Remarks of International President R. Thomas Buffenbarger at the Installation of Officers at IAM Headquarters

Cannot Stand the Cold

Brothers and Sisters, today marks the start of an ambitious four-year term for the Executive Council of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Ours is an experienced, cohesive team of leaders. By my rough count, they have given over 300 years of service to the men and women of this union.

They know what it is like to conduct a lodge meeting … handle a grievance … run an organizing campaign lobby a politician and sit across the table from a company executive.

They have done it all, literally and figuratively.

Now, their charge is to bring a new generation into the leadership circles of this great union.

By giving our younger members a chance to step up to new and larger responsibilities, this Executive Council will assure the vibrancy and vigor of the IAM for decades to come.

By mentoring those who accept the challenge of serving the membership, we intend to do what our mentors did for us – point us in the right direction, correct us when we err and guide us through the toughest assignments.

In the Machinists Union, we believe that those who make the decisions should have to live with those decisions.

That’s why we have an iron-clad policy about retiring at age 65 – or sooner if an elected officer cannot fulfill at least two years plus one day of their term. By stepping away from power, we open the way for a more powerful set of ideas and a more formidable set of union activists.  No union is perfect. But every union, including this one, should strive to reflect its membership’s diversity – industries, crafts, skills, races, genders and ages.

IAM members nominated and elected a very diverse slate earlier this year. This Executive Council has two Latinos, a Native American and an African-American. Three women were elected – one to the Law Committee, one as a delegate to the AFL-CIO and one as a delegate to the Canadian Labour Congress.

But as diverse as this leadership team is, what unites us is one simple fact. We all started out on the shop floor.

Their first step on the leadership ladder was as a shop steward, a position chosen by the members who knew them best: their own co-workers.

This leadership team has lived the life of a blue collar worker in North America. They know how hard that life can be.

This leadership team knows how tough it is for our unemployed brothers and sisters — they’ve been unemployed themselves.

And they know the toll this mega-recession is taking on working families in Canada and the United States because they talk to our members every day.

That knowledge, that first hand knowledge about real life, makes them anxious to start the fight for JOBS Now!

JOBS Now! is our issue.

The next issue of the IAM Journal will focus on joblessness. And each magazine will contain post cards addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid.

We intend to push them for a second economic stimulus, one aimed at the manufacturing and transportation sectors.

Until this mega-recession ends and real, sustained…job creating…growth starts, JOBS Now! will remain our primary focus.

In spite of what some economists claim, real job growth hasn’t started yet. Instead, more WARN notices and more layoffs are the grim reality — this year, next year and well into 2011! Our members need jobs-now! Our kids need a brighter future — now! And our two nations need a clear pathway out of this mega-recession — now!

In this mega-recession, over thirty million Americans are idled to some degree. According to the U. S. Department of Labor, nearly 14.5 million are unemployed, 9.1 million are working part time involuntarily and 6.6 million want but cannot find a job.           

In Canada, over 400,000 full-time jobs have been lost since last October. Over one point five million Canadians are now unemployed.

They are not alone.

The International Monetary Fund believes as many as 232 million people could be unemployed worldwide in 2009 – an increase of 52 million from earlier projections. Such a calamity is hard to imagine.

Workers everywhere face a new phenomenon: global economic hypothermia.

Hypothermia is when the human body loses heat. With every three degrees that the body’s core temperature drops below 98.6 degrees, hypothermia grows progressively more severe. The body starts shutting down its extremities to protect its core.

An equally dramatic cooling off is happening with manufacturing, but on a global scale.

The Economist reports that, in April, industrial production was down 31 percent in Japan … 19 percent or more in Italy, Germany, Taiwan and Sweden … and over 12 percent in Great Britain and the United States.

Another 31 countries tracked by the magazine experienced declines — negative growth — in industrial production this year.

And yet, those statistics miss what is occurring on the periphery of mass production.

Manufacturing involves international networks of parts suppliers, semi-finished subassemblies and final assemblers. Computerized inventory controls – just in time logistics – mean that shutdowns and job losses occur in stages.

As orders disappear and inventories shrink, manufacturers in distant plants reduce production runs. Months later, they start closing down product lines, cancelling shifts, moving workers from full- to part-time, and, finally, laying them off. As this global recession enters its second year, the weakest links in the supply chain will turn off the lights and lock the gates. Then plants further up the supply chain will close due to a lack of component parts.

That hypothermic reaction is occurring now from Taipei to Topeka, from Toulouse to Toronto.

In some communities, manufacturing is entering the “metabolic icebox” phase of hypothermia.

It looks dead.

It looks blue.

It shows no sign of life.

But it is not dead.

Not yet, anyway.

At the International Metalworkers Federation convention in Stockholm, Sweden last month, union leaders from across the globe talked about the pain and suffering of their members.

But they also spoke of their determination to protect their jobs, their families and their futures. All they wanted was for governments to do their part.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs” is the mantra of a world-renowned IAM member: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. With characteristic energy, judgment and effectiveness, she is changing global diplomacy.

Leading up to the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in late September, Secretary Clinton will be deeply involved in discussions about how best to re-ignite the fires of global job creation.

I am confident that this American Secretary of State sees the plight of working families. Hillary Clinton will do everything in her power to end this “metabolic icebox” phase of global economic hypothermia.

And I am certain she will fight for jobs for the Invisibles now idled in so many nations.

If I could, I would make but one suggestion to her: Treat this case of global economic hypothermia as an EMS team would.

Severe hypothermia requires insulating the body … increasing its caloric intake … removing its waste…and heating its major arteries. 

It is a treatment protocol that offers us a way forward, nationally and internationally.

The first step is to enable the body to re-warm itself. By making credit available, offering investment tax credits, hiring unemployed workers to renovate older plants, we can stoke the furnaces of our manufacturing capabilities.

By wrapping manufacturing in a space blanket — not of taxes, tariffs and duties — but with policies that give firms an incentive to renovate their plants and purchase state-of-the-art tooling, we can raise the temperatures of now frozen production lines.

By giving our laid off workers the opportunity to upgrade their skills … and giving our kids a career pathway from high school through community college and apprenticeships, we can raise expectations and the buying power of millions of factory workers.

President Obama wants everyone to spend one year beyond high school preparing for this more competitive world. We think it should be two years, tuition free. But we will follow his lead on his Re-Skilling initiative.

In severe hypothermia, emergency responders provide warm sugar water to their patients. Those calories enable the person to re-heat themselves.

Manufacturing, particularly the smaller firms, need orders to hit the restart button. So let’s lend smaller manufacturers enough money to produce and stockpile 60 days of inventory.

When demand picks up again, those companies will be able to meet it immediately. And they can repay the government when orders start flowing again.

To help our largest manufacturers, governments at all levels should use a “Buy North American” approach.

Buy North American is not a protectionist or reactionary slogan. It is a realistic solution.

Our major industries need to be given the business, literally.

Let us buy the products government needs – cars and computers, snow plows and graders, ships and planes – from them now and on an expedited basis.

In severe hypothermia, a full bladder steals heat from vital organs. Now is the time to get rid of the waste products of government, business and industry.

Older tools, older heating and cooling processes, older electrical equipment, older forms of transportation, and older processes need to be jettisoned.

We can conserve energy – and conserve body heat – by a shrewd, forward thinking national industrial policy.

We need a national industrial policy aimed at making North America the global manufacturing powerhouse for the next fifty years.

And finally, severe hypothermia requires heat be applied to major arteries. EMS teams know to apply heat packs to key areas of the patient to restart circulation.

Well, if we look at the arteries of commerce — our airlines, railroads, long haul trucking and sea lanes — we see antiquated systems.

Railroads rely on tracks laid a century ago.

Airports use runways laid down fifty years ago.

Seaports use equipment installed before men landed on the moon … or the beaches of Normandy.

Interstate highways and secondary roads were never designed to carry the tractor-trailer traffic many see every day.

Those arteries of commerce require targeted investments to modernize logistics, build high-volume infrastructure and devise fuel-efficient distribution networks.

It is time to make America’s transportation sector the envy of the world once again.

Taken together, that treatment protocol will enable us to survive and recover from this deep freeze in industrial production.

They are steps both industrialized and industrializing nations can employ to re-ignite their own manufacturing capabilities.

It is time for a JOBS Now! agenda, not just for the United States and Canada, but for all nations.

I expect that we will see that JOBS Now! agenda start to come together in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania this coming September.

There, the AFL-CIO Convention convenes after Labor Day to set the course for the American Labor Movement. And the IAM, along with other unions, will offer a JOBS Now! resolution.

Less than three weeks later, the G-20 Summit with leaders from all the industrial countries occurs. President Barack Obama and his Secretaries of State and Treasury will host the meetings and set its agenda.

So, in the space of three weeks, we have a golden opportunity to leverage our JOBS Now! campaign onto the global stage.

There is much work to be done — this summer, this year and for the next four years.

 Right now, it is time for us to start the jobs our members elected us to do.

We must embark upon the duties that we have pledged our sacred honor to do:

Lead this great Machinists Union of ours into the warmth of a jobs-creating economic recovery … Mentor a new generation of labor leaders … Negotiate the industry-leading contracts that are the hallmark of our great union … And fight like hell for our members’ fair share of the wealth created by their labors.

We thank you, brothers and sisters, for entrusting us with the awesome responsibility of seeing that our members’ jobs allow them to enjoy the fruits of their labor … support their families … and pursue their fondest dreams.

And we thank you for this opportunity to work hard, every single day, to make certain that IAM members have justice on the job.

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