photo taken in Pigeon Forge TN in July 2011
My first job was in a textile mill folding pantyhose and stuffing it into small pencil boxes. Eight hours a day, most of it spent sitting or standing in front of a long table using a plastic paddle to help get the hosiery into that box. I was young, I was fast and I worried the full time, permanent help who feared they would be expected to do that once I was back in school. Those paychecks taught me how to budget, how to save, how to have a really nice wardrobe and music collection. While I was being paid by the hour most of the employees were production- that meant the more they produced the better they were paid.
I went back to that mill once I got out of school. My mother worked there as well. If I did something the others thought wrong they ran to my mother. She managed to politely put them in their place and I worked on. Eventually I moved on and got a better paying-production- job at a different type plant. I went from standing in front of a table to standing in front of a machine the likes of which I had never seen before. I would take skeins of yarn and place them on a creel where they were wound onto a cone. Here I worked the night shift, the pay was better and the people a little less nosey. Not much as it was still textiles where everybody knew everybody else's business. Once I learned the job it wasn't too bad. I had to learn where not to put my hands but it only took not paying attention a couple of times before I became more alert and careful. When the opportunity arose I moved to the afternoon shift running an autoconer. A type of winder that run yarn from bobbins onto cones. I was still young enough to be quick and hungry enough to be greedy.
Around then there was something called the Textile Olympics, complete with Olympic type games. A Made in the USA campaign was going strong. The logo was every where. There was pride in the jobs, there was pride in the country, and what we were capable of doing.
I changed jobs several times over the course of the years- remaining in textiles for the most part. Working with my hands, using my mind to make it better, easier. Working six and ever so often seven days a week. Tired, frustrated at the lack of time for much of anything but work, but not hurting for money. We worked ignorant of what was to come. Wishing for a little time off, time to spend with family, time for a vacation, time to simply sit and rest. Still we worked producing a quality product for our customers. Box after box was filled, strapped, stacked and stored waiting for time to be shipped. Companies were working hard to keep up with orders. Orders for an American product, crafted with pride by American workers.
Then someone decided there needed to be a trade agreement and it all flushed away.
Textile mills closed. Big hulking empty buildings stood silent. Machines that once hummed nonstop now sat still, rusting in the passing time. Machinery was sold off to the highest bidder as the lights were turned off for the final time. People- the American Textile Workers stood outside mourning what was. They stood in unemployment lines waiting for their turn to be signed up for that temporary assistance. Where you once saw made in the USA now was anywhere but on that label. Where we once were a strong working nation, we fell away, watching as the jobs went to the countries were workers were exploited and paid pennies. We watched as huge ships crossed the ocean packed with cheap goods made by cheap labor. While we began to long for what was.
Empty buildings that could not be sold have been torn down. Empty lots now the legacy left. The few textile plants still operating a mere shadow of what once was. The pride one once held within their very heart missing as they wonder, what will tomorrow bring?
We were proud, we worked hard, we created quality. We worked stead regularly, unafraid of hard work. We knew quality and how to make it. We knew what went into our product and that those who used, consumed it would not be harmed.
Gone--so much is gone. Not just textiles but manufacturing in general. We still work, we struggle, we stand at the ready, willing to work and work hard at our jobs. Ready to create, to craft, to produce. The American Worker remembers what once was, desiring the return. What do we get instead? The clothing- the uniforms for the USA Olympians......
made in China.
Nice slap in the face Olympic Committee... nice slap in the face.