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Working In These Times

Friday, Nov 6, 2009, 1:07 pm

Hell No! We Won’t Send Our Tax Dollars to China

BY Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

Taking candy from a baby: A consortium of Chinese and American companies goes to Washington and announces plans to build a $1.5 billion windmill farm in West Texas using $450 million in U.S. Stimulus funds, which will create 2,330 jobs – 2,000 of them in China.

The baby – Washington — doesn’t cry or whine or spit in the consortium’s face. That’s what’s really wrong with this story.

So accustomed to being bought and sold, Washington simply begins processing forms so it can hand over your tax dollars to create jobs in a turbine factory in the city of Shenyang, China at a subsidy of $193,133 each.

It’s like these bureaucrats live in Wonderland. Or an America where the unemployment rate isn’t 10.2 percent. Or where 40,000 American manufacturing facilities didn’t disappear in the past decade. Or where banks didn’t repossess nearly a quarter million American homes in the past three months.

We’ve got a message for Washington: Hell no! We’re not giving tax dollars to China. What’s wrong with these businesses and our government? It is the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It’s not the Chinese Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

It’s bad enough that we’ve off-shored our factories and technology and jobs over the past 20 years. We’re not off-shoring our Stimulus cash too. In fact, we’re tired of serving as the schoolyard wimp of the world. We need our own industrial policy so we can stand up and compete in the world market manufacturing the likes of wind turbines. And we need it now.

China has an industrial policy. And it uses that policy to dominate. Here is how Keith Bradsher of the New York Times described China’s policy to become a world leader in renewable energy, which of course, would include construction of wind turbine factories:

“Calling renewable energy a strategic industry, China is trying hard to make sure that its companies dominate globally. Just as Japan and South Korea made it hard for Detroit automakers to compete in those countries – giving their own automakers time to amass economies of scale in sheltered domestic markets – China is shielding its clean energy sector while it grows to a point where it can take on the world.”

China protects its chosen industries in many ways. It provides low interest loans, some of which don’t have to be repaid. It may give free land on which to construct buildings. And there are other perks that Bradsher described:

“When the Chinese government took bids this spring for 25 large contracts to supply wind turbines, every contract was won by one of seven domestic companies. All six multinationals that submitted bids were disqualified on various technical grounds, like not providing sufficiently detailed data. . . even as Chinese companies that had never built a turbine were approved. . .”

Later, Bradsher describes European disgust at the Chinese treatment:

“European wind turbine makers have stopped even bidding for some Chinese contracts after concluding that their bids would not be seriously considered, said Jorg Wuttke, the president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.”

China has a policy. It ruthlessly protects its own industries.

China was among the many countries that complained bitterly when the U.S. included “Buy American” provisions in the Stimulus Bill. In fact, Vice Commerce Minister Jiang Zengwei told a press conference in Beijing in February that China would not do such a thing, “We won’t practice a ‘Buy China’ policy,” he said. Four months later, that’s exactly what China did, instituting its own, stricter “Buy China” policy as part of its economic stimulus program.

China did what China felt was necessary for its economy. And it ignored foreign criticism.

That’s hardly the U.S. tactic. Wilting under criticism, Congress diminished the Buy American provisions before passing the Stimulus.

As a result, we’ve got a consortium — U.S. Renewable Energy Group, Cielo Wind Power and A-Power Energy Generation Systems – so bold that it believes it can get nearly half a billion dollars in American Stimulus money for 2,000 Chinese wind turbine jobs. The consortium says it would import 240 Chinese turbines to Texas where 300 temporary construction jobs would be created and another 30 permanent jobs established.

The wind turbines could easily be made in the USA. Bradsher, of the Times, says the Chinese concede that while their turbines cost slightly less initially, they have higher repair costs. He wrote, “United Nations data from trading of carbon credits shows that the Chinese-brand turbines produce less electricity because they are more frequently out of action.”

Really, is that what we want to buy with American tax dollars for a wind farm in West Texas?

If the United States put half the effort into supporting its renewable energy industry that China does, there’d be no way this consortium building windmills in Texas would be looking overseas for turbines.

China has a plan. In its strategy, it doesn’t consider America first or the remainder of the world first. And that’s what the USA must do. We need an industrial policy that makes no apologies for putting America and American workers first. And when that’s the calculus, no American official would ever countenance a request to give $450 million in American taxpayers’ dollars to a turbine factory in China. And no American consortium would consider making such a stupid request.

In the meantime: Hell no! They don’t get our dough!

This article originally appeared at the USW Blog.

Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco's nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

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