In a case of desperate times making for unusual partnerships, the textile titan and union leader are spearheading an effort to shake up the textile lobbying scene. They hope to convince Congress and the White House to help the domestic textile industry before it disappears.
Milliken, UNITE president Raynor and George Shuster, who heads the converter Cranston Print Works, convened a private meeting of 40 textile executives in Washington on Wednesday as the first step toward starting a new, aggressive industry lobbying movement, the three leaders told WWD.
“I can assure you I have not come here to compromise, make concessions or negotiate away what I believe to be fundamental goals and principles that have served this country and its people well for over two centuries,” Milliken told the group of yarn, fabric and dyeing-and-finishing executives at the Capitol Hilton lunch meeting, according to Jock Nash, Milliken’s Washington lobbyist.
Milliken’s message was that it was time to take a much harder line on lobbying than has been taken by other textile groups, including the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, which backed trade-liberalization moves including NAFTA and the Trade and Development Act of 2000, which gave preferential trade benefits to the nations of the Caribbean Basin and sub-Saharan Africa. As reported, Milliken split from that organization in 2000.
No representatives of trade organizations were invited to the meeting.
“As an industry, we have to recapture our base,” Nash said Thursday. “For too long, there have been elements of our industry that think it is more important to be at the table than to defend their interests. We have 1 million jobs left in this industry. We’ve given up close to 700,000 jobs since NAFTA, and the world is not a better place because of it.”
Raynor said: “This administration and many members of Congress appear ready to trade the textile industry away. Those are the first jobs they put on the table. We’re creating a coalition of major textile companies and will eventually invite domestic apparel employers to join and create political pressure. The only thing these guys understand is political pressure.”
Shuster, who is chairman and chief executive of the Cranston, R.I.-based converter, said Thursday it was time for textile interests to make their voices heard as clearly as those of pro-importing groups.
“We have a gigantic trade deficit,” he said. “Trade is not happening. Imports are happening. Trade is exports and imports, and having one without the other can be disastrous.”
Last year, the U.S.’s total trade deficit was $346.3 billion, including all goods and services. In the trade of goods, the deficit was $426.6 billion.
“Our trade policy is not being run by free traders, as they like to call themselves,” said Shuster. “They are free importers. They like to bring goods into this country as cheaply as possible.”
Some in the textile industry have expressed frustration at the Bush administration’s decision this week to raise duties to protect the ailing domestic steel industry, while it has taken no special steps to protect mills. Shuster said he wouldn’t even be satisfied if the White House offered textile makers the same package.
“That is to me is like putting a minor bandage on something that needs a tourniquet,” he said.
He said the U.S. needs to convince other nations, including India, to lower their tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers to levels comparable to those maintained by the U.S.
Nash and Shuster described the meeting as a preliminary step toward stepping up the industry’s lobbying, and declined to name any of the other attendees. They said attendees agreed to meet again next month.
Raynor, who spent the early years of his career in fierce battles to unionize Southern textile mills, acknowledged there is some irony in him and Milliken fighting side-by-side and not toe-to-toe.
“We have enough to agree on,” he said. “What I respect is that Roger Milliken is a fighter and so are we. We both are prepared to fight for it.”