By David Dyssegaard Kallick
Some people have criticized the "high road" approach you've advocated as entering into the global competition without changing its terms - that it may help those who win, but it doesn't help those who lose the competition. What's your sense of that critique?
[You can't just have a high-road approach.] You've got to close off the low road. [Eliminate] sweatshop labor, adversarial industrial relations, underinvestment in workers, in equipment, etc.
[You] begin by removing existing incentives, imposing wage norms, norming public purchasing, assure greater worker voice at work, move away from firms [that don't exceed certain standards].
[At the same time,] you have to help pave the high road. Develop supports, modernization, traininig, basic organization for firms to make the transition [necessary for them] to stay on the high road.
[There is] a series of routines for how to get from low-road to high road [enterprise]. [You have to] make it possible [for firms] to shift.
You've been working on this concretely through the Campaign for a Sustainable Milwaukee. What would you say are the lessons at this point about what works and what doesn't?
Sustainable Milwaukee is one of a number of institutions operating there now. At least as important is [work] in industry organization - the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership - [that it] potentially replicable for doing all those things.
[WRTP is] effectively a consortium of firms - these have also gone by different names in other places, as regional skills alliances, or high-road partnerships. [The idea is that you get firms and worker representatives in an industry working together to raise the level of skills among workers, so that high levels of pay and good working conditions can be paired with productivity for the firm.
The WRTP now comprises 45 firms, more than 50,000 workers in metalworking and related manufacturing.
[Usually, when you talk about investing in workers, the question of "free riding" comes up.] Why invest in workers if [after you do so] they can go across the street for 25 cents an hour more? I think that's exaggerated; but still, it's a real issue. [But if you make a standard across an industry, then all workers get the same training at each level and you minimize this problem.] What's good for the hive is good for the bees.
Could you expand this to the national level?
[You could] do something like the Japanese, and make it worthwhile for workers to stay with firm. Or [you could do something] like the Germans, and set training standards throughout industry for meeting training standards. Or [you could follow a Swedish model, and the government could pay for and make training and education available to workers.] The Wisconsin Partnership follows something like the German model.
You said you think the Wisconsin Regional Training Patnership is broadly replicable. It doesn't seem obvious that it would work everywhere, or in every industry. What do you think are the necessary elements to make it a viable model?
You might think you could only do it where you have strong industrial unions, or somewhere with teutonic heritage.
There are more or less favorable conditions. But you can do it in construction, finance, health care, insurance, hospitality.
What about globalization. Isn't there still the concern that these jobs and factories will move overseas? After all, the things you're talking about would only affect regions within the US, but companies are playing on a global field.
Maybe you're more impressed with globalization than I am.
Eighty percent of US manufacturing is. Only a small portion of the economy is "in play." Savings and investment still correlate closely on a national basis. There's a strong spacial dimension even to Silicon Valley.
I'm much more impressed with how much things have moved inside the US than how they've moved internationally.
[For example, in the US] there's been a 10 percent decline in industrial employment, but a 40 percent decline in metropolitan manufacturing. [Moving out of cities] gets you away from unions, away from benefits.
You're talking about the phenomenon of "ring cities" as donuts of econom ic development around a collapsing urban center? Sprawl, ring cities, corporate relocation to rural areas - there are many ways this takes place. All that is within our national control.
[I'll give you an example.] There are more manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin than there were 10 years ago. But there are fewer in Milwaukee. Where have the jobs gone? They've gone from Milwaukee to a number of small towns. Farmers are being driven off their farms by loss of opportunity, and they'll take jobs at six, seven dollars an hour.
You're talking about things to do locally or regionally. What do you see as the role of the national government.
There are a series of things we need at the federal level, too. Investment in infrastructure, for example.
It would seem to me that many of the firms that do pay union wages or have benefits ought to be in favor of closing off sweatshops or establishing stricter regulations.
The reason labor relations in the US are so poisonous is not becuase unions are so strong, but because they're so weak. Employers should be indifferent between zero unionization and 100 percent. We're trying to crawl in an adversarial but cooperative way toward this kind of a climate.
You need to make capital an offer. But it also has to be an offer they can't refuse.