MINNEAPOLIS - A program to revitalize U.S. manufacturing should be put into the Democratic Party platform this fall, two Steelworker activists told the party's platform committee here.
In late-July hearings in the Twin Cities, steel plant worker David Hallas of the United Steelworkers Local 7263 and paper mill worker Robert Ryan of Local 264 said such a program would not only produce jobs, but also help rebuild the middle class and ensure high-quality products. Without such rules factory jobs in America will continue to disappear, Ryan warned.
The panel listened to a parade of witnesses, from unions and elsewhere, during two days of platform hearings in Minneapolis. It met in Detroit the weekend of Aug. 11-12 to hash out a final platform to present to convention delegates later in the month in Charlotte, N.C.
Hallas said rules that require creation of manufacturing jobs in this country helped produce thousands of jobs in the quick rebuilding of the I-35 bridge after it collapsed into the Mississippi River several years ago.
Ryan said a new state-bond-funded football stadium in the Twin Cities will be built with U.S.-made steel and ore from Minnesota's northern Iron Range. And one-fourth of the products to be sold in the stadium must be made in Minnesota. He recommended the party urge other states to adopt similar rules.
"Research in 2009 found that when domestic content is maximized, manufacturing employment gains from infrastructure investment increased by up to 33 percent," Hallas said. "At a time when the U.S. manufacturing sector has lost more than 6 million jobs since 2000, 'Buy America' preferences should be a common-sense first step for policy-makers seeking to rejuvenate the productive, wealth-creating sector of our economy.
Ryan said the platform should put major emphasis on increasing U.S. factory jobs through creating more "green" jobs, a key USW cause for years - and gave his own Rock-Tenn Paper mill as an example.
"My St. Paul mill is the largest paper recycler in our state, producing over 1,000 tons per day of corrugated medium, and boxboard paper on four paper machines, each the size of a football field. But the plant needs a large stream of waste paper collected from businesses and homes throughout the state," to run through those machines.
Workers at those mills, including him, can recycle the paper into box board for food packaging cartons and corrugated containers. "Waste paper is now the largest export by volume to China. Instead of exporting waste paper, we should keep it here to create and sustain good jobs for value-added products in the U.S.," he declared.
Ryan also touched on the positive spinoff effects of another industrial policy of the Obama administration: The structured bankruptcy and revival of GM and Chrysler, through federal loan guarantees, management and factory overhauls and wage and benefit changes for unionized Auto Workers.
Obama touts the auto rescue on the campaign trail, adding that congressional Republicans opposed it. Alabama's GOP senators wanted to kill the Detroit car companies and the UAW, in favor of non-union foreign low-wage "transplants" to the South. Presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney also opposed rescuing the Detroit firms.
Killing U.S. auto firms would have killed his plant, too, Ryan said. "If the auto industry in Detroit permanently collapsed, the box board paper mill where I work would have closed, putting 500 people out of work. A shutdown of the St. Paul paper mill would have a ripple effect on suppliers, small business vendors and the tax revenue to support good schools and paper recycling," he told the platform panel.
Photo: United Steelworkers