NEW YORK—United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard spoke about jobs, the labor movement and the current political landscape at a breakfast forum Thursday in midtown Manhattan. The Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies sponsored the event, titled "A Labor Strategy to Counter the 'Jobless Recovery.'"
In far-reaching remarks, Gerard pointed to robust investment in environmentally sustainable manufacturing and other green jobs as the key to rebuilding the economy and creating a "new industrial revolution."
The United Steelworkers was a founding member first of the Apollo Alliance in 2001 and then the Blue-Green Alliance in 2006, both aimed at linking trade unions and labor issues with environmental organizations and issues.
Gerard mocked mainstream economists and pundits, saying, "The same people who say you can't have good wages and good pensions say you can't have good jobs and a clean environment."
He detailed a long list of environmental projects that would create jobs, revitalize manufacturing and benefit communities, including high-speed rail, improved public transit, wind farms, widespread retrofitting of existing homes and businesses and more.
But Gerard argued that the slippage in U.S. manufacturing was a barrier to creating jobs and responding to urgent environmental issues. "If the U.S. doesn't get a hold of manufacturing of renewable energy machinery in the next one to two years, we will never catch up," he said.
Gerard emphasized the need for a revitalized and reenergized labor movement to win good green jobs and other positive social reforms. "If we don't make the labor movement - from top to bottom - into an activist organization for social change," said Gerard, "my kids and grandkids will have a lesser opportunities."
He talked about the need to work with students and young workers to bring new blood into the union movement and to address broader issues outside the workplace.
"In the Steelworkers we believe that the union has to be an instrument of social and economic justice," said Gerard. "You can't make the lives of our members better without making the lives of everyone around them better."
Another barrier to moving forward on a jobs agenda is the political crisis in Washington. Gerard noted that the reason that the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans are set to expire is because a permanent measure would have been subject to budgetary oversight. This way Republicans have effectively hidden the $300 billion the tax cuts add to the deficit each year. "These bastards are now trying to blame Obama for the deficit," the enraged steelworker said. "And we fought two wars off the books, too."
Gerard concluded by noting that winning greater gains for working people depends on blocking rightwing gains at the polls in November's midterm election.
"If we don't stop the possible Republican takeover of Congress, we're finished."