Yesterday brought news that's becoming all too familiar in western North Carolina:

Furniture Brands International Inc. is giving further details of its planned closing of its Thomasville Furniture Industries' plants in Davidson County and sister plants in western North Carolina, resulting in the elimination of more than 1,200 jobs in the state this year.

North and South Carolina manufacturing has been devastated over the last 10 years, with well over 200,000 jobs gone. Entire communities have gone bust, driving workers and families to hunger, homelessness, bankruptcy and worse.

"Labor costs" are often blamed for the loss of Southern manufacturing, which implies that it's somehow blue collar plant workers who are at fault for footloose factories leaving the country. Rigged trade deals without labor standards (and corporations all too willing to take advantage of them) are better targets.

But perhaps the biggest problem is that these workers have no champion, in either party, in the halls of Congress. As Max Sawicky notes, the liberal intelligentsia is largely enamored with "free trade":

Free trade is an issue where better-off liberals and writers for publications that cater to them look down their noses at criticism of laissez-faire economics. For some reason, markets that straddle national borders are sacrosanct, while those that do not are fair game for modest regulation, such as the minimum wage, child labor, etc.

This failure of the liberals has left a vacuum which the pseudo-populists of the right, from Pat Buchanan to Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), have been all too quick to fill.

A progressive politician who made any effort to speak directly and honestly about the pitfalls of "free trade" -- and promised to stand up for the "little guy" (all failings of gender aside) in Congress -- would have a more than fighting chance to win in hard-hit Southern towns. Who knows if it will ultimately trump the religious-right "values" issues -- but progressives won't know until they try.