Charles Hayes never changed his small office, even after he made
it to the top of Guilford Mills Inc. He liked hearing the din of
the big knitting looms on the other side of the wall as he worked.
And he hated shutting them down.
"This is what Congress and the strength of the dollar has done to
our industry," he said, shrugging off a tear as he walked through a
nearly empty mill for the first time since closing it last March.
Now, as President Bush presses Congress for authority to
negotiate new free-trade agreements, Mr. Hayes and the industry he
represents are becoming an increasingly vocal force in opposition.
More than 74,000 US textile jobs have disappeared in the past 12
months alone - the biggest period of job loss in the industry since
the demobilization after World War II. While the trend is a long-
term one, the sped-up pace worries industry insiders, who say a lot
more cuts are on the way.
Here in Greensboro, N.C., Guilford Mills now employs 600 workers,
down from 1,600 in January 2000. By one local study, fewer than
half the laid-off workers have found new jobs.
The silent looms signal the problem the White House is having
convincing Congress and the public that more free trade will create
more good jobs.
"This is a very tough time for the textile industry, and it's
been tough for the last few years," says Larry Sabato, a political
scientist at the University of Virginia. "Lowering trade barriers
is good for the economy overall, but some people suffer severely on
account of it. And the textile industry is right there at the top."
The industry that virtually dictated US trade policy in the 19th
century has lost most of its political clout in an economy
increasingly dominated by services. Until recently, the
Congressional Textile Caucus - down to a handful of representatives
from a few Southern states - rarely met.
For one thing, even lawmakers with a big textile presence in
their districts could point to jobs created by incoming foreign
firms to offset the losses in textiles.
But with the US economy at a standstill, cries for protecting
manufacturing jobs are making inroads in Congress.
When Republican leaders in the House tried to get a quick vote on
President Bush's request for trade-promotion authority (TPA) last
July, they found they did not have enough support.
By some estimates, the measure remains too close to call as a
fall vote approaches.
One reason is people such as Hayes.
Currently president of the American Textile Manufacturers
Institute, the industry's main lobby group, he has been a longtime
supporter of free trade. He worked out details leading up to the
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with US trade officials
over his dining room table in Greensboro, N. …