Rosie the Riveter defiantly rolls up her blue work shirt to show off a brawny bicep. She’s a symbol of American strength.
She worked in a manufacturing job, one of millions that constructed the defense machine that won World War II for the Allies. She said, “We can do it.” And America did.
Now, however, shuttered U.S. factories and off-shored manufacturing are sapping American strength. The nation has lost more than 40,000 manufacturing plants and one-third of its manufacturing jobs, nearly six million, over the past dozen years. China is on the verge of overtaking the U.S. in manufacturing output. And Americans know it. Late in April, 58 percent of 1,000 likely voters told pollsters they believed America’s economy no longer led the world.
They also told pollsters they supported enacting a national manufacturing policy to promote resurgence of domestic production — a return to the days of a robust Rosie the Riveter and a country that could secure its independence with dynamic manufacturing capability.
Democrats in Congress heard that message. They’ve created a program called “Make It in America.” They plan to pass a series of bills to create an environment in which both Americans and American manufacturers make it. “We want everybody to make it in America,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as she described the plan to 2,000 bloggers and progressive activists at Netroots Nation 2010 last week in Las Vegas.
After all the support America has given the financial sector – estimated to total more than $4 trillion – it’s time for Congress to invest in the productive sector, the one that creates jobs, real wealth and American power.
“We must stop the erosion of our manufacturing base, our industrial base, our technological base,” the Speaker told Netroots Nation, “It is a national security issue to do so, if we had no other justification,” she said, adding that there are, of course, plenty of other reasons.
She said the strategy is to pass “one bill after another” supporting American manufacturing. The House started last week with two, one to ease American industries’ access to raw materials and parts and another to improve specialized workforce training.
In addition, Speaker Pelosi said, House leaders want to address currency manipulation – the deliberate undervaluing of currency to make a country’s exports artificially cheap and imports into that country artificially expensive. Currency manipulation by China, for example, is believed by both conservative and liberal economists to be adding as much as 40 cents to every dollar of the cost of U.S. products exported to China and discounting Chinese goods sold in the U.S. by 40 cents on every dollar.
“There is a strong interest in our caucus in holding China accountable for manipulation of currency. That would make a tremendous difference in our trade because currency manipulation is really a subsidy to their exports to America – an unfair advantage,” the Speaker said at Netroots Nation.
Other bills Speaker Pelosi hopes to pass soon include $5 billion in tax credits for domestic manufacturers that produce components for alternative energy and a requirement that foreign manufacturers keep at least one worker stationed in the U.S. so the company can be officially served with court papers. Also, there’s a bill by Illinois Congressman Daniel Lipinski that would require each U.S. president to produce a manufacturing strategy in the second year of office and to review progress annually.
The survey that prompted Democrats to create the “Make It in America” program was commissioned by the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) and conducted by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman and Republican pollster Whit Ayres. They found that likely voters believed creating manufacturing jobs was more important than reducing the federal deficit and more important than cutting government spending.
The survey also showed strong support for policies requiring the government to buy American-made goods. Similarly, it showed the Democrats, Independents and Republicans surveyed felt the quality of products manufactured in American exceeded those made in China, Japan, India and Germany.
Americans now even prefer U.S.-made cars: An Associated Press-GfK Poll in April showed 38 percent of Americans favor U.S. vehicles. Asian brands got 33 percent.
Chrysler takes advantage of that sentiment in its commercial for the new Grand Cherokee. The words are chilling:
“The things that make us American are the things we make,” it begins.
“This has always been a nation of builders, craftsmen, men and women for whom straight stitches and clean welds were matters of personal pride. They made the skyscrapers and the cotton gins, colt revolvers, Jeep 4-by-4s,” the ad continues.
“These things make us who we are,” the narrator says. Yes. The things Americans make, make the country strong.
To the sound of a sledge hammer pounding a railroad spike, the narrator goes on to describe the reborn Grand Cherokee, “This, our newest son, was imagined, drawn, craved, stamped, hewn and forged here, in America. It is well-made and it is designed to work. This was once a country that made things, beautiful things, and so it is again.”
Well, not quite. Chrysler may make a terrific Grand Cherokee in Michigan. But American manufacturing needs some help. And with unemployment stuck at 9.5 percent, so do the American people. “Make it in America” is that aid. The AAM poll showed 85 percent of those who said the U.S. had lost economic leadership believed America could regain it.
Americans believe we can still do it.
Make sure Congress acts. Join the One Nation Working Together march on Washington Oct. 2 to demand good jobs, as well as Wall Street and immigration reform.
About The Author: Leo Gerard is the United Steelworkers International President. Under his leadership, the USW joined with Unite -the biggest union in the UK and Republic of Ireland – to create Workers Uniting, the first global union. He has also helped pass legislation, including the landmark Canadian Westray Bill, making corporations criminally liable when they kill or seriously injure their employees or members of the public.