Panel debates how to make it in America again

DETROIT – Corporate greed is the main reason for the devastation of the U.S. manufacturing base. So said a wide range of labor activists and their community allies who shared personal experiences in a discussion at the U.S. Social Forum here. They were exploring ways to rebuild manufacturing and in the process create millions of new green jobs.

Lisa Jordan, educational director for the United Steelworkers (USW), said global capital, which met last fall at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, pointed to that city as a “model of post-industrial America.” That was all well and good, said Jordan, except if you went into the devastated working class communities that had been built around manufacturing.

The global economy is largely dictated by the transnational corporations’ drive for profits. Of the 100 largest economies globally, 40 are countries and 60 are transnational corporations, Jordan said. In 1976, 90 percent of the bottom wage earners in the U.S. had 50 percent of the wealth. Today, that has been reduced to 24 percent, a result of neoliberal policies applied to the U.S. working class.

This concentration of wealth is the backdrop for the multi-pronged crises in the U.S. and Europe, she said.

A panel of labor activists kicked off an animated discussion about how to rebuild the U.S. manufacturing base. Andrew Dinklelocker, an organizer with United Electrical Workers (UE), recounted the story of the six-day occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago in December 2008. The workers successfully forced Bank of America to use its federal bailout money to extend credit so that workers could get wages, and benefits due them. Another company subsequently bought Republic Windows and there is hope most of the workers will eventually be called back.

Dinklelocker said for every manufacturing job created, five additional jobs are created. By contrast, in the service sector, the ratio is one to one.

Michael Bolton, from the Steelworkers, spoke about a paper mill in Kimberly, Wis. The entire community depended on the mill’s existence. But its latest owner, New Page Corp., closed the mill because the company could import cheaper paper from abroad. Wisconsin’s paper valley has been devastated with plant closings since 2001.

“The mill’s existence didn’t matter to the company and the elected officials,” Bolton said. “But it mattered to the workers, their families and the community. Two years later, 70 percent of the workers are still unemployed.”

Bolton said communities, cities, states and countries are being whipsawed, and this should be illegal. Our current trade system is a “protective trade system – it protects the rich and corporations,” he said. “Trade should be a global civil rights and environmental issue.”

Jeff Rains of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a Steelworkers partnership with a number of U.S. manufacturers, said $2 trillion is needed to modernize the U.S. infrastructure. Such an investment in “green jobs” could put millions back to work in manufacturing, construction, research and development, and clean energy. Rains said a broad coalition can be built including some sections of the business community. He cited 30 corporations who pledge to use U.S, production facilities to construct a high -speed rail system.

Photo: A worker on the job at a solar wafer manufacturing plant in Oregon. cc 2.0




John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He served as national chair of the Communist Party USA from 2014 to 2019. He is a regular writer for People's World, and active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque and attended Antioch College. He currently lives in Chicago where he is an avid swimmer, cyclist, runner, and dabbler in guitar and occasional singer in a community chorus.