by Frank Lewis
It’s weird: It is the best and worst of times — if you’re an urban planner, union organizer, comedian, county commissioner, Democrat or even, yes, an employed journalist. To all these people and more, what’s actually happening — economically and class-wise, anyway — is the worst of times they’ve seen in their lives, followed by what they hope will be one of the best evolutionary steps in this American baby’s life. Work, in other words, is on their minds. And money.
“What’s frightening about the economy today,” said Josh Bivens, of the Economic Policy Institute, “is that everybody’s doing badly.”
But Uncle Sam is on the way. And like always, everyone’s got their doo-dad to sell. Municipalities have their prime projects at the top of long lists of job-creating priorities. Contractors and other business interests are jockeying for position with boxes of steaks and free pool tiles. And laid-off workers are creaking out of the fetal position in hopes of the classified section taking up some space again.
You better believe the think tanks — at least half of them — are hard at work persuading the right people to direct the anticipated $800 billion in economic stimulus toward the creation of well-paying, green-leaning jobs and the eventual reformation of the long-belittled middle class.
“What’s critical here is the choice of policies,” said Wendy Patton of the Apollo Alliance, a sponsor of the event, which is pushing for $300 billion over a decade toward sustainable energy independence. “With the right policies in place, this green energy renaissance can bring good-paying jobs back to Ohio.”
Policy Matters Ohio, the North Shore Federation of Labor and the Center on Wisconsin Strategy also had their stamps on the platform-building that went on Monday at Crowne Plaza Hotel downtown, where more than a hundred policy tinkerers — from union leaders and workforce developers to counselors, planners and strategists — joined forces for “Labor in the New Energy Economy.”
“It’s so horrible that we’re held constantly over the foreign oil barrel,” said Ron Ruggiero, also of the Apollo Alliance. “About $500 to $700 billion is put toward buying imported energy every year. If we kept that … you can see the potential for creating jobs. But if we don’t do this right, we could go from where we’re being held over an oil barrel to being held over a container ship full of the new batteries we need to run the new cars we’re driving.”
They spread the word about the emerging green economy and how the jobs it creates must be, if not unionized, at least union-like. This round of stimulus is estimated by the White House to create or save 3.5 million mostly private-sector jobs in just two years, about 133,000 of them in Ohio.
John Ryan, who went from Greater Cleveland’s most powerful labor leader to now holding down the fort for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, pointed to the county’s costly efforts to put a small farm of wind turbines out in Lake Erie. “If we’re first, we also have a good chance of having factories and manufacturing jobs to go along with that wind farm.”
After a rousing by Ryan’s boss (you think he’d miss the first shot at this mic?), the group split into planning workshops for the rest of the day, themselves well-paneled. About half went to the side hashing out green job creation; the other half swung to the policy side.
The rest of the day’s offerings were not quite on a par with Al Gore’s famous PowerPoint presentation. But the level of inspired expertise was palpable, and so many seemed united in making change permanent and widespread. So many in this room anyway, on a Monday, in Cleveland. — Dan Harkins