US steelworkers form unlikely alliance as renewables reinvigorate rustbelt

Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania look to electric cars, solar and wind power after death of coal and steel industries

It may seem like a stretch to call Jack Bernat, who spends his off-duty hours collecting and lovingly restoring muscle cars of the 1980s, an environmentalist.

But then trace back a working life spent chasing after the vanishing jobs in Pennsylvania's steel industry. In his 35 years in the workforce, Bernat endured lay-offs and shut-downs, scrambled for part-time and temporary work, and took jobs far from home.

Now the former steelworker is hoping he has at last found a job with a future, putting the finishing touches to the giant fibreglass blades for wind turbines produced by the Spanish firm, Gamesa.


"My biggest concern is not to have happening to this generation what happened to mine — where you end up 10 years here, 10 years there, and then you are like me 54 years old, and five different careers and no seniority anywhere," said Bernat, who heads the chapter of the United Steelworkers of America union at the wind turbine plant. "I want to see the longevity of this thing."

Those hopes provide a powerful impetus for an alliance between the environmental and labour movements that could prove critical to the course of Barack Obama's hopes to transform America's energy economy.

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