I just got back from a country where everybody seems pretty happy with their health care system, Canada. It was a little weird to hear people talking about dealing with health care without anyone bitching about insurance companies, or being warned about what would happen to their health care if they switched jobs or had a pre-existing condition.
I was in Vancouver to give a speech and sign some books at a meeting of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW). I have a great fondness for the Machinists because their President when I was coming of age in the early 1980s was a fire-breathing, hell-raising trade unionist named Bill Wipinsinger, who gave some of the best speeches I have ever seen in my life, and who never backed down from challenging authority; and also because my greatest political mentor was an Iowa Machinist named Bill Fenton, who was the hardest drinker, best organizer, and most fearless political rabble-rouser I ever knew. When I was a young community organizer, I organized a union for my organization, and it was an easy pick to affiliate with the Machinists.
At the Machinists meeting, we of course spent a lot of time talking about health care and the fight for a public option, but the other big topic of the meeting was the fight for mere jobs, especially manufacturing jobs. I firmly believe that without a more aggressive focus on creating good jobs in manufacturing and infrastructure, which have a bigger multiplier effect than any other kind of jobs, that our economy will continue to sputter, and that Democratic politics will be in a world of hurt.
The big industrial unions with the most at stake in terms of the issue of manufacturing jobs - the IAMAW, UAW, Steelworkers, Teamsters - do not by themselves have the political power right now to force the Democrats to go down this path, to do more investments in creating these jobs, to stop being pansies with other countries so often on trade issues, to invest in the manufacturing sectors with the most promise. Hopefully, they can get the broader progressive movement to join in this cause. But Democrats would be very foolish not to see the economic and political wisdom of doing this ASAP.
We are seeing glimmers of this with Obama. The investments made by the stimulus bill and his first budget proposal made were decent starts, and finally standing up to the Chinese on the tire issue was very welcome. But we are going to need to see a lot more in the way of serious job initiatives if this badly wounded economy is going to start producing jobs.