June 22, 2010

You'll remember I wrote about this before, when I first found out Whirlpool took millions in bailout money and then announced they were moving this plant to Mexico.

Now they've closed the plant and soon the town will turn into a ghost town:

“We were considered the refrigerator capital of the world,” said Randall Reynolds, who was a forklift driver.

But that family tradition will soon end because Whirlpool plans to close the plant on Friday and move the operation to Mexico, eliminating 1,100 jobs here. Many in this city in southern Indiana are seething and sad — sad about losing what was long the city’s economic centerpiece and a ticket to the middle class for one generation after another.

“This is all about corporate greed,” said Ms. Ford, who took a job at Whirlpool 19 years ago. “It’s devastating to our family and to everyone in the plant. I wonder where we’ll be two years or four years from now. There aren’t any jobs here. How is this community going to survive?”

At a time when the nation’s economy is struggling to gain momentum, Whirlpool’s decision is an unwelcome step backward. It continues a trend in which the nation has lost nearly six million factory jobs over the past dozen years, representing one in three manufacturing jobs.
Connie Brasel, who earned $18.44 an hour making thermal liners for the refrigerators, sees Whirlpool’s move as a betrayal not just of the workers but also of the United States.

“This country made Whirlpool what it is,” she said. “They didn’t get world-class quality because they had the best managers. They got world-class quality because of the U.S. and because of their workers. And now they want to pack up and move to Mexico. I find it offensive.”

[...] The closing leaves not just Ms. Ford and her son without a job, but also her husband, a worker in the metal-pressing shop.

“My mom and dad told me that when they were young, there were jobs everywhere,” she said. “They said we had Whirlpool, Bristol-Myers, Mead Johnson, Windsor Plastics, Guardian Automotive, Zenith. Now if you want to find a job, there’s nothing around.”

Ask the workers who is to blame, and they say not just Whirlpool, but also President Bill Clinton for having negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, which eliminated tariffs on trade with the United States’ neighbors. They say the pact has siphoned jobs to Mexico.

They also blame Indiana’s governor, Mitch Daniels, saying he has largely ignored their plight, and President George W. Bush and President Obama, saying they had done little to reverse manufacturing’s decline.

“When people are unemployed for a long period, they would look at any administration, including this one, as being part of the problem and not doing enough,” said Mohammed F. Khayum, the dean of the University of Southern Indiana’s business school. “It can definitely play a role in this November’s elections unless things turn around before then.”

Our country is missing a strong industrial policy, with an administration and Congress that chooses which manufacturers are important to support --and why. As long as economic disasters like this are repeated all over the country, I don't think Democrats are going to be pleasantly surprised this November.

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