We’ve been working hard behind the scenes for the past few weeks with FDL members on the OccupySupply program.  So far the FDL Membership Program  has raised $83,583.88 and spent $42,833.96 on supplies, and we are proud to report that union made hats, scarves and socks are now on their way to 40 Occupations across the country.

OccupySupply got a nice show of support form Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy over the weekend:

Help the Occupy Supply Fund ship 100% union made, American manufactured
cold weather gear to occupations.

The Membership Program has already bought everything from generators, heaters and sleeping bags to tents, food and clothing for many occupations.  But we quickly realized that the requests for winterization help we were getting far outstripped anything we could satisfy on a one-off basis.  Moreover, we knew we could get more (and better) supplies if we bought them in bulk, particularly with smaller items like clothing.

But if you ever want a depressing tour of what has happened to America’s manufacturing base, start looking for union made textiles.  The once thriving market has been all but obliterated — and much of what’s left will probably see its death knell with the passage of the Korea Free Trade deal.  Even companies that were hanging on only a year ago are shutting their doors:

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Just 30 years ago, Scotty’s Fashions, with 237 employees, was Lehighton’s second largest employer behind Gnaden Huetten Memorial Hospital. It was the fifth largest employer in Carbon County in 1991.  The firm put food on the table of its Lehighton employees for more than 40 years.  The Lehighton factory was one of several the Scott family of Pen Argyl had owned. Tighe Scott, son of founder Amelio Scott, said at one time Scotty’s had over 2,000 workers.

But all empires eventually fall, they say, and thanks to other countries taking away virtually all our garment jobs, Scotty’s in Lehighton has closed.

One company link after another is now dead.  Or worse yet, this is what happens to your website when you go out of business.  Even Carhartt, which has manufactured union-made work wear in the US for over a century, made the decision to shut down domestic manufacturing last year.

Each company that goes under means jobs lost, communities devastated and unions weakened.  Middle class jobs are replaced by sweatshop labor, and the 1% pocket the difference.  The cost of “cheap” imported goods becomes a vast global supply line consuming enormous amounts of fossil fuel.  Chinese goods are offloaded onto our shores, and US manufacturing equipment is loaded back on to make the return trip.  It’s extraordinarily depressing, a recipe for economic inequality and environmental catastrophie — and not the least bit sustainable.

Workers represented by unions make 15% more than their non-union counterparts performing the same jobs, and are much more likely to have health care. Unions fight for things like 40-hour work weeks and paid sick leave that benefit everyone, regardless of whether they are union members or not.  It is no coincidence that income disparity is soaring as union membership density declines.

We’re extremely proud that the goods we’re sending out from OccupySupply today are not only economical (at an average cost of $8.20 per item) and made for extreme cold weather, they are also union made.  We will continue to buy union-made items whenever possible.  Some items like tents and sleeping bags simply aren’t union made in the US any more, so if we have to buy non-union made goods in order to meet the needs of the occupiers, we’ll work hard to insure that they are manufactured regionally by people who are paid a fair wage for their labor.

Below is a list of the union locals responsible for manufacturing the goods we’ve already purchased:

  • Hats and scarves:  Workers United Local 33T in Philadelphia
  • Socks: UFCW Local 147T in Wisconsin
  • Blankets, jackets, polar fleece jackets: UFCW Local 1541 in Chicago

A big round of applause to the union members who have worked hard to produce these items that are all extremely high quality, and also to the manufacturers who are still committed to operating union shops.  It is our sincere hope that with OccupySupply we can not only get much-needed assistance to the encampments across the country, but  also encourage a conversation about the value of labor in the items we use and the practices we encourage with our economic choices.

If you’re with an occupation and would like to request supplies from OccupySupply, you can do it here.  If you’d like to become a member of the FDL Membership Program and work with us to bring OccupySupply to your local encampment, you can join here.