DAVIS vs. CHINA
protectionist gets his party started
May 17, Akron industrialist Jack Davis stood under a
statue of Millard Fillmore outside Buffalo’s city hall
and announced the formation of a new political party
with the simple appellation, the Save Jobs Party.
about a dozen spectators – mostly media – witnessed
the press conference. Among the few was a local attorney
who, out of a sense of modesty, insisted that his name
not be used for this article. He prefers the sobriquet
he is an amateur political historian, Mr. F recognized
what the local media goon squad did not – a greater
historical context for Davis’ party and its national
that statue?” Mr. F said, pointing to Fillmore. “That’s
Millard Fillmore, 13th president of the United
States. He was an attorney in Buffalo with a far-ranging
reputation. He was a big-time player in the local political
scene during his day, just like Davis.”
was a Whig,” I said.
was a Whig,” Mr. F countered, “but then he was
run out of the party and joined the Know-Nothings.”
could really pick ‘em,” I said.
F looked at me from behind thick black Ray-Bans. “The
Whigs drove him out because he was an appeaser on slavery.
Naturally he found a home with the Know-Nothings and
their platform of strict xenophobia against the micks
couldn’t have been that bad,” I said. “They put a statue
of him next to city hall – it’s not like he’s Jefferson
a statue of Jefferson Davis in the Capitol. Anyway,
Fillmore will always be remembered for opening Japan
to American trade using the naval blockade of Commodore
know a lot about American history,” I said.
don’t think he does, though,” Mr. F said, pointing
to Jack Davis.
had to agree, because if he did he would have chosen
a backdrop other than Millard Fillmore. See, the raison
d’etre of the Save Jobs Party is animosity to free trade
with places like Japan, but especially China, which
Davis calls “Red China.”
fact, Davis hates all free trade. It’s bad for businesses
like his company, I Squared R Element, which manufactures
heating elements. He has 75 employees, all non-union,
and Chinese competition is hurting him.
is everybody’s problem,” Davis has said, “not Democrat,
Republican or Working Family. People were taught in
high school – in economics 101 – that free trade was
a good thing. We know that it’s not a good thing.”
Davis has a sense of nothing else, at least he has impeccable
timing. On the afternoon of his press conference the
U.S. Treasury Department got tough with China, issuing
threats of retaliation if the Chinese continue to artificially
devalue their currency. The heat is on: Democrats and
Republicans are calling for steep tariffs to punish
the Chinese for pegging the Yuan roughly 8.28 to the
dollar, the effect of which is that no matter what happens
with the U.S. economy, products from China will always
be cheaper than anything made here.
the past 10 years the Chinese economy has ballooned.
The U.S. trade deficit with China is now $125 billion,
more than with the entire European Union. To keep the
imbalance from affecting their currency, the Chinese
have invested in hundreds of billions of dollars in
Treasury securities. All of which sounds like a bunch
of esoteric economic blather until you look at the effect
Eastman Machine, for example: United Auto Workers Local
936 has been on strike since mid-March at the company,
which makes fabric cutting machines at its Washington
Street facility downtown. The union workers walked out
during negotiations over a new contract, citing outsourcing
of jobs to China.
has recently started joint partnerships in China. CEO
Robert Stevenson told the House Ways and Means Committee
in April that piracy by Chinese competitors has eroded
his company’s ability to compete.
doesn’t get it – he can’t compete,” Davis said during
an interview outside the old Central Terminal on Buffalo's
East Side. “The Chinese steal everything, and what they
can’t steal, they copy.”
has said Eastman’s Chinese operation is strictly for
the Chinese market. But union officials call bullshit,
believing that layoffs and downsizing in recent years
are just euphemisms for outsourcing.
biggest issue is job security,” said Dominic Russo,
56, of Cheektowaga, an electronic assembler who has
worked at Eastman since 1971. “Where does it stop? Do
we let [Eastman] keep exporting jobs until there’s no
one left here?”
and others have picketed outside the Eastman facility
daily from 6am to 6pm. On Friday, May 27, at 5:30pm,
the strikers blocked a school bus of scabs from leaving
the parking lot for five minutes in what has become
a daily ritual. Do it any longer, they say, and Eastman
calls the cops.
the yellow school bus finally rolled out of the lot,
Steven Kemna, 55, of Lancaster, a tool and die maker
at Eastman since 1982, yelled: “Smelly scabs, go back
where you belong – stay there!” The scabs responded
by giving the strikers the finger, which enraged Kemna
and Russo in a very animated way.
sides with the union in the dispute. “Stevenson sold
out,” he said. “He’s not doing what’s good for Buffalo
or Erie County.”
has cast himself as the industrialist who refuses to
sell out, but in reality his alliance with unions is
more a stance of political expediency.
don’t want a union shop,” he said, “[but] unions are
not the problem. Unions are the only ones organized
enough to move ahead [on squelching free trade].”
the Save Jobs Party has fashioned a national platform
that plays perfectly to the likes of the strikers at
Eastman. In a nutshell, it takes the following positions:
American jobs, farms, and industries
membership in the WTO and all free trade agreements
tariffs to reduce trade deficits
privatizing social security
government to buy American products and services
a message focused on keeping jobs in America, Davis
hopes to garner the union vote in the Democratic Party.
And by appealing to business owners with his protectionist
platform, Davis thinks he can cause a schism within
the Republican Party. In effect, Save Our Jobs hopes
to lure disaffected members from both parties and somehow
piece them together.
Republicans have turned their back on American business
owners like me and cater to multinational corporations
that invest in China rather than America,” Davis said.
“The Democrats have forgotten about American workers
and farmers and push deals like NAFTA. Both parties
get their money from the elite multinationals that are
sending jobs to China.”
admits that in his heart he is an old-fashioned Goldwater
Republican. But the Republicans sold him out, beginning
with Ronald Reagan. “The Republican Party left me,”
he said, “and I know they left a lot of people.”
POLITICS OF REVENGE
is where the tale of the Save Jobs party becomes deeply
personal for Davis. It can be traced to 2003, when at
a Republican fund-raiser featuring Congressman Tom Reynolds
(R-Clarence) and Vice President Dick Cheney, Davis said
he was told to “sit down and shut up,” after griping
about the effect of free trade on American businesses.
He was eventually asked to leave the event.
was angry with the Republicans, to whom he had been
signing fat checks for years. He decided to run as a
Democrat against Reynolds in 2004, and took to the race
like an angry apostate. He spent $1.2 million of his
own money and got 44 percent of the vote.
said he has no regrets, and he learned a lot: some Republicans
just wouldn’t vote for a Democrat – even one they agreed
with. Also, he couldn’t count on the endorsement of
other parties, especially the Independence party, which
he thought he had wrapped up until the eleventh hour.
resolved to start his own party, ensuring him that second
line on the ballot the Independence endorsement would
have gotten him. That would first require local and
state platforms: controlling hydro-electric power at
Niagara Falls; studying county services and costs; replacing
the county executive with an administrator; restructuring
the pay and benefits of county workers; making Medicaid
spending match the national average; redrawing state
and federal legislative districts; and eliminating or
moving some Thruway toll booths.
a manufacturer from Akron with a load of money that
he’s willing to spend on politics, but how will Davis
change federal legislation on international trade by
endorsing candidates for local elected office? Wouldn’t
it be better to form some national coalition or found
a PAC to spread cash around Washington, D.C.? I mean,
what is a county legislator supposed to do about free
acknowledged my question, but sees his best bet as building
a grass-roots party, all the while gearing up himself
for another run at Reynolds in 2008. “If I beat Reynolds
on the Save Jobs Party platform, I will have knocked
off the fifth most powerful Republican,” he said.
and his fellow Republicans will try to dismiss Davis’s
platform as the delusional ravings of an old man woefully
out of step with the new global economy.
is representing the Republican Party and Bush,” Davis
said, “not the people in this country.”
RETURN OF THE KNOW-NOTHINGS?
are obvious comparisons to Fillmore and the Know-Nothings.
“Buffalo’s role in national politics has come full circle
in 150 years,” Mr. F said, “like some long suffering
dog finally turning around to gnaw on its own grotesquely
not sure what that means, but there is a strain of virulent
xenophobia running through Davis’ ideology. It doesn’t
come across in his pithy soundbites: “China is outsourcing
their unemployment.” But get him on the subject of immigration
and undocumented domestic workers.
them back,” he says of illegal workers. “Put the Army
on the border.”
talks of a halcyon day when migrants picked grapes,
then returned to Mexico until the next harvest. But
now, he says, they stay in the United States full-time.
He points to the costs in education, health care, and
incarceration, and says: “It’s costing us – it would
be cheaper to pay American workers.”
about the oft-repeated claim that Americans don’t want
to do the jobs performed by illegal immigrants? As Mexican
president Vicente Fox recently said, “There is no doubt
that Mexicans, filled with dignity, willingness and
ability to work, are doing jobs that not even blacks
want to do there in the United States.”
has a quick reply: “Americans don’t want to work on
those jobs at the same price as Mexicans.”
kind of talk plays in certain circles, but it’s “out
of the mainstream” these days. If he sticks to it, Davis
may find himself easily dismissed as some archaic right
the end, Davis’ biggest gaffe likely won’t be his anachronistic
attitudes about foreigners ruining this country. It
will probably be his decision to eschew the more prominent
parties and start his own. After all, there’s not a
very good track record in this country for upstart political
Know-Nothings have been reduced to a historical footnote.
They died an ignominious death after running Fillmore
as their candidate for president in 1856 and losing
did it all mean? I called Mr. F. “It’s easy,” he said.
“If there’s any fairness, then the fate of the Know-Nothings
will befall the Republicans – and then the Democrats.”