It is tradition on Labor Day for the president of the United States to make a speech before members of a labor union to praise the nobility of the American working man. This year, President Bush chose to make his appearance at the training center of the International Union of Operating Engineers in Richfield, Ohio, just south of Cleveland.

The general tenor of his remarks had to do with his concern over the deteriorating condition of America’s manufacturing base, and how it causes financial stress on the people who build and operate America’s factories. He offered a message of hope, saying he has asked the Secretary of Commerce to appoint an assistant secretary whose job it will be to focus exclusively on the needs of manufacturers, to make sure our manufacturing base is strong and vibrant.

Funny thing is I thought the Department of Commerce already had an obligation to look after the interests of American manufacturers. I’m surprised that responsibility is now defined as a new mission.

At any rate, I went over every word in a newspaper account of the president’s speech. President Bush cited manufacturers in Ohio as especially hurting. He said any part of a good economic recovery has to be in the manufacturing sector. He said he was optimistic, believing better days are ahead for people working and looking for work.

And that is all he had to say about manufacturing. Nothing about how the new assistant is going to tackle this daunting assignment. Nothing about what the first remedial action will be.

We know you don’t turn manufacturing plants on and off like spigots. A quick fix to save what is left of our manufacturing capability would be tariffs and quotas, but we’ll get into a trade war with the European Union if we try to push those. Relief from regulatory burdens will stir up the activists. Tax relief will play into the hands of those who incite class warfare. Finally, China defiantly refuses to do anything about its undervalued currency, which serves as an insidious subsidy for Chinese products and a barrier for U.S. products.

There is one thing we know for sure. We’re dealing with an omelet, and we’ll have to crack a lot of eggs to get what we want.

Someone noticed Airbus is subsidized

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry feels the United States should subsidize aircraft producer Boeing like France subsidizes Airbus. “I’m tired of Airbus playing all kinds of subsidy games,” Kerry said. “We have to fight back, and I think the government has to do more to help leverage Boeing’s position.”

Kerry said he would aggressively challenge European subsidies of Airbus through the World Trade Organization. Boeing and the United States have claimed that European support of Airbus is illegal under WTO rules. Kerry thinks the United States ultimately will have to use business-tax cuts and other economic measures to create an industrial policy giving Boeing the same assistance its foreign, subsidized competitor has.

“I think it’s get-tough time,” Kerry said. “We’ve watched while products get dumped in the United States and our people sit on their asses. We have to fight back.”

Joe DiFranco, group publisher
jdifranco@penton.com