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Trade, Investment and Deindustrialization: Myth and Reality

The American labor movement has basically concentrated on domestic issues-with the notable exception of its vigorous efforts to further the cause of human rights, free trade unionism and political democracy throughout the world. This focus on the United States has been the result of both the sheer size of the American economy and work force and the specific circumstances which gave rise to the rapid growth of the labor movement in the 1930s.

The renaissance of organized labor in this country during the depression years was based mainly in the manufacturing sector. In those days, international trade accounted for a minute part of the nation's total output of goods and services. It was, therefore, manifest that the problems of the national economy that culminated in the Great Depression resulted from deficiencies in domestic policy. Gradual economic revitalization in the New Deal years reinforced the views of labor leaders that the viability of the American economy was inextricably and almost exclusively linked with the domestic scene.

In the early 1960s, workers in a number of labor-intensive industries, particularly the apparel industry, began to experience economic distress. For some, the problem was outright loss of jobs; for the majority, earnings failed to keep pace with average manufacturing wages. That this could occur during what was to become the longest period of sustained economic growth in American history was cause for consternation. What was happening compelled those affected to look beyond our borders.

It rapidly became obvious that the dilemma was due to market dislocations in the wake of a growing tide of imports. Unions might have been expected to respond by calling for a cessation of all labor-intensive imports. The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, however, did not follow that path. Unlike most unions in the United States, the ILGWU was founded by immigrants who arrived in this country with a firm commitment to the international solidarity of working people. The ILGWU leadership needed no lessons in the importance of international economic cooperation

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