Hundreds of thousands of garment industry workers staged a brief nationwide walkout in protest of foreign imports yesterday, whole union representatives, led by AFLCIO president George Meany, pressed their case with President Carter.
The walkout, organized by the 500,000 member Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWN) and the 360,000 member International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWN), marked the beginning of labor's campaign against the Carter Administration's free trade policies. Union leaders charge that inexpensive apparel imports threaten the nation's textiles and clothing industries, where employment has fallen 30 per cent since 1969.
"America has becom a dumping ground for all foreign countries," Jack DiBlasi of the ACTWN, told an estimated 10,000 garment workers who rallied in New York City's Herald Sqyare in near 90-degree temperatures.
"We cannot complete with Taiwan and Japan." DiBlase declared. "They only get 10 to 15 cents an hour. We can't live on that. It's got to stop or we'll all be on welfare."
The protesting workers idled their sewing machines and looms to stage lunch hour marches and rallies in major cities in 40 states, many of which were sanctioned by employers. Burlington Industries bought newspaper advertising in major papers headlined "Jobs in Textiles: Another Endangered Species."
Following the 35 minute Oval Office meeting between union leaders and administration officials, Robert Strauss, U.S. trade ambassador, termed the session "constructive" and cordial.
"We all have the same objectives," he said, but noted that the strategies for achieving them differ. Strauss quoted President Carter as saying that the meeting was "very helpful."
AFL head George Meany told newsmen at a late afternoon press conference that Carter had made no commitments during the session. But, he added, "he gave us a fair hearing."
At the heart of the fights are the reciprocal trade agreements which the United States began negotiationg with other nations during the Kennedy administration.
Organized labor initially supported the agreements, but now call for the imposition of higher import taxes to equalize price differences between the American and foreign-made goods. The unions also want restricions on the amount of foreign-made products allowed to enter the country.
arter has so far declined to push for higher tariff rates.
Meanwhile, Korea's Minister of Commerce, Yie Joon Chang, told a news conference at New York City's plaza Hotel at the fate of American workers "is not my problem.
"There are a half-million clothing workers that I must worry about," Chang said. "I believe that high quality, low cost goods will benefit the consumer. The worker is your problem."
The ELGWU passed out leaflets showing the average Korean textile workers makes 32 cents an hour, an Indian worker 21 cents an hour and clothing workers in Halti, 18 cents an hours.
Union spokesmen said American clothing workers begin at $2.50 and hour.