest Ohio have sent jobs overseas. He didn't know how many union members have been affected, but said the trend is partly responsible for shrinking membership.
"We've tried to keep the jobs in the area, but they're not interested," Brandenburg said.
The union gathering runs through Friday at the Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center.
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