BUCHANAN, DOLE DEBATE TRADE IN S.C…. 02-29-9602-29-96
BUCHANAN, DOLE DEBATE TRADE IN S.C.
Byline: Joyce Barrett
GREER, S.C. — A shuttered textile plant and a gleaming state-of-the-art BMW plant were the contrasting backgrounds as Patrick J. Buchanan and Bob Dole battled over trade Wednesday, making their pitches to voters in the upcoming South Carolina Republican presidential primary.
From Buchanan’s perspective, free trade agreements have decimated the domestic textile industry. Standing outside the Clearwater Finishing Plant in Clearwater, S.C., which closed almost six years ago because the parent firm filed bankruptcy, Buchanan said to a crowd of about 200 waiting in the pouring rain, “We have to talk about trade policies that send our factories out of the United States — trade policies that send the jobs of American workers overseas….That’s what happened to Clearwater. We used to have 400 workers here.”
Dole, on the other hand, used the automotive plant here to shore up his advocacy of free trade. He is backed by the state Republican organization and brought former GOP presidential candidate Sen. Phil Gramm (R., Tex.), South Carolina governor David Beasley, and former state governor Carroll Campbell with him to the plant. Dole said his campaign was about trade and competitiveness.
“This is what it’s all about. It’s about trade and competition and growth and opportunities for American workers,” Dole said. “This is just one powerful example of what happens when you have free trade.”
Gramm backed Dole up on his trade arguments. “If you want to come anywhere in America to find out if trade works, that trade creates jobs, growth and opportunity, all you have to do is come to this BMW plant in South Carolina….The message is for those that would build a wall around America; let them come to South Carolina and see how it’s done.”
Former governor Campbell said Buchanan’s trade policies were “dead wrong for this state.” Campbell said, “He talks about closed-down textile mills. He goes to mills that shut down three or five years ago. They weren’t modern, they didn’t invest. Then Buchanan says something about where do these people go to work. I’ll tell you where they go to work, they go to work in new companies making higher wages than they were before.”
Campbell went on to discuss how the textile industry was profiting despite employment reductions.
“They profit because of new technology. They aren’t using as many people because they are using robots and computers. They are selling more textile goods and creating better-paying jobs. That’s what it’s all about. Pat Buchanan does not understand it.”
Neither Dole nor Buchanan lived up to their expectations in Monday’s Arizona primary. Dole came in second, behind Steve Forbes, and Buchanan trailed Dole. Dole won by two-to-one margins in primaries in North and South Dakota.
South Carolina’s Saturday primary is the first in the South, and as Campbell said, the winner here historically has gotten the Republican nomination. It’s viewed as a critical test of the candidates and of the effectiveness of their trade positions, which have come to dominate much of the presidential campaign rhetoric.
South Carolina’s textile industry is symbolic of the battleground that candidates have carved out over trade. Textile manufacturing is the largest employer in the state, followed by chemical manufacturing. Apparel manufacturing places third. Employment in textile mills has declined from 94,400 in January 1991 to 83,000 in January 1996, according to the state employment commission. Employment in apparel has dropped from 37,300 in January 1991 to 31,600 in January 1996, the state reports.
Total manufacturing statewide, however, has grown in the last five years, thanks in large part to investments such as the two-year-old BMW plant. Manufacturing employment was 371,400 in January 1991, compared to 373,500 in January 1996. The state has actively sought foreign investment and in 1995 secured $1.8 billion in capital investment from international firms. More than 23,000 jobs were created in the state last year with an average wage of $28,572, some 27 percent higher than the 1995 average state wage for all industries.
Despite employment reductions in the textile and apparel industries, they are growing, according to the state’s Commerce Department. Last year, five new textile firms were announced, with expansion plans announced at 85 existing plants. Four new apparel plants were announced, with expansions planned by 46 firms.
The BMW plant announced Monday that it planned to invest another $200 million in South Carolina, bringing its total investment in the state to more than $800 million. The comparison between Dole’s campaign stop and Buchanan’s was striking, as was the attitude toward foreign trade of workers in the areas.
At the Buchanan stop, many of those at the rally had family members who had worked at the shuttered facility. Wayne Eubanks, 47, stood in the rain to watch Buchanan, whom he plans to vote for. Eubanks has worked for 26 years at the nearby Graniteville Textile Plant and said he thought his industry was threatened by imports. “Many of our plants are going offshore,” he said.
Ken Bonner, 38, the manager of a grocery store across the street from the closed plant, said that since the closing, business has been down. Almost half the space in the shopping center is vacant, and the parking lot is potholed.
“We need more jobs here so people can go to work, and we can do more business,” he said. “We need to have more jobs coming into the U.S. instead of going to Mexico and Canada.”