Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local—and Helped Save an American Town
By Beth Macy
While lots of people talk about saving American jobs, it seems few people do anything about it. That’s probably because, honestly, it’s a monumental task; it’s swimming against a profit-at-any-cost-tsunami.
So, when one man steps up and succeeds in doing what most only talk about, it’s worth noting his accomplishment. He’s even worthy of a very fine book, as Beth Macy proves, and which we rated highly elsewhere when first published.
Reading Macy’s impressive reportage you might conclude that with more business leaders like John Bassett, American industry would be stronger and the American worker would be better off, or at least have a decent job. Or, you might deduce that the will and strength required to save American manufacturing demands traits today’s business people lack. You’d be right on both scores. Essentially the tale is of someone completely dedicated to an industry, furniture, to a region and its people, southwestern Virginia and northwestern North Carolina, and to a tradition, the Bassett legacy of American-made furniture that spawned many companies and decades of prosperity for thousands of people.
Macy devoted more than two years to tracking down the Bassett story, interviewing John Bassett, his family, employees, current and former, and innumerable others, including competitors. To truly appreciate John Bassett and his tenacious campaign to fight offshoring and Chinese dumping, you have to understand the Bassett men and women who preceded him, who built Bassett and the Bassett family of companies. This is why Macy spends the first two-thirds of the book on the family, company, and region’s history. It’s also why you might conclude that what JBIII, as Macy calls him, accomplished might be beyond others, or simply not in their scope opened wide to embrace global commerce.
In the last third of the book, Macy, in dramatic and entertaining fashion, walks you through the legal battle and ongoing outcome of JBIII’s successful effort. It entailed wielding the Continued Dumping and Subsidy Offset Act of 2000 (CDSOA, also known after its crafty sponsor, Senator Robert Byrd) against the dumpers. But before JBIII could do that, he had to round up legally convincing evidence of dumping and form a coalition of manufacturers to finance the effort. None of this was easy and a less dedicated man might have tossed up his hands and been happy to live peacefully on his personal fortune. Which will lead you to wonder how many such people we have in America today.
In addition to JBIII’s family, the regional tradition of furniture manufacturing, the rise and fall of an industry, and the battle to make offshore companies pay, Macy brings to vivid life the effect of global business on the American factory worker. Whole areas of the country have been decimated by what economists and financial whizzes like to call creative destruction, a concept courtesy of Joseph Schumpeter. You can taste the devastation in Macy’s descriptions and interviews that help you better appreciate the plight of millions of your fellow citizens.
Macy includes a small collection of photos, a family tree, footnotes, and an index. c/w