U.S. Sen. Bob Casey on Friday outlined a plan to battle what he termed “Chinese economic aggression” during a speech to an audience made up largely of union members and officials. Key to that approach, he said, are investments in American workers and industries that will lead to a revitalization of U.S. manufacturing.

“U.S. workers can out-work, out-innovate and out-produce any worker in the world, including workers in China,” given a level playing field, Casey, D-Pa., said at the headquarters for the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters in Robinson.

The problem, Casey said, is that the Chinese Communist Party tilts the field in its favor in a number of ways — among them, restricting access to Chinese markets; stealing American technology for the benefit of Chinese industries; and subsidizing the production of steel, iron, solar panels and other essential items.

Left unchecked, this tilted playing field will threaten American independence and security, Casey said. He listed a number of measures he and President Joe Biden’s administration are pursing, and in some cases have already taken, to address the concern. 

First on his list: taking care of workers by increasing pay and securing workers’ pensions. Casey called for a raise in the minimum wage, which in Pennsylvania stands at $7.25 an hour. Raising overall wages can be accomplished by returning more workplace power to workers. To that end, Casey called for passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which strengthens workers’ rights to join unions. Unions raise wages and protections for all workers, he said.

As for securing pensions, Casey said some progress was made during passage of the American Rescue Plan, “which included a fix to shore up the multi-employer pension plans that were running out of money and threatening the retirement of workers across the nation.”

Next on Casey’s list was a call to return the U.S. to its position as a manufacturing powerhouse, one adapted to the needs and demands of the 21st century. He said big steps in this direction were taken with passage of the infrastructure bill, which encourages companies to use steel and iron produced in the United States, and the CHIPS and Science Act, designed to encourage domestic semiconductor manufacturing.

The production of semiconductors in America has tanked in the past few decades, falling from 37% of the global share of manufacturing in 1990 to 12% today, he said. Casey called the CHIPS bill a “down payment on global competitiveness and our future prosperity.”

Casey rejected the idea that leaders must choose between creating and sustaining jobs in today’s economy and meeting emerging challenges such as global warming. He said he’s fighting to bring to Western Pennsylvania a “hydrogen hub,” a center for the production, storage and use of hydrogen. Many see these hubs as crucial to decarbonizing the U.S. economy.

Casey said the Chinese government is threatening to subsidize and thus corner the market on production of newer technologies such as artificial intelligence, semiconductors, biotech and robotics. “China could intentionally withhold resources to cripple our economy, and we need to be prepared.”

His plan to fight back begins with determining the extent to which America’s critical manufacturing and technology capabilities have moved abroad. Casey pointed to a bipartisan bill he’s introduced that would allow the U.S. to screen investments going to China and other countries. 

“But knowing what corporations are investing overseas is not good enough if we don’t have a means to stop them,” he said. “That’s why I’d ultimately like to see the United States with the authority to prohibit corporations from selling our national security secrets and manufacturing power to our adversaries when it puts our nation at risk.”

Past trade deals such as NAFTA are also part of the problem — they hurt American workers. Democrats are taking a new approach to trade, he said, one that prioritizes American workers and their families.

Casey stressed he was aiming his criticisms at the Chinese Communist Party and President Jinping Xi, and not the country’s workers. “We hold no animus towards the people of China or Chinese Americans who enrich and help build our country every day.”

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at smellon@unionprogress.com.

Steve Mellon

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at smellon@unionprogress.com.