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Last week CBS news radio pronounced that the unionization of six Fieldcrest Cannon plants in North Carolina would impact the home textiles business more than any other event of the past 25 years. A textile historian at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, made the ominous prediction.

Hearing this news puts the fear of Y2K disasters in perspective. U2K, or the unionization of a shrinking American home textiles industry, makes you want to ride through North Carolina, a la Paul Revere, screaming, "The Orient is coming; Mexico is, too."

Do any of these workers remember that New England was once a thriving center of textile production in this country -- until the unions drove mills out? As a favorite high-school history teacher (a Boston native) repeatedly recounted: "The mills backed their trucks into the warehouses in the middle of the night . . . they backed the trucks up, and everything moved down south."

American home textile mills are fighting for survival against imports, hanging on to their market share by a thread. We hope the Union of Needletrades Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) is able to separate its own short-term goals from the long-range interests of textile workers. A few dollars added to workers' paychecks does not a mill-town make.

How many other industries have been priced out of existence by unions? Consider shipping, shoes, steel and ship-building.

The remnants of our home textiles industry must continue to modernize and cut costs (exactly what the union is fighting), if we are to maintain what little production is left in this country -- just look at what's happened to apparel fabrics here. And home textiles companies will have to export to maintain sales in a consolidating retail environment.

Ironically, a New England-based mill has managed to build its exports to 20 percent of total revenue (see page 20). Quaker Fabrics Corp. was lauded by William Daley, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for this feat -- one that could not have been achieved without modernization and globally competitive prices.

Letters to the editor can be sent via e-mail to tischc@ or via mail to HFN, 7 West 34th Street New York, NY 10001.
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Author:Tisch, Carol
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 28, 1999

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