Eugene Puryear: To Really Rebuild, Baltimore Needs a New System

From Eugene Puryear at Liberation News:

Every honest person admits that the recent uprisings have been about more than isolated incidents of police brutality. They have to deal with the deeper social and economic conditions in Black and other oppressed communities.

The young people in Baltimore who rose up spoke to the lack of jobs, decent housing or any real opportunities in the city. Many turn to the underground drug economy as the only accessible source of employment. The president himself and even some Republicans (and the editors of the Wall Street Journal) have noted that the poverty and unemployment afflicting large swaths of urban America have to be addressed.

Rather than deal with these root issues, the government has simply provided heavy policing and mass incarceration – a military “solution” to socially control the affected communities.

But why are cities like Baltimore in such conditions to begin with? And why hasn’t the government reversed the underlying social and economic conditions, as the people have long demanded? It goes deeper than having mayors who “don’t care.” It is the capitalist system that has destroyed Baltimore — and only by destroying that system can it be brought back to life.

The “old economy” is shattered

The economic crisis of the 1970s saw a complete restructuring of the global economy. Relocating industry and shifting its investment priorities, the capitalist class — driven by profit alone — abandoned and hollowed out many of the country’s largest cities. Baltimore itself lost 100,000 manufacturing jobs in 15 years. This process was especially bad for Black workers.. During the Great Migration of Black people from the Deep South to urban areas, from 1915 to 1970, there was never a guaranteed job to begin with. Further, racist discrimination severely limited the types of available jobs and promotions.

This is why going back over the past 50 years there has always been higher structural unemployment for Black Americans. It also meant that Black workers were overrepresented in certain occupations. In the Midwest in 1973, for example, 42.1 percent of employed Black males were working in “durable goods” manufacturing. Just 15 years later, that number stood at 12.5 percent.

Second, the fact that the labor market is divided into “niches” exacerbated the effects of this restructuring. The two sectors Black workers had used to access ‘decent-paying’ jobs — manufacturing and the public sector – were devastated by the larger economic shifts. Meanwhile, in the growing small business and service sectors, employers generally opted for immigrant workers, who they viewed as more vulnerable and easily exploited.

One source of relatively decent-paying employment was taken away with no real alternatives provided.

Government officials generally fell flat in their occasional efforts to improve this situation. For example, a program was launched in the 1990s to spend $130 million in the Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore—the epicenter of the recently uprising — but it completely failed to transform the social conditions. The whole strategy was to try and train workers to attract major investment — but, as a Washington Post report put it, the jobs “never came.”

Many suggest that Baltimore follow the “successful” model of cities like Pittsburgh or Cleveland. This essentially means using hospitals and universities as anchors for science and engineering industries. Pittsburgh, however, still has a 20 percent poverty rate.

In several cities, politicians promoting this model have declared an urban “renaissance” and pointed to improved economic indicators. But the numbers lie. They are driven by the displacement, not the uplift, of oppressed and working-class sectors. With aggressive gentrification, the more affluent replacement residents and new businesses that cater to them make the situation look better on paper, but the problems are not actually solved.

The populist politicians who suggest cities can return to the “good old days” are similarly misleading. Even the same old manufacturing jobs cannot provide the level of employment that they used to. Advances in technology have made larger percentages of manufacturing work automated. The same applies to the service sector, as can be seen, for example, in the self-scanning machines in grocery stores.

Rebuild Baltimore! Build socialism!

So if the urban mayors can’t change the conditions on the ground, who can? Who is really in charge? Democratic and Republican politicians alike craft employment strategies based on various ways to get private owners of wealth to use their power to create jobs and opportunity. They use massive tax breaks and subsidies to woo the developers and major corporations to come create jobs in their area over another.

This will not do.

In the aftermath of the uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson, many people are calling out for a new vision and a new political leadership. New leaders are indeed needed: a new class, the working class, which represents the vast majority of people, needs to lead society.

The grave problems facing oppressed people cannot be solved with some more money for bridges or tax cuts for developers. We need a system that doesn’t just parcel out poverty-wage jobs in this or that city,in a game where the rich always win.

We need to talk about and fight for a system that uses the vast power of humanity – physical, mental, social – in order to meet the needs of human beings and communities, not to fill the pockets of a tiny handful of corporate elites.

Baltimore doesn’t just need a new mayor — it needs socialism.

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