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Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Book puts former Maytag town in Illinois under the microscope.

Galesburg, Illinois has been the backdrop for a few major political events for President Barack Obama over the years. He stopped there during his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign, again a few years later as a senator, and again in 2013 to talk about his economic agenda during his second term.

“We sell more products made in America than ever before,” he told a crowd packed into a gymnasium at the local college during his last stop. “Thanks to the grit, resilience, and determination of the American people, folks like you, we’ve been able to clear away the rubble of the financial crisis, and we’ve started to lay the foundation for stronger, more durable economic growth.”  

The president’s is a very optimistic take on the state of economy, but, as he is well aware, that didn’t happen in Galesburg. In 2002 the refrigerator maker Maytag told the 2,000 workers at its Galesburg plant that their jobs would be moved to Mexico. In 2004, the jobs left. Unemployment remains high and average household income is low in Galesburg. Maytag took its fridge-making operation to a Mexican maquiladora, right across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas, where it paid the workers only a fraction of the price of what its employees in Illinois once made. And to the shareholders went the profits.

What the huge shift shift of manufacturing from the United States to lower-cost climates like Mexico and Asia has meant for communities in all of those places is the subject of a recent book from Chad Broughton, a sociologist with the University of Chicago. He appeared at the AFL-CIO’s Washington, DC headquarters today to talk about that book, titled Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, The Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities.

During his talk Broughton described an afternoon, in the years between Maytag’s Mexico announcement and the actual closing of its massive Galesburg plant, when the local machinists union went to Newton, Iowa – home of the company’s corporate headquarters – to protest during its annual shareholders meeting.

They weren’t chanting about corporate greed, or Mexicans stealing their jobs. 'It was ‘USA. USA. USA.’

Broughton described the scene to a gathering at the World Affairs Council earlier this year (the pertinent remarks begin at the 6:30 mark):

It looks to be a fascinating read – I’ve just picked it up myself – and you can find a copy of your own here