Mr. President, Don't Forget Black Manufacturing Workers
(Justin Wan/Lincoln Journal Star via AP)
Mr. President, Don't Forget Black Manufacturing Workers
(Justin Wan/Lincoln Journal Star via AP)
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With the end of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, all Americans must embrace President Biden’s efforts to rebuild our great nation. As he prepares to address a CNN town-hall gathering in Milwaukee, we can expect our president to renew his focus on passing the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package to help millions of American families and strengthen our middle class.

As the nation continues to navigate the economic uncertainty of the pandemic, I believe that the administration’s Build Back Better program has the immediate potential to revive local economies and keep good-paying manufacturing jobs right where they belong – at home in the United States. At the same time, we must also address racial inequity as we restore the soul of America.

Middle-class jobs are tough to come by, especially for minorities in my home state of South Carolina and across the nation. As a former legislator, we had many great manufacturing facilities in my district. Century Aluminum – America’s largest aluminum producer – pumped over $500 million in indirect revenue and 300 good-paying jobs into our state economy, and a vast majority of the employees are Black. While some might overlook this racial dynamic, it is exceedingly common in manufacturing communities throughout the South and Midwest. The plant in Mount Holly also recently announced that it will be increasing total production by 25%, adding 70 more jobs to its economic footprint.

The U.S. aluminum industry has been decimated lately by a surge of foreign aluminum imports from Russia, India, and the Middle East. The Obama administration filed a case at the World Trade Organization to prevent aluminum workers from losing their jobs due to the massive amount of subsidized foreign capacity distorting global aluminum prices. The Trump administration launched the Section 232 tariff program acknowledging the threat to national security posed by America’s declining aluminum industry and attempted to offset the effects of depressed pricing.

In the final hours of his administration, Trump exempted the United Arab Emirates from 10% tariffs on their aluminum imports. The UAE is home to the Jebel Ali high-purity aluminum smelter, which produces an essential component for U.S. military equipment.  But high-purity aluminum is made right here in the USA!

Trump’s action hurts minority workers and families across the South as heavily subsidized state-owned entities in the Middle East that rely on cheap migrant workers game the system.

Thankfully, in recent days our new president stepped in and revoked Trump’s sell-out of minority communities working in America’s aluminum industry. President Biden made clear that he considers it “necessary and appropriate in light of our national security interests to maintain, at this time, the tariff treatment applied to aluminum article imports from the United Arab Emirates.” This action indicates that his administration will fight to create and protect American jobs for minority communities.

It is imperative that the Biden-Harris administration continues to protect American manufacturing jobs. Moreover, we must prioritize the industries at home rather than allow subsidized foreign aluminum imports to flood U.S. markets and shatter local economies.

Whether aluminum, steel or other essential U.S. industries, these good-paying manufacturing jobs are vital pathways to the middle class for Blacks in South Carolina and across the country. Black voters in my state were critical in helping Biden clinch the Democratic nomination and become the next president, so it is only right for Black communities that have suffered considerably to be at the center of the economic recovery efforts.

As we get ready to hear President Biden address the American people at his first town-hall Tuesday evening, I am hopeful that he will work to unite and redeem the soul of our nation. But redemption must start with protecting and preserving good-paying middle-class manufacturing jobs. It starts by protecting Black workers through equitable Building Back Better policies and promoting an inclusive economy where we all can contribute and thrive.

Bakari Sellers is a CNN commentator and a former member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. He is the author of the book "My Vanishing Country" and serves as the first vice chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party.



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