Appeals for a "Buy American" movement are being heard across the country as US auto, steel, electrical manufacturing, and other industries are being severely undercut by imports.
There is no patriotic fervor; it is simply a matter of economics. Major US industries, once strong, are shaky now.Plants are being closed or are cutting production -- and jobs by the thousands are being lost. Buyers are being asked to accept the possible higher cost of American products in order to support the economy.
Last week New Jersey led the response when its Legislature unanimously passed , and Gov. Brendan byrne signed, a bill requiring all state, county, and local government officials to "domesticate" car fleets by buying on US-assembled automobiles and trucks over the next two years. The measure overturned a tentative agreement to buy 500 Japanese-made Datsuns.
Other states are considering similar sanctions that temporarily would put aside requirements that low bidders receive government orders. Dealers who sell foreign- made cars or other heavy equipment are planning lawsuits.
At the federal level, Rep. Matthew J. Rinaldo (R) of New Jersey and other members of Congress are urging the US Postal Service to drop plans to buy new mail sorting equipment from abroad. The Postal Service, which is preparing to adopt a nine- digit ZIP code, says US-made equipment is too sophisticated and performs functions not needed at a greater cost.
Representative Rinaldo says the Postal Service should revise its purchase plans to "aid faltering industry and get our people back to work."
Unions that traditionally supported free- trade principles are joining the protectionist fight. It is necessary, they say, to restore ailing industries to vitality and prevent American production workers from becoming extinct.
Archer Cole, secretary-treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, joined United Automobile Workers (UAW) and other union leaders in the New Jersey battle to block car purchases from Japan. Said Mr. Cole: "It would be most callous act on the part of the state to purchase foreign cars . . . when 10,000 residents have lost jobs because of plant shutdowns in the state due to the declining automobile industry."
The Ford Motor Company earlier this year closed in large plant at Mahwah, N.J., idling 3,700 workers.
Labor does not want to shut out foreign cars and goods. But it wants to limit imports through a "fair trade" policy. While unions consider what the Carter administration has done to help auto, steel, electrical manufacturing, and other industries to be steps in the right direction, labor spokesman say even more restrictive regulations must be imposed to make American goods more competitive in domestic markets.
While organized labor is concerned about all imports, it is currently worrying more about those that affect basic industries. Japan shipped 184,780 cars to the United States in August -- a 9.2 percent rise from the same month in 1979. In addition to UAW concern about this, the United Rubber Workers recently pointed out to Congress that every imported car has four or five tires made abroad.The United Steel Workers has protested the heavy tonnage of imported steel in the same cars.
Apparel imports rose in 1979 to 50.6 percent of the total production in the US industry; about one of every three pieces of wearing apparel in the US market now comes from abroad, according to the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.
The announced closing of Singer Company sewing machine production in a plant in Elizabeth, N.J., by the end of 1980 -- with 850 layoffs -- has been blamed part on the firm's inability to meet the competition from foreign machines made with lower- cost labor.US manufacturers also have ben forced out of much of the domestic markets for radios, video and audio tape equipment, TV sets, electrical hand tools and small appliances, and other products.
Further illustrating the penetration of imports, 1980 Christmas catalogs mailed to credit-card holders by some major gasoline firms show that at least half of all items included are from abroad. Most of the imports are products formerly made in the US.