Labor, progressives, manufacturers meet: ‘Think big & bold’ to rebuild economy


WASHINGTON — Hundreds of labor leaders, elected officials and progressive activists packed a conference here Oct. 29 to demand a new, green manufacturing economy to bring the United States out of the recession and restore the nation's industrial might.

The conference, entitled "Making It In America: Building the New Economy," was organized by the Institute for America's Future, a progressive think tank, and the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a partnership of the United Steelworkers union and leading manufacturers.

Conference attendees called on the Obama administration to use stimulus funds to rebuild the decimated manufacturing sector. They also proclaimed their support for a new national industrial policy to guide the nation through the 21st century.

"The Obama administration must direct resources to the industrial heartland," said Richard Trumka, newly-elected resident of the AFL-CIO. "We need to think big and think bold," he continued.

Speakers from academia, manufacturing, the media, politics and labor presented their thinking.

John Surma, chairman and CEO of the United States Steel Corp., called on labor and manufacturers to "work together" to come up with solutions to the manufacturing crisis.

Citing the negative effect free trade agreements have had on American manufacturing, Surma also called for a retooling of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements to prevent a continuing "race to the bottom."

"We need to improve our trade policy," said Surma. In addition, the Obama administration must "reduce incentives for taking production offshore," he commented.

Kate Gordon, of the Center for American Progress and the labor-environmental Apollo Alliance, stressed the need for a "green manufacturing revolution" that combines industrial expansion with environmental protections and strong labor rights.

"We are on a path that's taking us to unemployment, income inequality and environmental degradation," she said. "We need to have an actual strategy that builds a clean manufacturing economy."

Speaker after speaker highlighted the key role that labor played in the creation of a prosperous American working class, and the role that it must play in any future industrial expansion.

"We need the Employee Free Choice Act to make this [green industrial revolution] happen," Gordon said.

Praising labor as "the single ongoing progressive force in America," Sen. Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, called for a broad-based, labor-led coalition to fight for a unionized, green manufacturing economy.

He vowed that he would do the same from within the halls of government.

"Progressives need to pursue this inside/outside strategy," Brown said. "There are frankly too many people who are elected who are lapdogs of corporate America," he added.

Conference attendees, many of them union members, expressed their support for the proposals put forward by the speakers.

Calling the conference "wonderful," Stan Johnson of the United Steelworkers said that "the fact that we are here having a progressive dialogue shows a lot of where we came from and where we are headed."

In an interview with the People's World, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard emphasized that the conference provided an important opportunity to "rebuild our echo chamber about the importance of manufacturing."

Gerard also expressed great hope for the future of the labor movement under Trumka's leadership.

"I think Richard Trumka is the right leader at the right time," Gerard said. "Most important is that with Richard at the helm we are going to win the right of employee free choice," he concluded.

Photo: / CC BY 2.0


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  • This letter from Robert Borosage is the real news here as far as I can see. What perturbs me the most is all of these same people supported Barack Obama and the Democrats and what do we get? Our jobs shipped overseas. We are literally paying to destroy our own jobs and our own lives. I would like to have some answers to all these things just like the previous comment. Forget green I'll take red.

    Steff, Chicago

    Posted by Steffanie Wazniack, 11/07/2009 12:23am (6 years ago)

  • Glad to see Progressives understanding there is a balance between Labor and Capital and Labor and Management. It is high time our Working People Demand the rebuilding of our Manufacturing base and stopping the outsourcing of America. Progressives should also DEMAND the rebuilding of America's Infrastructuires before we try to throw our TAX Money to the wind.

    Progresives should also demand jobs for our youth and a rethinking of HOW they are educated. All of them are want to go to college and should be directed toward techical jobs and trade schools.

    Posted by chuckie2u, 11/03/2009 10:39am (6 years ago)

  • I was at this meeting. I found it much less inspiring. The conference amounted to speeches only, none by workers. The entire event was experts, academics, union bigs, and a few corporate CEO's to headline. Well intended for sure, but utterly bereft of useful content for workers today when confronted with the reality of mass unemployment.
    I love the photo also: 14 college kids all "working on" this great new issues. Just like the conference.

    Posted by Chris Macalpine, 10/31/2009 10:19pm (6 years ago)

  • The AAM says "it's all China's fault," and the energy proposals on just aren't going to cut it. What we need is a national plan for completely retooling the economy along sustainable energy lines. What we need is something along the lines of the Soviet Union's industrialization efforts in the 30s, adapted to fit our own needs for sustainable energy consumption. This isn't something a few grants and subsidies are going to fix; the entire society needs to be mobilized.

    Posted by Nicholas Hewko, 10/30/2009 10:32pm (6 years ago)

  • I think that this is great, but I also believe that there needs to be a mass movement component, to enforce the political.
    Leo and Trumka can motivate and mobilize American workers to demand the new Green Job economy

    Posted by Al Cholger, 10/30/2009 4:37pm (6 years ago)

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