CLEVELAND (AP) - Millions of manufacturing jobs can result from collaboration between blue-collar industries and environmental projects, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards told a union political gathering Thursday.
''The Blue Green Alliance really can create 1 million, 2 million new manufacturing jobs to replace some of the jobs that have been lost,'' Edwards told about 600 political activists from the United Steelworkers of America union at a conference on reviving U.S. manufacturing.
The Blue Green Alliance was formed last year by the union and the Sierra Club to promote job creation and work on environmental initiatives including global warming and development of solar and wind power.
The nation would benefit from taking the lead in developing fuel-efficient vehicles, the former North Carolina senator said.
''America ought to be leading the way in development of the technology that we need,'' he said. ''If we do it smart, we can actually replace a lot of the manufacturing jobs that have been lost in America.''
The nation has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs in three decades. The manufacturing share of the nation's work force has dipped from 20 percent in 1979 to 11 percent, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Edwards also pitched his plan announced Monday to try to push the minimum wage up to $9.50 an hour. President Bush recently signed a law increasing it from $5.15 to $7.25 over two years.
''I don't think they raised it far enough,'' Edwards said. ''Nobody should work full time in the United States of America and still live in poverty.''
Edwards didn't specify any of his primary campaign rivals, but said his interest in labor issues wasn't an intellectual issue but one that comes from the heart and his family's blue-collar background in the textile mills of North Carolina.
Edwards suggested that the union look at other candidates and ask, ''Are they with you in your battles?'' He reminded members to applause that he had visited the union's picket line last year in Akron during a strike against the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
A fellow Democratic candidate, Sen. Joe Biden, told the group in a separate appearance that U.S. manufacturing can be revived by investing in the nation's infrastructure such as bridges and highways.
''Imagine what that does'' in terms of creating countless union friendly jobs and assuring others union-scale wages, Biden said.
Biden said the share of the U.S. economy devoted to infrastructure improvements is dwarfed by such work in China, India and Japan. He also predicted a surge of jobs if enough resources are devoted to developing alternative energy sources including solar and wind power.
Biden, who said the Steelworkers were the first union to endorse him in his longshot 1972 campaign for the Senate in Delaware, said he would be a friend of the union if elected. ''Give me a look,'' said Biden, who wore a union jacket as he took questions from Steelworkers members.
Dennis Kucinich, a Cleveland congressman and also a Democratic candidate for president, outlined his plan for a national manufacturing policy to preserve industries important for defense, including steel.
He said the flame rising above a steel mill in Cleveland had been a beacon of hope for him as a youngster when his family was homeless and living in a car. ''There was something about that flame that symbolized hope,'' he said.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has a Friday appearance scheduled at the conference.
The Steelworkers union membership peaked at 1.4 million during the post-World War II steel industry expansion and dipped to 600,000 about 10 years ago. Mergers with other unions, including the Rubber Workers, have pushed membership to about 850,000.