By Farron Cousins
October 29th, 2012 9:00am
President Obama has mentioned, in passing at least, that Mitt Romney has a history of shipping good-paying American jobs overseas to China. But what Obama failed to mention during the campaign was that Bain Capital was planning on closing a very profitable American plant the day after the election in order to ship those jobs to China. Mike Papantonio of Ring of Fire interviewed Alternet senior writer and editor Joshua Holland about the Sensata story, and why Obama has been so reluctant to mention this devastating story. Below is the transcript from that interview.
Mike: Okay, Joshua Holland. You’ve heard him here on the show so many times. He’s senior writer and editor for Alternate and author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy, talking about Sensata. What a disgusting story, Joshua, this is such a disgusting story, especially we know that it has, again, Mitt’s finger prints and his name and his money all over it.
Josh: You know, it’s the symbolism of it. It’s that they’re going to shut down this plant in Freeport, Illinois, the day before the election, an election that’s supposed to be about jobs and the middle class. They’re going to send these 170 high tech jobs that pay middle class wages an offer health benefits over to China. The factory in China where they’re moving the equipment was built for Sensata technology, which is owned by Bane Capitol, by the Chinese government, which is kind of ironic given Romney’s chosen theme for this campaign, which is that you didn’t build this.
Mike: Yeah. What’s he going to do tonight? We’re going to hear about China tonight, and here he knows … he knows that he actually built the model. He’s the one that invented the model for what’s happening with Sensata. This is a company, hugely successful. Income last year above $300 million. Almost $2 billion in total revenue, 19% up from the year before. These people have done an incredible job right here in America building this company. The piggish corporate types at Bane, it’s not enough money for them. It’s not enough money to send to Mitt, by the way. Mitt’s going to make money on this deal. Mitt has the profile to change this. They’ve asked to talk to Mitt, and Mitt says, “No, I don’t want to talk to you about it.”
Josh: Even the city council in Freeport has passed a resolution asking Mitt to come to talk to the workers. You’re right that the central, I think for me the central point of this study is that Sensata had record revenues last year. That flies in the face of Mitt’s claim that Bane goes in and takes over struggling companies, and makes the hard choice, the so-called hard choices they need to get them back on their feet. This company is doing very well. You know what? Those workers in China … and we know this because Sensata has four existing factories over there … they make between $0.99 and $1.35 an hour. They work 12-hour days. You know, in China, there are these labor laws, they’re minimal. They’re really minimal. But Sensata apparently does not even conform to those. You see over time, they’re working 300% over what the maximum overtime is supposed to be in China.
Mike: It is, as you point out, ravaged capitalism. Josh, before you came on, I’d been talking about the GINI co-efficient scale that you’ve talked about before, I think with me on Ring of Fire. The UN’s message that right now, when things get so upside down with the American workers, and the money shift is so huge to where 1% of the American population is in control of 65% of all the wealth, that things go bad. Peter Turcheon, of course wrote about the same thing and his idea of cloud dynamics, where he says, “We’re in trouble right now, because of things like this Sensata story.” That is, the American worker is just … they’re trashed. The American workers … they may as well be share cropper slaves.
Josh: You know, it’s really true. If you look at this story, again this is a 60-year-old plant. It was operating three eight hours shifts. It was working 24 hours a day. The point that I think is important to get at is that the economic inequality leads to political inequality, which leads to more economic inequality. There is a vicious cycle here. When you look at the whole thing about the new global economy that Sensata so typifies, it’s absolutely true that it was enabled by technology, advances in travel and shipping and communications. But it was also the result of specific public policies. We call these things free trade deals. That’s a complete euphemism. What it is is these corporate lobbyists go to the USTR, the Trade Representative and say, “Here’s what we need. These are all the things we need to move our production over off shore and still be able to reimport the products back to our own market.
Mike: Now this … there’s just so many ugly parts to this story, but can you imagine the worker having to train the Chinese worker who’s going to replace him for $1.19 an hour, having to take down the American Flag when the Chinese come over here to be trained. That story stuck with me when I read your description of what happened to the Venetians in the 14th century, when you had just such disregard for decency. You had such disregard for the American worker … I mean for the Venetian worker, that you had a broad community at one point that was very functional. They were making money hand over fist. Then what happened in the Venetian community there in the 14th century?
Josh: The elites basically closed the market. They closed the economy to broad participation. They said, “Okay, we are going to lock in our advantages and hopefully …” They had hoped that the same robust growth they had experienced would continue and it was not the case at all. The opposite happened, in fact. It became a far less prosperous society. You’ll see that happening in the United States as well.
Mike: Isn’t this what Chris Hedges has been talking about? This is what Howard Zin warned about. This is what Chommers Johnson warned about. This is Peter Turchin, now with his cloud dynamics that says by 2020 we’re going to be in a position of all out revolution because … this is a statistician, by the way, Josh. Peter Turchin is looking at numbers. There’s … it’s not really subjective. He’s taking a look at the numbers, he’s looking at past history and saying by 2020 things will be in such turmoil unless we do something now that it will be another Venice.
Josh: When you look at the Sensata story, what it tells you is that we need to understand that there is a vital threat right now to our economic wellbeing, to our broad economic wellbeing in this country. Any way you slice it, no matter how successful that factory was, 60-year-old factory operating 24 hours a day, you’re not going to be able to pay people $14.00 to $17.00 an hour, which is what they were making in Freeport when you can pay a Chinese worker $0.99 to $1.35 an hour in China. We need to understand this and react to it. Nobody is doing anything about it.
Mike: What is … what is traditional media doing with this story? Obviously you know this story because you followed this with a legitimate great news source. I don’t really count most traditional media as a great news source. How is this out there from a news source standpoint.
Josh: Virtually not at all. Look, the Romney campaign is right to say Mitt Romney has nothing to do with the day-to-day operations of Bane Capital. I think that that is what is keeping the media at bay on this story. The point that I make is that he is responsible for Bane’s business model. He’s the only CEO in Bane’s history. After he left … since he left it’s been run by a management group, a committee. He put everybody in place who’s making these decisions.
Mike: He invented the model. How has the media not … he invented the damn model here. They learned under him, under Mitt.
Josh: That’s exactly it. He created Bane Capital’s business model, and he trained everybody that’s making those decisions today, he’s still profiting from it. It should be a story on those grounds. The traditional media, they have a hard time, I think, with big picture stories. This is a big picture story because if you look at the granular details then the Romney campaign is right. When they say “We don’t have any direct influence over this decision. We didn’t make this decision,” that is true. If you look at the story narrowly, that …
Mike: But the story is they have begged him to come meet to stop this. He’s running for freaking President of the United States. They’ve asked him in this community, “Come meet with us because we think you have the kind of political profile that can do something. You can intervene here.” Hell, he won’t even meet.
Josh: Yeah …
Mike: Isn’t that a story?
Josh: You’d think that at least … yeah, that is a story. You would think that at the very minimum the harsh spot light of the political campaign might be enough to actually save these jobs, these 170 jobs.
Mike: Let’s take bets, okay? Tonight in the debate, the issue with him talking about China and how we have to get tough with China will come up. Here’s my bet. Obama will not use Sensata. He will not … it’s incredible. It’s like a softball, here it is, Mr. President. Please knock this out of the park. Please, God, knock it out of the park. Let’s take bets. Will he use it or not?
Josh: I would bet that he does not.
Josh: I would bet that he does not.
Mike: It’s so easy to talk about. It’s so easy. You can deliver this so quickly, but it’s just … I don’t know. The fight is not there. You go, “Mr. President, talk about Sensata. This is going to happen the day after the election. We have Chinese coming to the United States.” They’re meeting … they’re meeting with the Sensata employees and they’re telling the employees that we have to ship your job overseas.
Josh: They also told the employees that the day they get the equipment to China they’re going to remove all the safety equipment off of it so that the plant can run faster without the worker protection.
Mike: Yeah, yeah. Josh Holland, as usual, just great work. The Sensata story, it’s sad because after … if Mitt is elected, it’s going to be a yawn. It’s going “Okay, there goes a 170 more jobs where we had a great company, making plenty of money that we shipped over to the Chinese.” Nobody’s ever going to tell the story. These people, they’ve lost their jobs. They’ve lost their ability to put food on the table for their children, pay for college and things like that. It’s just going to be another story the traditional media completely ignores.
Although, I will tell you, if you saw Ed the other night, if you saw Ed there. Ed gets it. I don’t even consider him the run of the mill traditional media. This is the guy who was up there telling the story, and he beat them to death. He beat them to death, and the next morning I thought “Maybe I’ll see something on ABC or CBS or something like that.” There was nothing there, was there?
Josh: No, not a thing. Not a thing.
Mike: What do you think it took … just in the one minute we’ve got, what do you think it takes to change that? What do you think it takes for the traditional media to grab the story and do something with it?
Josh: I think that it requires globalization, the same process that is hurting people in Freeport, to affect the folks in the media. When you start seeing Indian writers getting paid to do op-eds in the Washington Post, I’m pretty sure you’ll see a new realization about this issue.
Mike: All right. Josh Holland, thank you for joining me.
Josh: Thanks, Mike.
Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer Magazine, a contributing writer at DeSmogBlog.com, and producer of Ring of Fire Radio.