Organized labor asked the federal government yesterday to impose special tariffs on textile and men's apparel imports from eight Asian and South American countries on grounds that they subsidize their exporting industries at the expense of American jobs.
The 500,000-member Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union filed petitions with the commissioner of customs seeking "appropriate countervailing duties" on textile and apparel imports from South Korea. Taiwan, India, the Philippines, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia.
The move - the latest in a series of efforts by American industry and labor to curb expansion of low-cost foreign imports ranging from shoes to steel - was immediately endorsed by AFL-CIO President George Meany.
"This isn't competition," said Meany at a press conference to announce the petition filing. "It is a stacked deck, stacked against American workers," Meany said. "Not only must American workers compete with inhuman wages as low as 15 cents an hour, but their employers must compete against companies which are underwritten by foreign governments."
A bid by the Zenith Radio Corp. seeking countervailing duties to compensate for indirect subsidies of electronic equipment by the Japanese government is currently on appeal to the Supreme Court and could have a bearing on the textile-apparel case, although ACTWC officials said yesterday that their case is broader.
In addition to the kind of tax rebates that are involed inthe Zenith case. ACTWU President Murray H. Finley said the textile complaint involves allegations of extensive or even total tax exemptions in regions ear-marked for industrial development, free trade cones, special government, subsidies export risk insurance and cash bonuses for exports.
Citing a sharp rise in imports of textiles and men's and boys' clothing in recent years, including a 34 per cent jump between 1975 and 1976. Finley said "hundreds of millions of dollars" and "a loss of jobs that numbers in the tens of thousands" are involved.
Between 1966 and 1977, a total of 42,000 jobs were lost in the men's and boys' clothing industry alone, he said. The whole textile industry, which now has 2.3 million workers, could shrink by 1 million over the next decade if current trends are not reversed, said Jacob Sheinkman, ACTWU secretary-treasurer.
Union officials did not specify what duties it is seeking beyond saying they should be "appropriate" to counteract the trade benefits tht the foreign exporters allegedly receive from the governments.
Nothing that existing law provides for countervailing duties when foreign exporters receive "bounties and grants" from their governments, Finley said that, "in effect, we've asked the commissioner of customs to go 'bounty hunting' in these eight countries." He said the union may also seek action against other countries, depending of the outcome of the pending petition.
He denied that the textile union or textile industry, which he said he expects will support the petition, is 'blindly protectionist." But he said free trade cannot function "unless the rules are the same for everybody."
Meany said the AFL-CIO will seek tough restrictions on imports in Congress next year and called on the Carter administration to tell other countries that "if you close the doors against us, we're going to close the doors against you." In a trade war, said Meany, the United States "would to quite well because we have the greatest market in the world."