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Jake Blumgart writes on Talking Union

On September 9th the United Steelworkers (USW) union filed a trade complaint against the Chinese government for violating WTO free-trade rules, by pumping billions into the clean energy manufacturing sector. Six weeks later the Obama administration agreed to take up the case. If the governmental review, scheduled to wrap up in early 2011, concludes that the USW is correct, the United States could file a complaint with the World Trade Organization, opening the way for tariffs on these Chinese imports.

The impetus behind the USW’s actions is the fact that the United States is letting yet another industrial market slip through its fingers. Although America has the technology, capacity, and skilled labor to mass produce green machinery—think solar panels and wind turbines—our ineffectual political system makes governmental support for the nascent industry halting, at best. The Chinese Communist Party has no such compunctions, and in a competition like this the country with the best industrial policy wins.

In recent years China has invested huge sums in clean energy manufacturing, massively increasing its output, and driving down prices worldwide. But like most of China’s manufacturing the vast majority of this output is meant for export, not for its very large, and very dirty, internal markets (China recently surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter). If the Chinese were to use at least some of these subsidies to incentivize clean energy use at home, they would be far less likely to be found in violation of WTO standards.

Environmentally speaking, China’s massive subsidization of its green technology sector can only be a good thing. Their $216 billion post-recession stimulus investment totaled more than two times U.S. spending and comprised close to fifty percent of similar outlays worldwide. With the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act already winding down, and a new virulently anti-spending Republican majority in the House, it is unlikely that American industries will be getting anything else, anytime soon. Which leaves the Chinese free to lengthen their commanding head start. And, honestly, at least someone is spending to promote these technologies.

The most that can really be expected from the USW’s case is a dialogue about China’s industrial policy—and our lack of one. There simply aren’t any feasible power levers to make the complaint anything more substantive. (Tariffs on Chinese clean energy products are a possibility, but we need these technologies, and if American manufacturers aren’t making them on a sufficient scale, we shouldn’t make green imports harder to get.) And the intransigence of the Republican Party’s anti-government, anti-spending orthodoxy will make any dialogue muted and fruitless.

In the absence of a concrete American industrial policy, the USW is pursuing alternative avenues as well. Last summer, the union announced a deal with two Chinese companies willing to produce wind turbines in the United States, potentially creating 1,000 new union jobs. Unfortunately, the negotiations could be hard to duplicate, and they’ll never be a substitute for the American government working hand-in-hand with American capital and American labor, towards a new and lasting green technology sector.

Originally posted to Talking Union on Wed Dec 08, 2010 at 05:29 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  T&Red (4+ / 0-)

      Great little diary that raises awareness of an important issue.  One reason we have no jobs: we sent them all to China in service of our addiction to cheap crap.

      •  I think the importiant question (0+ / 0-)

        Is what is the US doing to promote it's own Green Economy, and if unions like the USW are really the advocates for American workers, why don't we see them on the front lines pressureing Congress to act in a positive and productive fashion instead of always focusing on protetionist positions that are essentially ineffective?

        What China is doing is no different than Germany, Spain, Denmark et al and not different that what the Obama Administration correctly proposes for the US.

        The position the USW is taking would effectively shoot the US in the foot were it to enact sensible Greeen Economy policies.

        DoE Secretary Dr. Stephen Chu's "Sputnik Moment" address to the Nation Press Club November 29 put the issues in clear perspetive, suggest you listen/read:

        C-SPAN Dr. Stephen Chu NPC Speech Video

        Stephen Chu "Sputnik Moment" Presentation (direct link to PDF)

        What the NSW is doing is a distration that could beome an impediment. They are on the wrong side of this issue. Now is the time to build foundations, not walls.

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Wed Dec 08, 2010 at 09:39:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Rec'd for debate (0+ / 0-)

      Importiant issue for debate despite the misleading thesis of the diary and lack of a solution for the root problem of subject.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Wed Dec 08, 2010 at 09:43:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Despite the Union's Support of Obama... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    koNko, pkbarbiedoll

    he doesn't seem to be that interested in doing anything for working people.  He used the unions like he used his supporters to get him elected.  We are no longer relevant, especially now that he's got his new BFFs, Wall Street and the Republicans.

    Informative diary, though.  Thanks.

    •  I don't think that is true (0+ / 0-)

      Commerce supported the USW action on tires and prevaled and Obama has been moderately supportive of union issues.

      Is he a flamming wobblie? Hardly, but as Dems go these days, he's at least partly supportive, which I admidt, might not be saying much.

      I think the problem Unions face in the US today is they don't have much critical mass and represent a fairly small minority of workers, which is partly their fault due to the legacy of unions like the UAW that were slow to addapt. But let's face it, Americans, in general, are no longer terriby supportive of unions which I think reflects basic American conservatism verses, say, Europen attitudes. There are exceptions, of course, such as some service worker unions.

      I happen to think the USW is on the wrong side of this issue as reflected in my remarks; it would be better for them to be supporting Greens to push Congress to act on clean energy and mass-transit to create jobs instead of taking the fall-back position of protectionism which will not be effective.

      And perhaps you may consider: this "user", which is actually an organizational account, NEVER responds to comments posted in the many diaries, which suggests this is more of a propaganda effort than one to actually engage Kos members to get support, and the result is that these diaries get very few comments and effectively very little support. I rather seriously doubt my comment will be resoponded to by the poster, if it is, it will be a first.

      That is not what I would call effective grassroots organizing.

      Given the situation of labor in the US today you would think they would take the opposite approach and use the opportunity to engage but this diary seems to be the equivelent of a corporate Press Release and is getting about as much attention.

      Mr. Leo W. Gerard, the President of the USW has also posted diaries here before and it is essentially the same story, he has responded to few if any comments and never in substance to criticism, so why would anyone take this stuff seriously?

      For some strange reason I do; I think the US is seriously deficient in industrial policy and putting the US economy at peril. I'm not an American but I can see what is happening and it's not good for the US or the world.

      Obama has said all the right things and I do think his intentions are to do the right thing, but he just hasn't been very effective in most cases.

      I honestly think he got blind-sided by the state of the economy he inherited and found himself in a much more difficult position than expected, but the focus on Wall Street at the expense of Main Street is a stratigic error on his part.

      Ironically, what this diary is complaining about is that the Chinese government took care of Main Street and raised the middle finger to Wall Street. They used their stimulus spending mainly for infrastuture that put unemployed to work, and here we have the Democratic Socialists of America giving them a black eye for that.

      It would be funny, if not so many Americans were unemployed. But that is the fact.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Wed Dec 08, 2010 at 09:10:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is a gross distortion of the facts (0+ / 0-)

    China, like other countries that have embraced clean energy and mass-transit technology, have done so and are succeeding by formulating rational national energy and transportation policies that include national goals and various R+D, program grants and loan guarentees as well as supporting mechanisms such as renewable energy feed-in tarrifs.

    These policies work on multiple levels and have evolved over several years.

    Any person knowledgeable knowledgeable on the subject will know quite a few countries that have championed clean energy and mass-transit, both as consumers and manufactureres including such countries as Germany, Spain, Denmark, the UK, France, etc have dones likewise and these measures not only conform to WTO regulations, but benifit clean energy and mass-transit companies from other countries including the USA which are also benificiaries of these policies and which, incidentally, create American jobs. It is sad. perhaps, that American clean energy companies can obtain financing and markets in China, Germany of Spain more easily than in the US but that is the fact.

    Anyone interestd in understanding these policies better can read the reports linked below which summarize these policies, funding and markets and get the facts which are in shart contrast to the unsupported assertions in this diary.

    Pew: Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race?

    DBCCA: Global Climate Change Policy Tracker

    It is notable that the Obama Administration is corretly pursuing similar policy and financing initiatives to promote clean energy and mass-transit in the USA anthough, unfortunately, is not finding the congressional support needed due to well-funded lobbying efforts by the Oil industry and others with an interest in maintaining the status quo.

    It is also notable that Amerian progressives that support clean energy, mass-transit and the economic revitalization and creation of jobs that would bring also support similar measures as taken by China but go even a step further to call for WPA type programs where the government would directly employ Americans putting them to productive use to rebuild US infrastructure.

    It would seem, then, that the USW, in characterizing such goverment measures as unfair and a violation of WTO regulations, is doing it's best to assist oil companies to defeat the very policies that would be in the intersts of American workers, and I have to say that the irony of an organization calling itself Democratic Socialists of America would attack measures that would be considered progressive and good by Democratic Socialists anywhere.

    Secondly, claiming that China's stimulus package was used to give it's clean energy sector a unfair advantages is so obviously inaccurate as to be laughable. Again, a few facts clarifies the issue:

    China's Stimulus Package: A Breakdown of Spending

    Wikipedia: China economic stimulus program

    Frations of the funding from the catagories Technology Advancement, Sustainanable Development and Infrastucture were used for various clean energy and mass-transet programs, the vast majority of this spending directly into the constriction of High Speed Rail and Wind Generation projets including China's first off-shore wind project.

    A very large share of the at spending went to foreign companies directly or though joint-venture projects including American companies.

    The effect of this spending was, by and large, to accelerate already planned infrastructure projects and rebuilding from the 2008 Wenchuen Earthquake.

    If the USW and Democratic Socialists of America were truly interested in the welfare of American Workers and in promoting clean energy and mass-transit as a means to create jobs and rebuild the US economy, you would not be wasting time attacking countries that are setting a good examle by promoting unwarrented trade actions that could ultimately backfires and hurt the US.

    Instead, you would be on the front lines of the clean energy movement using the examples of Germany, China and other nations to pressure Congress to act in th face of mounting competition and to build grassroots support.

    It strikes me as quite reveling that you chose to publish diary as COP16 in Cancun is meeting to battle AGW and create the incentives and regulations for countries to redouble their efforts, to cooperate more and to promote the more rapid development of clean & green technology across the world, which is a opportunity the US should seize as an engine for it's clean energy sector.

    Rather, you would like to waste this opportunity and blame china for takeing positive steps while the US dithers and fails to.

    It would be quite sad if the US fails to legislate to prote clean energy & mass-transit, standing on the sidlines as other prosper and falling back to the weak position of self-defeating protectionist measures to prop-up a faultering economy instead of using American ingenuity and energy to compete as the US traditionally has done.

    I note that your Diaries seem to be "Drive-Bys" of cross-posting from your blog and that you NEVER respond to any comments after posting. This is considered trollish on this site and an abuse of prevlidges.

    Some users would chose to HR your Tip Jar for doing so but I will not since I believe in freedom of speech and the power of debate and so, instead, I request you to make an exception to every diary you have every published on this site and to respond to my comment.

    If you fail to do so, then others can only conclude you have no arguements of substance and conceed to mine.

    Thank You.

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Wed Dec 08, 2010 at 08:09:38 PM PST

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