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SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt AUGUST 24 • 2014
CHRISTOPHER S RUGABER
AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON---Much of US manufacturing
has been decimated in the past decade by
less expensive imports from China, but it
didn t necessarily have to be that way,
according to a compelling new book by jour-
nalist Beth Macy.
Macy s book, Factory Man, tells the story
of one manufacturer who fought back. John
Bassett III, a wealthy scion of a furniture
dynasty in south-western Virginia, responded
to a flood of overseas goods by modernising
his factory and restructuring its products.
More controversially, he successfully petitioned
the US government for protective tariffs on
imported Chinese furniture, alienating many
of his retailer customers. Those efforts kept
his company, Vaughan-Bassett, in business.
Still, small factory towns in south-western
Virginia and North Carolina were decimated,
as Macy illustrates. Forty percent of residents
in Galax, Virginia, qualify for food stamps.
Old factory conveyor belts are now used to
distribute groceries in food pantries.
Yet perhaps even more interesting is the
book s vivid resurrection of the little-known
history of the region, which dominated global
furniture manufacturing for most of the 20th
century. That history includes intense family
rivalries. Before taking on China, John Bassett
was kicked out of his family s namesake com-
pany, Bassett Furniture, by an ambitious
brother-in-law, who had help from Bassett s
In an interview with The Associated Press,
Macy discussed the colourful history of the
Bassett family and the larger lessons of the
book:Q: What motivated you to pursue
A: In Henry County, Virginia, 19,000
people, which is half the workforce,
have lost their jobs...First the textiles
went, and then the furniture. So what hap-
pened to all these people that were left
behind? What s that look like?...When I write
about economics, I write from the ground
Your book features many unique charac-
ters, but are there larger lessons here? Could
every factory owner have done more to save
some of their plants, as Bassett did?
Bassett says in the book, Sure, we had to
close some factories, especially the factories
that weren t run very efficiently. But I don t
think we had to close them all.
He had to reinvent the way he did every-
thing. He didn t just take on China, he
redesigned the factory, he made it more effi-
cient, he pumped the (tariff) duty money
back in, he started a free clinic for his workers,
he started worker incentives.
Everybody (else) was closing their factories.
It was almost like it was the cool thing to do.
There was a phrase in the furniture industry,
The dance card is filling up. If you don t get
over there and get signed up with a factory
(in China) to make your stuff, you re going
to be left out in the cold.
Did you expect such a Southern Gothic
story, with all the family intrigue? Appar-
ently a Bassett family patriarch fathered a
child with an African-American maid.
That was just the worst-kept secret ever.
I heard about it the first time I went there.
One of the ways I describe the book is
there are two narratives. One is the narrative
told by the company owners...and the people
who have money and power in the town.
And the other is the narrative told by every-
body else. And everybody else knows the
narrative that the rich people tell, but the
rich people don t necessarily know the nar-
rative being told about them.
The furniture-makers fought successfully
against unions and kept wages low. You tell
the story of workers who were making $6
an hour after decades in the industry. Did
you ever think that these jobs weren t worth
That s what the economists think. One
economist I interviewed said, We shouldn t
even be making furniture in America. And
what I say to that is, you should go interview
some of these displaced workers, who would
crawl on their belly like a snake to have that
job back again.
Because what I see, are people working
part-time at Wal-Mart, and on food
stamps...It s just so out of touch with work-
ing-class America. (AP)
How one US
This image released by Little, Brown and Company shows Beth Macy, author of Factory Man:
How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local---and Helped Save an American
Town. AP PHOTO
One economist I interviewed said,
'We shouldn't even be making
furniture in America.' And what I
say to that is, you should go
interview some of these displaced
workers, who would crawl on
their belly like a snake to have
that job back again. Because what
I see, are people working part-
time at Wal-Mart, and on food
stamps...It's just so out of touch
with working-class America.
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