THE BLOG
06/22/2010 09:30 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

USW-AWEA 'Partnership for Progress' -- This Is What it Should Be All About

Don't you just love it when a great idea comes through the door, especially from good friends?

Less than two weeks ago, those friends of mine, the United Steelworkers Union, which is the largest industrial union in North America, and the American Wind Energy Association, which represents the vast majority of companies in the wind energy sector, joined in creating their "Partnership for Progress". Their motivation was simple - they believe that:
  • Large-scale deployment of wind energy facilities is vital to this nation's energy security;
  • This deployment should be aligned with the development and utilization of components from American Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs); and
  • This burgeoning sector can create high-quality, skilled American jobs at every level of the wind energy industry, from manufacturing to assembly and through to transmission.

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), one of the great champions in the Senate on getting American workers back employed, was quoted in the announcement of this Partnership saying that this time it will be American workers and American manufacturers who are being served. And they both will be served because of the two parties' expressed commitment to cooperatively and jointly advance a comprehensive public policy agenda for the industry, sensitively meld company economics with employee wages and working conditions, correct gaps in the industry's supply chain, develop comprehensive training programs, and obtain financing for new projects - it also helps that the wind energy industry is still in its nascency with a clean slate upon which to build a true business and labor partnership without any prior baggage.

There have been other similar initiatives in the past, but none has run such a gamut and had such clearly shared motivation as this Partnership for Progress. It is already much more of a Jobs Bill than almost anything Congress has considered since the onset of the Great Recession, and if properly supported by federal leadership and made part of a larger public policy agenda, its framework could readily "serve as a model for other industries", as USW President Leo Gerard made clear when the Partnership was announced. Rather than fostering jobs only in wind energy, this framework could be extended over all industries to help create the millions of American jobs we need right now.

And need them we do. The United States is mired in a jobless recovery so deep, with the number of unemployed workers in all categories having increased by 5.5 million since December 2008 and 13.4 million since December 2007, that we now need to quickly create 22 million new jobs in order for the nation to be near fully employed, which is a figure more than twice the 7 to 9 million new jobs that the administration keeps insisting is needed.

The panacea for this daunting task is thought by many to be 'green jobs', and the President made this assertion again last week during his speech excoriating British Petroleum over the oil spill in the Gulf. When he unexpectedly turned his BP speech into a strong call for a new Clean Energy Plan, he declared that "the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs."

This is simply not the case, and everyone needs to be much more honest with the American people.

The truth is that only a total of 20 million green jobs will be created worldwide over the next 20 years, of which the University of Michigan has concluded that only around 1.7 million will actually end up in the United States over the next 10 years - and then only if investments aggregating $150 billion per year are made here at home in things 'green'.

When our nation's 'jobs bucket' is already short 22 million jobs in order to be full and we also need to create on average another 140,000 new jobs each month just to keep up with natural growth in the labor force, I guess any number of new jobs from any source looks good. But the administration and others greatly mislead workers and voters alike when they continually advance the premise that a new Clean Energy Plan and its associated climate-change legislation will create a huge portion of the new jobs we need.

And adding to this 'reality check' is the fact that beyond including provisions which respond directly to the BP oil spill, the White House still hasn't said how far it believes this new energy legislation should go in addressing such critical issues as (i) capping emissions of heat-trapping gasses from specific sources, (ii) cutting down on drilling, (iii) establishing a cap-and-trade system or an alternative, and (iv) mandating the use of renewable fuels. Without these answers and precise, aggressive leadership from the Executive, there will be no Energy Bill anytime soon, which will make green energy jobs in the U.S. even fewer as they go elsewhere and even more delayed.

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I know that USW President Gerard, a close personal friend, has thought all this through, but let me identify for everyone else the three critical components of that 'larger public policy agenda' that would not only jumpstart the wind energy Partnership for Progress but also lay the foundation for much greater job creation across all American industries.

A National Manufacturing Policy

Successful economies and government policies that promote manufacturing growth run hand in hand, as China, Germany and the other major developed nations 'show' us every day. We've needed our own National Manufacturing Policy for at least two decades, based around five important principles:

First, it must be an all-of-government "state of mind", as one commentator described it, not a checklist.

Second, it must be as much an enforceable (and then enforced) regulatory framework as a manufacturing and jobs initiative. In other words, it must have both incentives and penalties.

Third, if it is to truly strengthen and balance the domestic economy and not serve special interests, then it must be carried out with complete transparency, non-discrimination and accountability.

Fourth, provision by provision, it must match or counter, as the case may be, the national manufacturing policies of our major trading partners.

Fifth, it must be willing to 'pick winners' in the U.S. economy and then support them, since all other developed nations and China do this every day. In Columbus, Ohio last week, President Obama again spoke of the need for private and targeted federal "investments in health care, education, broadband access and clean energy manufacturing", yet this principle of "picking winners" remains complete anathema to many members of his senior economic team, who in practice resist it every day. The question is simple: When will the President go beyond the rhetoric that he first used during the 2008 campaign and insist that his administration actually implement his pledges in this area?

National Infrastructure and Production Base Bank

Also in Columbus, the President again said that we "have to get serious about our infrastructure", for it remains "one of the keys to our future prosperity". The easy response to achieving this - and it's been the obvious response for a long time - is a fully authorized National Infrastructure and Production Base Bank that would enable the federal government to leverage the private capital markets to fund infrastructure and renewable/alternative energy investments and associated early-stage spending, to include working side-by-side with large domestic private-sector funders and current account surplus countries. This Bank, which would function completely removed from the nation's yearly budget, would help create millions of jobs, so how is it that the Obama administration can muster for it only vocal support, token proposed funding, and a limited charter?

Buy-Domestic

The U.S. still needs 'buy-domestic' federal government procurement requirements that mirror those of our major trading partners. At the same time, we need to enact forms of investment criteria for public resources not covered by these requirements, such as the use of domestically produced parts and components and the return of idle manufacturing capacity to productive service.

In sharp contrast to America, China right now uses two initiatives to ensure that the preponderance of central and virtually all provincial government purchases are of Chinese-origin: the first initiative is its National Indigenous Innovation Product Accreditation Program, promulgated last November (and modestly tempered in April), and the second is a pending (but already largely in place) requirement covering all renewable energy components. Concerning the latter, there is no ambiguity in any foreign supplier's mind about the meaning of China's demand that "energy supply should be where you can plant your foot on it" - this very strained translation from Chinese to English simply means 'Chinese-only or nothing', which is largely why China is already the world's largest manufacturer of solar panels and wind turbines - yep, those same turbines and panels that our Steelworkers and Machinists were hoping to build here in the U.S. - and is well on the path to soon also being the world's largest constructor of nuclear power plants.

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All of this discussion re-raises the question first advanced by Robert Reich back in the '80s in his provocative essay "Who is US?" Is "US" American companies making things in America, or is "US" multinational corporations based in the U.S. but with much/most of their business and production abroad?

This query could have been answered either way until the early '90s without much adverse effect on American workers and the American economy. But when our political and business leaders substituted "unbridled free trade" for "fair free trade" and China began to substantially influence and even dictate large swaths of America's trade and import policies, everything changed. Now, manufacturers making anything in America deserve our government's complete attention and full support - and a whole bunch of new 'Partnerships for Progress" would be a great place to start.

Leo Hindery, Jr. is Chairman of the US Economy/Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Currently an investor in media companies, he is the former CEO of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), Liberty Media and their successor AT&T Broadband. He also serves on the Board of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund.