Interviews with the Invisible: The Outsourced Worker

By | January 13, 2012

Today brings a relatively quick interview with an Alabama worker who found themselves out of a job when their workplace got outsourced to Honduras. It’s not an uncommon story as more and more American manufacturing jobs have been completely moved to exploit cheap labor in Asia and Latin America, and a record number of Americans find themselves out of work. It’s not a coincidence but good luck getting congress to do anything about it. [The interview was done over the phone with me taking notes. So it might not be verbatim what was said, but as close as I can remember.]

1. Thanks for coming and being here. For about a decade you worked in one of Fort Payne, Alabama’s many sock mills making socks for people until it was outsourced to Honduras. What do you think of the statistic that twenty years ago, there were 85 sock mills in Fort Payne and today there are six still fully operational?

The Outsourced Worker: Is it still that many? [Laughs] I think if you were to tell people there are still six there, they might be surprised as most people I know couldn’t get a job at one of the ones remaining.

2. But how does something like that make you feel?

TOW: Bad. [Laughs] No, listen it’s tough all over. Fort Payne’s biggest employer for forever has been those sock mills and then in a matter of years they all just up and move. Whoosh…they’re gone and pretty soon what was a growing town has all these people out of work. It goes from boomtown to bust, [snap] just like that. And it’s all so a few people can rich.

3. You and I are not on the same page on a lot of political issues but one thing we fully agree on is that these jobs are being outsourced by Fort Payne’s richest sock mill owners to exploit cheaper labor. Doesn’t it say something that we agree on that and not much else? Shouldn’t congress pay attention to that?

TOW: They don’t care. It’s the same people really, cause I’m sure they get a check too.

4. So why don’t you vote Democrat and vote them out?

TOW: Wellllllll now Brody, [laughs]. I guess I think it’s just all politicians in general are crooked and it won’t really matter who’s in charge.

5. Then you should probably not vote for anyone instead of voting Republican, but let’s move on. Explain a little bit about the rich sock mill owners that basically run Fort Payne and how it benefits them to move their mill to Honduras.

TOW: It’s pretty obvious it benefits them because they can take advantage of all that cheap labor. And it sucks too because anytime things start looking up for the mill workers, they close one down. The mill’s starting to offer good health insurance, they close it down and move to Honduras. Another mill’s paying better wages,¬†they close it down and move to Honduras.

6. What would you say to the other side of this argument that they keep closing down because it costs too much to keep them open in America and the mill owners can’t make a profit?

TOW: That’s a load of shit. Any mill owner who tells you that, his teeth should break for lying through them like that. These mill owners are the richest people in DeKalb County [where Fort Payne is], we’re talking multi-millionaires with houses most of us would be lucky to step foot in. These rich bastards are taking trips to New York, and going to Florida, and riding around in Mercedes, and the whole time living in these mansions and they can’t pay mill workers a decent salary? If they’re struggling to make ends meet, it sure doesn’t look like it.

7. Then there’s the equally bad argument that workers in these third world countries aren’t getting the jobs because they’re cheaper, they’re getting them because they’re better workers.

TOW: That’s another load because half of whatever they make comes back to us to fix.

8. Explain.

TOW: The socks that these guys or whoever are making are such cheap shit, I mean really, really bad quality. Half of the time the heel falls apart before they’re even out of the packaging. They make them that way, and they send back up to one of the mills that’s still open to fix their flaws. That’s for the really bad ones, and half of the time they’re all really bad, and the other ones are almost as bad but you’re buying them at Wal-Mart. To say that these guys are better workers or somehow better at making socks is bullshit. They’re cheaper, plain and simple.

9. The ironic thing is that people are making such a big deal about Mexicans in North Alabama taking all these jobs, but then the jobs close anyway and move to Mexico. It seems like “costs will be cut” one way or another.

TOW: Yeah well, I think illegal immigrants working for slave pay and driving down wages is another problem here too, but I know you disagree about that so we don’t have to go there. The most important thing for people to know is that these mill owners sold out their community where most of them claim they are so proud to be from. They’ve sold us out to make a little bit more money. But you know a lot of the town doesn’t seem to care and everybody still treats these guys like they’re good men, and it amazes me that more people aren’t upset with them.

10. Already rich men are putting the towns they supposedly love out of business just to make a little bit more money. Does it make you wonder how much one man really needs?

TOW: That’s what we say here all the time. “How much do these bastards need? How much is enough before we’re all out of work and they’re living in a town by themselves because we’re all in the trailer park outside of town?”

11. I guess maybe some of them would probably prefer that. But I think this is a really serious problem, because most people in Alabama don’t have a college degree and aren’t going to win American Idol [laughter] and if there are no quality manufacturing jobs it will just sink the state further into poverty?

TOW: It will hurt Alabama the way it’s ruined Fort Payne. Fort Payne was on the rise, the town was growing, building stuff, and good jobs attract more businesses because people got money to spend there. Now you’ll see more Dollar Stores popping up as that’s all people have got to spend.

12. Do you see this as a larger problem for America? That we’re outsourcing ourselves into the poverty line?

TOW: I know damn well we are. We’ll have a few mansions where these people have all sold everything to other countries and the people in this country will be lined up begging for bread crumbs.

End Note: My thanks to The Outsourced Worker for their time and agreeing to talk to me about Fort Payne’s problems, and what I see as not just an Alabama problem, but an American problem.

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