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Labor & Economy

Repairing and Retrofitting America





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A new report from the Alliance for American Manufacturing has United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard renewing his call to repair the crumbling American infrastructure. The report, prepared by Republican former head of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and Robert B. Stephan, a former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Infrastructure Protection, draws disturbing correlations between weak infrastructure and lack of domestic manufacturing with the ability to respond to and recover from disasters and terrorism.

The report reads like an assessment on national security, with Ridge and Stephan referring to the decimation of the American steel industry, the sorry state of infrastructure and over-reliance on foreign actors as indicative of America’s vulnerable position. Ridge and Stephan go so far as to state that placing the building blocks of America in foreign hands leaves them susceptible to substandard labor and hostile political forces. Ridge and Stephan cite toxic Chinese wallboard used for post-Katrina construction and Chinese-made sections of the [San Francisco-]Oakland Bay Bridge that were sent back due to manufacturing defects as examples.

The report makes a clear link between a strong manufacturing sector and recovery from natural disasters or terrorist attacks:

“In fact, there is a direct nexus between a strong domestic manufacturing sector and America’s ability to prevent, mitigate, recover from and rebuild quickly in the wake of catastrophic events.”

As stated, the report supports infrastructure improvements and bolstering the manufacturing base to make America safer. Leo Gerard takes another tack, pushing for these improvements for the jobs they would necessitate. For Gerard, the dilapidated infrastructure, ranks of unemployed and cheap government bonds are a perfect storm to bring American jobs and manufacturing back. Gerard homes in on the Wastewater and Dams case study provided in the report, and provides a retort to budget-minded arguments against infrastructure improvements by referring to the Hoover Dam, a project completed during the Great Depression:

“Republicans have stalled infrastructure construction and repair and ignored the nation’s manufacturing decline. Their excuse is the deficit. That’s contrary to the successful actions the nation took during the Great Depression, including construction of the Hoover Dam, which provided jobs and stimulated economic development in Nevada, California and Arizona.

The [American Society of Civil Engineers] recommended in 2009 that the nation invest $2.2 trillion to repair critical infrastructure. Americans want that work, with unemployment stuck at 8.2 percent.”

The manufacturing report is not without its national security hand-wringing — on the other hand, Gerard’s interpretation bears an unbridled optimism unwarranted by the current makeup of Congress.The facts remain: The massive infrastructure improvements the U.S. needs, improvements that could employ thousands or even millions, are not being addressed by the current administration.

(Matthew McDermott works at a union-side labor law firm and as a curator for the VIA Music and New Media Festival. His post first appeared on Unionosity and is reposted here with permission.)

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