Members Only | June 22, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Joe Biden has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to unite the working class in a global race against China

We now have a collective goal, writes Brandon Bradford.

Joe Biden has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to unite the working class in a global race against China

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In a bipartisan vote, the United States Senate passed earlier this month the Innovation and Competition Act, a bill intended to revive the US trading edge. With $225 billion over five years, the measure is by far the largest investment in cutting-edge technology in a generation. It’s all thanks to the Chinese Communist Party!

The CCP revealed in 2015 its “Made in China 2025” plan. The plan seeks to shift China from being a low-end supplier to being a of high-end manufacturer. The government is spending a significant portion of its GDP on research, infrastructure and transitioning. The sectors the CCP would like to be the world’s leader in? Basically, the tech backbone of the world, all of which have been dominated by other nations.

Ideologically, Republicans have been against this type of government spending when it suits them. Praying to the free market as a force of nature, instead of a system whose rules we create, they’ve protested and raised hell about US investment in industrial infrastructure for one main reason: We were so grossly ahead and succeeded anyway.

An effective counter to the “culture war” nonsense is real-world benefits paired with societal respect, writes Editorial Board member Brandon Bradford. There is potential to organize around massive, restorative infrastructure bills.

They prefer these types of investments come from venture capitalists while misunderstanding the value of public investment, even though world-changing technology has been the result (e.g., leaps in energy and the internet). Because there was no sizable threat from other powers, there was no incentive to give up the partisan griping. “China 2025” changed that. Republicans and Democrats recognize the problem inherent in a CCP being technologically, logistically and globally dominant.

Trump was a disastrous leader, but in diagnosing the problems with the US-China trade relations, most experts felt he came close to hitting the mark. His solutions ranged from laughably childish to dangerously narrow-minded, and his rhetoric ranged from problematic to more problematic. But the issue of the CCP building back-doors into equipment and tech sectors around the world, which would allow them to monitor and/or control those devices, was real. The Biden administration has placed even stricter restrictions on companies that sell to Chinese telecom giant Huawei and left tariffs set by the Trump administration in place because of these security threats. 

The Innovation and Competition Act creates conditions for a unified approach to investment that provides a generational opportunity to mobilize. Our public schools need revitalizing. Our bridges need repair. Our roads are crumbling. Our ports are decaying. Our energy supply is a generation behind. Our factories need updating. Our workforce needs retraining. But now we have a collective goal. Now we have someone to race against and the race will make us fundamentally more secure and stable. 

The US labor force is a huge intertwined mix of people whose political opinions are across the spectrum. The labor movement itself has a long history. But over the past 15 years, the narrative has taken a shift. An ever-growing, explicitly right-wing segment of the workforce votes their ideology. This is a problem that needs to be combated. 

It isn’t just about rebuilding America’s future. It’s about providing a sense of domestic safety and security.

The GOP clings to an outdated stereotype of a conservative white guy in a hardhat as representative of all construction workers at the expense of many who don’t fit that description. While ownership and upper management is majority white, the workforce is increasingly diverse. Don’t get me wrong. The trades have a long way to go, and yes, there’s definitely still a problem of guys from a generation ago with antiquated ideas of harassment and personal space. But as the construction industry grows more sophisticated, and more representative of the larger labor force, it’s outgrowing them.

Activism and the building trades (painters, bricklayers, ironworkers, electricians, etc.) have always had a tense relationship because progressive politics sometimes contradicts the work the unions decide to take. Even when you get a local on your side, there’s always been a two-pronged issue with activism centered around the building trades: “Someone’s going to build it, and we need the work.” Unions focus on getting their crews working first, everything else comes second. So sure, they may have shown support for the protest against the prison industrial complex, but if they get awarded that contract, they are going to build that prison, and with pride. Luckily (because the right is vehemently opposed to the idea of organized labor), the Trump administration and the GOP failed to deliver on their promise with the unions and in many cases made things worse. This is an opportunity for the Democratic Party.

One of the most effective combatants to reactionary “culture war” ideological nonsense is real-world benefits paired with societal respect. There’s a long-standing narrative around blue-collar work beneath people “smart enough” to do something else. It’s represented across the political spectrum. This is classist, demeaning and detrimental to society as a whole. With investments in education and training, and labor protections, the Democrats have a huge chance to reframe how the current generation looks at blue-collar work as well as to undercut a growing GOP base.

There is potential to organize the building trades around massive, restorative infrastructure bills. The trick, I believe, is to push as loudly and as vehemently for organized union protections as we do others. Infrastructure isn’t just about reframing the conversation and rebuilding America’s future. It’s about providing a sense of safety and security. Some surety in the future for them and their families.

The Green New Deal (or whatever large plan the Democrats present) shouldn’t be an abstract number. It should be a palpable future to communities, union halls and training facilities. When construction workers see a Democrat on TV, or in a shock-jock headline from the far-right, or on Facebook as “The Face of Cancel Culture,” they may think MARXIST but they will also think: “I may not agree with them, but this person is fighting to get me work.” One of those is real. It’s hard to combat what gives you stability and hope. Provide a road to the future and the unions tend to follow it. 

Brandon Bradford

Brandon Bradford is political writer and renewable-energy projects expert living in San Jose, Calif. He’s a relentless fried chicken sandwich snob. Follow him @BrandonLBradfor.

Published in cooperation with Alternet.

Brandon Bradford covers the politics of urban and environmental policy for the Editorial Board. A renewable-energy projects expert and manager living in San Jose, Calif., he's also a relentless fried chicken sandwich snob. Follow him @BrandonLBradfor.

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