Investing in our national physical infrastructure and moving to a greener economy present tremendous opportunities for the government and business, union and community groups to develop a new economic strategy that could restore the American Dream to millions of workers, the president of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) said.
With as many as 100 million people living in families that earn less in real terms than their parents did at the same age, the American Dream is in trouble, BCTD President Mark Ayers told the America’s Future Now conference earlier this week.
If the situation persists where the vast majority of economic gains go to those at the very top and where most people are removed from upward mobility, then we are at risk of destabilizing our economic and social structures.
So, it is clear that this is a watershed moment in American history.
The key to spreading the American Dream, Ayers said, is to develop new partnerships that lead to a new model of economic development. The model, Ayers said, should be:
premised upon high levels of skills training and apprenticeships resulting in job opportunities, living wages and comprehensive health and retirement benefits for a lifetime.
Ayers said a powerful example of this new partnership was the unified effort to elect Barack Obama as president.
No single group—not unions, not social justice organizations, not the environmental movement—can claim sole credit for the victory on Nov. 4. It was all of us united behind a common cause and purpose for the first time in my 37-year career as an IBEW [Electrical Workers] member.
Channeling that spirit of cooperation to create common-sense ideas is key to creating a green economy, Ayers said. The public should not get “caught up in the media’s fascination with ‘green jobs’ and the view that these are entirely new jobs that will simply fall out of the sky,” he said. Instead, the key to a green economy is developing higher levels of job training and apprenticeships to meet new demands for the type of jobs construction workers have been doing for years.
For the most part, they are not new jobs. They are essentially the same jobs, requiring the same skills, which America’s building trades unions have been doing for over 100 years.
There is a vast potential for career development in green jobs, Ayers said. Most of the jobs would be associated with retrofitting of buildings to make them more environmentally sound and energy-efficient.
To isolate these jobs—any of them, including weatherization, from the larger construction industry and from the career pathways provided through formal apprenticeship training—is to condemn them to low-wage, dead-end futures.
We must initiate conversations and forge partnerships designed to ensure that these jobs serve as avenues to stable and prosperous careers.
Ayers said there will be many obstacles on the road to a new economy, including the “obstructionist residue within federal agencies, left over from the Bush era.”
But these can be overcome if we work together, and pool our organizational strengths to develop strong community-based coalitions that can craft a more durable brand of hope. And when the dust clears, it is my deep hope that we will have renewed a sense of optimism and belief in the American Dream once again.