George W. Bush will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over a U.S. economy that lost jobs. Over 2 million manufacturing jobs are gone since Bush took office. How to fight this wholesale destruction of manufacturing, and the pro-corporate, pro-finance capital policies that accelerate the process, are critical election year issues. Attacking China, Chinese unions and Chinese workers will not solve the problem. Indeed, it might play right into the hands of the ultra-right and the Bush administration.

There is little doubt that manufacturing job loss is a direct result of capitalist globalization and the trade policies that support it – what the AFL-CIO calls the race to the bottom. At the heart of these policies are trade agreements that promote the free flow of capital around the globe. In addition, global capitalist institutions like the World Trade Organization and the World Bank develop and push policies that advance this capital free-for-all.

While much of the debate on so-called free trade is couched in terms of jobs, import quotas and tariffs, in the end the core issues are investments and profits. Jobs are lost in the U.S. because American capitalists and bankers decide to invest money in cheaper labor markets like Mexico, Haiti, India, or China.

In the last 50 years we’ve watched this process play out in many forms. Northern factories shut down and moved to the South. Then factories were moved to Mexico. Now they are moved all over the world. In all of this labor and working people have learned a lot.

When factories moved south it was to get away from unions and the higher standards of living that unions won. Labor and the working class realized that breaking down the barriers of racism and regionalism and organizing Southern workers was the key to protecting everybody’s jobs. Today we all understand that unity and solidarity, civil rights, women’s rights and full equality are cornerstones of progress for labor in the U.S.

When giant U.S. corporations first began to invest in Mexico and shut down plants at home, many reacted by attacking Mexican workers – they were “stealing our jobs.” Immigrant-bashing also found support in labor. But we quickly learned that when U.S. corporations shut down factories here to invest in Mexico, conditions for Mexican workers got worse. And desperate Mexican workers came north looking for any work to support their families. Now we all realize that building ties with Mexican workers and uniting with immigrants and bringing them into the unions is the best way to fight.

Conversely, labor also sees how ultra-right, mostly Republican, politicians use immigrant-bashing and Mexico-bashing. They use it to divide people and as a wedge to attack social programs. They use it to divert us from seeing the real culprits, corporate greed and profiteering.

China-bashing is a continuation of these same old divide-and-conquer tactics. Like Mexico- and immigrant-bashing, China-bashing is fertile ground for racism and division. Throw in more than a pinch of anti-communism, and you have a heady ultra-right brew.

China-bashing won’t stop U.S. investment in China. Filing trade complaints against China will not stop U.S. investment there. The real problem is that forcing U.S. capital to re-invest in America is a much tougher fight. Capitalists can make a higher return elsewhere. So it means controls on capital. It means accepting that capital is not “free” to move around at will. It means enforcing social and financial responsibility on capital, which means cutting into their bloated profits.

In an election year, joining in with the ultra-right in China-bashing and blaming foreign workers, or even foreign governments, for job loss is a losing tactic. It’s the kind of simplistic diversion that lets corporate America and the Bush administration off the hook.

In a global economy, that fight can’t effectively begin with the world’s working class divided. It’s the same lesson, on a global scale, that we learned in the South and with Mexico.

A major obstacle is U.S. labor’s general attitude towards the Chinese unions. For most, the line is “they’re not real unions, they are not independent of the government.” As a result, unlike many European and Asian labor organizations, American unions refuse to have any contact with Chinese unions.

How can talking hurt? Chinese unions are undergoing profound changes in light of foreign investment and a market economy. According to a recent study by a University of Michigan professor, labor disputes and legal challenges by China’s unions against corporations have exploded in the last few years. Wouldn’t it be important to discuss mutual problems with Chinese unions – for example, trying to deal with Wal-Mart? Shouldn’t UAW members and Chinese union members who both work for General Motors compare notes and raise common concerns?

American unions don’t have to agree with the Chinese unions’ relationship to their government in order to talk and begin to build some common, self-interested ties – just as Chinese unions don’t have to agree with the AFL-CIO’s work with the State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy on influencing foreign trade unions.

The main thing is what we’ve learned from all our past experiences in the struggles against runaway jobs. Unity and solidarity with the workers involved is the critical issue. Let’s talk.

Scott Marshall (scott@rednet.org) is a vice-chair of the Communist Party USA and chair of its Labor Commission.

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