Our family was a shoe family. My father was an engineer for Bass shoe, founded by George Bass in 1876. He started out on the factory floor and worked his way up. His job was to analyze the labor required to make a shoe, and then determine how much, per piece, a worker should be paid for their particular contribution. This kind of work was called “piece work”, and allowed better, more experienced workers to earn more because they had harder jobs and/or were more productive. It was a non-unionized system that paid workers according to their productivity and skill.
Bass Shoe was sold to Chesebrough-Ponds in 1978. They were famous for Vaseline, Ponds Cold Creams and other beauty products. Why they wanted a shoe factory I couldn’t say, but things continued to roll along fairly smoothly. In 1981, President Reagan lifted the quotas on imported shoes and cheaper shoes from overseas became available. American shoe companies, in order to compete, began moving their production overseas. The companies that maintained factories in the US cut jobs and payroll. My father lost his job in 1987 after Philips-Van Heusen purchased the company and again slashed jobs and payroll. Bass closed their last Maine factory in 1998, letting go of its final 350 workers. Over the course of 18 years, about 1,200 people employed by this one company lost their jobs. You can still buy Bass shoes, but they are not made in the US.
The paper mills have fared better but there have been union strikes, cuts and closings. In short, my old hometown is not the insulated community it used to be. We are not special. The same thing has happened all across the country.
I bring these things up because it is a big shopping weekend and today is Shop Local Saturday. While it might not be practical to purchase only American-made products, it is possible to shop locally for one day and benefit your local community. Go on. Get out there. Buy something already.