Public Comment

Manufacturing in Berkeley? Of Course

By Bernard Marszalek
Thursday November 12, 2009 - 09:48:00 AM

What? Manufacturing in Berkeley? Of course. In the United States the largest economic sector is manufacturing. Manufacturing accounts for 70 percent of R & D. Manufacturing pays better. For every dollar paid to production workers, service workers receive 75 cents. Retail jobs pay 50 cents. 

In addition, manufacturing adds greater value to the economy than any other sector. Production workers support the other sectors as consumers of goods and services. Manufacturing generated dollars work harder in the economy. Economists refer to this as a multiplier effect. Manufacturing has twice the multiplier effect of financial services or retail trade. 

All of this is true of manufacturing, but these facts do not inform the choices made by the corporations. 

According to the Department of Labor’s September 2009 statistics, between 1970 and 2009 manufacturing jobs declined from 39 percent of the private-sector labor force to 18 percent (a 54 percent decline). Meanwhile, service-providing jobs increased by 34 percent. 

The early decline in manufacturing jobs, starting in the sixties, was due to automation. The subsequent job loss occurred as “run-away” corporations pursued cheap labor. Programs like NAFTA encouraged further movement of manufacturing across borders. The consolidation of globalization by the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund effectively unleashed corporations from all constraints, but one—ever increasing profit margins. 

The point here is that the decline of manufacturing in the US was a conscious economic decision. As many now recognize, this decision may impoverish us if not reversed. In July President Obama said, “The fight for American manufacturing is a fight for America’s future.” 

We have a great opportunity in Berkeley to demonstrate that we have the wisdom to use our local manufacturing resources to grow this sector by protecting what already exists—the highly prized skills and technical knowledge in shops throughout West Berkeley. 

In the printing trades, where I worked for 45 years, advances in chemistry, metallurgy, plastics, optics and computerization transformed the workplace—from highly skilled but labor-intensive tasks to highly technical labor saving tasks. 

What is true of my trade applies to others. Go to any industrial firm today and you will see new technologies implemented everywhere by people working at living wage jobs. 

The economic quagmire that engulfs us now will not be alleviated by some simple fix. No new financial bubble will save us. No fevered pursuit of a “cutting edge” investment opportunity. 

And shopping till you drop is not a program for the unemployed. 

We are in dire need of addressing infrastructure renewal, climate change and resource depletion. These crises, and that’s what they are, will not be adequately dealt with unless a coordinated, federal program to re-industrialize America emerges. 

We have in West Berkeley, thanks to the foresight of those who drafted the West Berkeley Plan, people who make things here, not there. It’s our decision to honor that legacy by expanding it without destroying it. 


Bernard Marszalek is the former sales manager of Inkworks Press of West Berkeley, and a member of JASeconomy.