A Manufacturing Renaissance — the Path to a Green New Deal with Labor
By Alan Minsky, Executive Director – Progressive Democrats of America
PDA, Progressive Democrats of America, is proposing an expansion of our core agenda to include a manufacturing revival.
We recognize that a central element of the neoliberal austerity attack on the American people is the destruction of our manufacturing base and our powerful industrial unions.
PDA is calling upon the progressive movement to recognize the critical importance of reviving the manufacturing sector as a cornerstone for the Green New Deal.
We envision a manufacturing revival fully in accord with our commitment to a “Keep it in the Ground” No Fossil Fuels policy. Indeed, a manufacturing revival is exactly what is needed to build our green energy capacity and cease our reliance on fossil fuels.
Of course, we also must provide a truly just transition for workers in the oil and gas industries; something that will be facilitated by this recommitment to domestic manufacturing.
We see all of this as necessary for establishing the economic and social basis for an expansion of democracy. PDA intends for this development to be economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable and restorative. It will not be a new project for maximizing the wealth of a few, but for building prosperity and security for the multi-racial working class.
In this effort we seek support, cooperation, and leadership from the labor movement. PDA seeks a partnership with trade unions due to their strategic position in production, their history of mobilizing community support, and their political influence.
A. Following the Great Depression, American workers enjoyed a social contract with a strong central government guided by Keynesian economic policy and an expanding industrial base with a global reach. By the 1950s, manufacturing was almost 30% of GDP. Industrial communities were stable and vibrant.
B. The private sector—with government support—oversaw the development of our industrial base, making the decisions on what sectors to develop and retain, the products to produce, the use of technologies, and the terms of engaging the labor market.
C. The labor movement and the government provided a more equitable distribution of wealth as well as good working conditions. The underlying assumption of that era was that the drive for profit and the private accumulation of wealth would be a tide that would lift enough boats to sustain political and economic stability as well as ensure global dominance.
The Low Road: Manufacturers and Investors Violate the Social Contract:
A. With the emergence of new information technologies, opportunities to generate high rates of profit in the short term dramatically expanded. Capital maximized profits by globalizing production. Dismissing the traditional strategies for wealth accumulation David Roderick, CEO of US Steel, famously claimed that “I’m in business to make money, not steel.” His decision to close US Steel South Works devastated the communities on the South Side of Chicago as well as diminshing our productive capacity.
B. Powerful sections of the financial community along with owners and managers of the manufacturing sector unilaterally violated the social contract. They abandoned their home communities and their stewardship of the productive sector that had been the bedrock of our society. This resulted in the closing of thousands of companies and the loss of millions of good manufacturing jobs.
C. The neoliberal strategy included blaming labor and demanding concessions in wages, benefits and working conditions. Government complicity in the destruction of our industrial base was framed by President Reagan as “government [needs] to get out of the way of the private sector.” Powerful sections of the mainstream private sector shifted to cannibalizing our productive capacity. Manufacturing dropped from 30% of GDP to 11% (on a par with Afghanistan). The decline continues. The few survivors of our manufacturing sector remain at risk. Our goal is to protect what we have and dramatically expand our productive capacity.
Labor’s Dilemma: This dramatic shift in the social contract by manufacturers and finance capital unleashed a widespread offensive against unions at every level. Union membership was slashed by 50% since 1983; unions’ political voice was restricted; unions’ social engagement was dramatically reduced. This required changes in the labor movement’s strategy. The labor movement continues to fight for a more equitable distribution of wealth, improved working conditions, an end to discrimination under ever more difficult circumstances.
If we are to build a sustainable, prosperous, and secure society we propose that labor and our allies strengthen our ability to take responsibility for the creation of wealth—all aspects of producing and distributing products including increasing productivity, embracing new technologies, and participating in management. This dramatic shift requires new responsibilities and new alliances.
1. In Policy: We must fully integrate a new industrial policy with the Green New Deal.
A. Our objective is to achieve zero emissions as we seek to restore our environment—a goal that requires new products and processes in manufacturing.
B. Achieving this goal requires the means for workers and communities that are affected by transitions to have comprehensive economic and social security – a true just transition.
C. As we embrace the use of new technologies, we must make the same level of investment in inclusion of workers, communities, people of color, and women in all aspects of the growth of our manufacturing sector. Manufacturing must be a tide that will lift all boats—not a sector to increase income inequality. Support for a socially conscious hiring and investment policy to correct a history of discrimination in all aspects of society including the labor movement is central.
2. Production: Labor leadership is crucial to the creation of wealth, the redistribution of wealth, and the improvement of working conditions. This requires new skills and new partnerships.
A. We need to embrace capital strategies—exhausting every means possible to control or influence production to ensure the retention and expansion of our Green New Deal manufacturing sector as well as to block the Low Road sector that weakens or destroys manufacturing for short term financial gains. This includes:
1) Actively blocking Low Road practices by management by aggressive negotiations, governmental intervention, community pressure, and direct action;
2) Seeking employee or public ownership of companies;
3) Participating in management to design and implement High Road practices to increase productivity and efficiency;
4) Developing independent business plans in companies whose employees are represented by unions and getting rid of management rights clauses; and
5) Developing and participating in proactive Early Warning Systems that identify potential problems and practices that identify threats to companies.
These are key components of a national industrial policy that envisions a dramatic expansion of manufacturing on a Green New Deal model. A policy can succeed with the coordination of government, civil society, organized labor and those sectors of private industry committed to high end practices.