Clinton Energizes Building Trades Conference
Addressing a crowd already energized from powerful speeches by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, surprise speaker Bill Clinton made clear his position on job-creation and economic growth at the Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) National Conference on Monday: “Investment, not financial transactions.”
The 42nd president repeatedly assured the crowd of nearly 2,500 that, “We’ve just begun to scratch the surface,” in terms of investment and infrastructure opportunities in the United States. Clinton, whose appearance was entirely unannounced but made perfect sense given the involvement of both BCTD and AFT in the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), cited painting Harlem roofs white as a bare bones example of energy-efficiency’s ability to create jobs. It put people to work without even beginning to harness the endless possibilities of the sophistocated upgrades and construction practices of the future, Clinton said.
But the undeniable charm of Clinton’s overall message was less technical than it was inspiring and, frankly, fed up. He admitted that the United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world, but suggested that countless loopholes and a general culture of greed make this fact more or less moot. He hammered offshoring of profits, saying over one trillion dollars are overseas that should be brought home. How this money is returned to U.S. shores, however, is as important to Clinton as whether or not is happens. Again, he stressed the importance of putting this money to work, highlighting infrastructure banks. “It’s the proper way to invest in our economy because it works,” he said behind his now-trademark demi-specs. “These types of investments are a better job growth strategy than financial transactions.”
Clinton derided the current recovery, saying, “We are hiring people at only half the rate of other post-recession recovery periods.” With 100 years of practices since similar economic collapses, Clinton suggested there is no excuse for this rate of change. For the most part, he placed blame on economic policies championed by multi-national corporate interests and misconceptions about the value of a hard day’s work.
This was pitted against labor’s more pro-active efforts, especially workforce development. “Your apprenticeship training is astonishing,” Clinton said, eliciting massive applause. Earlier in the morning, BCTD President Sean McGarvey reminded the construction worker gathering that together their unions, members and partners were investing $1 billion dollars annually in apprenticeship. “The thing I like about the labor movement,” Clinton said, “we want everybody to get rich, we just want them to get rich by putting them to work.”