Drive for jobs gets boost from blue-green alliance

The Blue-Green Alliance (BGA), founded by the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, has called on President-elect Barack Obama to enact a “Green New Deal” creating millions of federally-funded green jobs to head off a major economic depression.

The Minneapolis-based BGA urged the public works jobs program in announcing the second “Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference” to be held in Washington, D.C. Feb. 4-6 just days after Obama is sworn in with a pledge to create 2.5 millions jobs in a “green” federal public works program.

BGA calls it “an agenda so significant it can change everything,” adding, “transforming the economy through environmental solutions -- creating good jobs and exploring technologies that reduce global warming and increase energy independence—is key to our future.”

BGA Executive Director David Foster said federally-subsidized jobs greening the nation’s infrastructure is the “smart thing to do for the economy and a strategically wonderful thing to do for the environment. It leads us down the path for energy independence.” He cited a study by the University of Massachusetts earlier this fall that $100 billion invested in clean technology could create two million new jobs in the next two years. The Blue-Green Alliance initiative seeking to reverse the economic crisis was one of several as unemployment soared past 6.5 percent.

In his first speech since winning the Nov. 4 election, Obama urged enactment of his Economic Recovery Plan (ERP) to create 2.5 million green jobs over the next two years rebuilding roads and bridges, schools, solar and wind energy and fuel efficient cars.

“These aren’t just steps to pull ourselves out of this immediate crisis,” Obama said. “These are the long-term investments in our economic future that have been ignored for far too long. And they represent an early down payment on the type of reform my administration will bring to Washington—a government that spends wisely, focuses on what works, and puts the public interest ahead of the same special interests that have come to dominate our politics.”

Obama laid out the crisis: new home purchases at the lowest level in half a century, 540,000 more jobless claims the second week of November, the highest in 18 years and the loss so far in 2008 of 1.2 million jobs. “And if we don’t act swiftly and boldly,” he added, “most experts now believe that we could lose millions of jobs next year.” Enactment of the ERP will be at the top of his agenda when he is sworn in next Jan. 20, he concluded.

Obama reiterated his commitment to a federal jobs program the following Monday when he announced his team of economic advisers during a news conference at his Chicago transition headquarters. The team is dominated by allies of former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, blamed for neo-liberal policies that created the crisis in the first place.

Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) responded quickly. “It’s not the personnel, it’s the policy,” he said in a Nov. 24 statement. “And on this Obama has been clear. He’s announced a massive recovery plan based on putting people to work with public investment in areas vital to our future.” Borosage said the current crisis “makes Rubinomics irrelevant. Deficit spending must go up, finance must be re-regulated, trade imbalances must be reduced and manufacturing can no longer be scorned.” Obama, he concluded, will “set the direction and so far he’s on course.”

CAF sponsored a daylong “Real Investment in America” conference on Capitol Hill Nov. 18 to urge $450 billion or more in a massive federal public works jobs program. Eric Lotke, CAF research director, told the conference that every federal dollar invested in public transportation generates $6 in economic returns. Public works, he said, “puts people to work right away” unlike tax cuts or tax rebates which people use to “pay down their credit-card debt” and has very little job-creating effect. He predicted that $500 billion in federal investments over ten years would create over five million “high-wage, clean energy jobs building solar and wind turbines and generating clean-energy.”

The current crisis, he added, also means shelving Congress’ current “pay-as-you-go” policy that any increase in federal funding for economic stimulus programs must be offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. “These are long term problems that require long term solutions and long term solutions,” he said.

“Save Our Environment,” a coalition of the 10 largest environmental organizations launched a petition drive to Obama titled “Repower, Refuel, and Rebuild America.” The petition declares, “By investing in clean energy, we can cut our dependence on oil, get clean electricity and reduce global warming pollution….These investments will create millions of good-paying jobs in the hardest hit construction and manufacturing sectors and create pathways out of poverty for the most affected communities.”

Initiators include the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, National Audubon Society, Earthjustice, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.