The Rustbelt withers in the heat. And it has been hot. Fortunately Michigan rarely has a long string of hot weather and even then it doesn’t last more than a few weeks. So one just needs to sweat through with the comfort of knowing that it will soon end. I shouldn’t complain too much; the BBC reports dozens of dead in an Indian heatwave (I shudder at the thought of an Indian heat wave).
A walk at night through the sweltering streets of my small city (which is about as urban as a town this size can be) can be a little hairy. Add the Michigan recession, which has been twice as long and three times as deep as the national one, and your safety is a real concern. Folks are out of work, poor and angry. Some of my neighbors are genuinely hungry and every day I see more people picking up bottles from the streets and garbage cans to collect the deposit (Michigan has a 10 cent return).
Last night I was out walking late. The sounds of music, drunken this and that and breaking bottles are shouted from street to street. No one goes to bed early in the heat, it’s too hot. And no one has a job to get up for anyway. There are fights and yelling and everyone looks like they’re just back from the war. Better to stay inside.
The bottom few rungs of the working class ladder have been kicked away making it impossible to get a foot up. No unions to join, neighborhoods without neighbors and a culture that doesn’t even recognize its poorest; communities without a dollop of glue to hold them together are adrift and enraged.
The left is good at paying attention to organized workers for all of the obvious reasons. But what about the, increasingly, unorganized? What about the disorganized? A whole swathe of the working class that could just barely get by on their minimum wage jobs and a few food stamps can’t anymore. Without an alternative that speaks to them (and these are MILLIONS of people) they have become only so much human detritus. The wasted.
These aren’t lumpen (and if they were they exist only to be despised?) they’re poor workers without jobs whose lives are flitted away. Anger is a powerful tool in the hands of the oppressed, it steels them to confront the enemy and to suffer sacrifice to make change. Anger without an outlet is simply destructive. And not creatively destructive either, nihilistically so.
The daily humiliations of poverty inflict all kinds of damage. Looking at folks waiting in line at the FIA office you wonder who will be the first to crack and jump the line to throttle the petty bureaucrat that denies them petty assistance. To not be able to take care of yourself and your kids- what an awful condemnation. It is San Quentin for the soul.
On every porch on my street someone is daydreaming of getting out and it’s not just the heat they want to break away from. Revolutions are the hope of the ages and the poor can’t afford to not have hope; it’s suicidal. We haven’t had such hope in generations now. All of these defeats for all of these years, even to those unconscious of them, “weigh like a nightmare upon the living”. Shit rolls down hill and we are standing at the bottom watching an avalanche.
Hope. Not the hope extolled by Obama which is only a marketing ploy, and a base one at that, but the hope that they might have some say over their own lives, control over the destiny of their children. Lives which are now so definitely not their own, but the property of a capitalist decay. A decay which is rotting away a whole generation of workers.
This is a warning comrades and friends. There will be hell to pay. And it won’t be the capitalists that pay it.
When it comes to urban decay and its consequences under capitalism, NYC takes a back seat to no-one. Only what I’m refering to is not the kind of sensationalist stuff TV “docu-dramas” like the “Bronx is Burning” focus on, i.e., the “looting” that took place during the 1977 black-out. I’m talking about the real looting that went on before that, which wasn’t done by poor people in run-down ghetto areas (i.s., so-called “bad neighborhoods”) but by the rich on Wall Street, aided and abetted by their bought and paid for politician pals in City Hall. For those interested in a detailed account of this whole process, see Kim Moody’s “From Welfare State to Real Estate: Regime Change in New York City, 1974 to the Present,” published by Verso.
Back in 1975, America’s ruling rich used NY as a test case for implementing what’s usually refered to as “structural adjustment” when it’s applied in Third World countries by the IMF or the World Bank, to a city right here in the good ol’ US of A. If they could get away with it in NY with its highly-unionized municipal workforce and large “minorty” population, they could get away with it anyhere. So in order to make sure that their high-interest debts were paid back, NYC was taken hostage by many of the same banker barons responsible for the current capitalist crisis. All so they could do more of the same shylocking of the city the next time around. The elected city government was shunted aside and an board of bankers, the Emergency Financial Control Board, accountable to no-one but themselves, assumed direct control over the city’s finances.
Not that the Democratic mayor, put in office by working class voters to begin with, had any objections to the wholesale layoffs of city workers, cutbacks in social services and wage feezes that the junta of high finance decreed. Nor did the trade union bureaucracy, which was tied as usual to the Democrats and without whose close cooperation none of this could have gone done. After all, the city was “broke” they ball said. Never mind that what broke it in the first place was the debts to the banks or that taxing the rich and cancelling the debt copuld have helped “fix” it. Instead all the trade union tops asked for, like today, was “shared sacrifice.” As if those at the top ever had, or ever will have, any intention of paying for a crisis that their system spawned in the first place. As if there could be “equality of sacrifice” in a society that is unequal to begin with.
Only if they have their backs to the walls will the rich even consider tossing a few crumbs off the table. And that’s only to ensure that they can still hold on to most of what’s still on it. What they give with one hand they will take back with the other as soon as an opportunity presents itself. For the ruling rich, NYC before 1975 was like “Red Vienna” in Austria during the interwar years, even though there was never anything near the same level of social welfare measures that workers in any European (or even Canadian) city would have taken for granted. Just like they used the current crisis to destroy the UAW and the gains it won for workers over the past seventy years, and by doing so, further drive down the living standards of all workers.
The “fiscal crisis” as they called it back then, gave them an excuse to break the alleged “power” of NYC’s municipal unions, cut back on spending for social services, trim the wage bill and reduce the size of the work force to the bare minimum necessary to keep capitalism functioning. It also set the stage for the decades of decadence that followed with real estate swindling and rent gouging that made it practically impossible for most working people to still live in Manhattan or even parts of the outer boroughs and made NYC the epicentre of the kind of financial finagling that finally exploded last fall.
When NYC’s Democratic mayor went to Washington, hat in hand, to beg for a “bail-out” (for the banks, of course), Republican President Gerald Ford sent him home empty-handed. The NY Daily News responded with a headline, “Ford to NYC: Drop Dead!” that woulds became world famous. In reality it was the ruling rich as a whole telling NYC’s workers to drop dead. Today, as capitalism finds itself in yet another crisis, the message from Obama is not “hope for change” (outside of the change that comes every week from his pitiful tax cuts) but “drop dead.” Only this time he’s telling it to the working people of whole states, whether it’s California with its “budget crisis” or Michigan with his gutting of the auto industry and utter disregard for the thousands, if not millions, of workers’ lives that are economically dependant on it. It’s high time that working people sent a message of their own back to the bosses and their government. That real change doesn’t come from hope as Obama claims, but, as Frederick Douglas pointed out, from struggle!
Yes, in other words they are hanging the state out to dry and are hoping it will rebound on the republicans in the next election cycle…
On a piece I will see what I can do, got a couple summer classes that are eating my time. Will let you know.
I need to know more about the California situation. Want to write a piece for the blog? Here’s Obama’s administration on the California cuts:
‘”It’s obviously not an easy time for the state of California,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told a briefing when asked if the administration would provide emergency financing for the state.
“We’ll continue to monitor the challenges that they have, but this budgetary problem unfortunately is one that they’re going to have to solve,” Gibbs said.’
What California needs to do is declare itself an insolvent derivatives firm. The money would pour in!!!
If you’re a private bank you’re in the clear. If you’re the most important state in the Union, you’re on your own.
Necessity is the mother of invention but I think you are right. The elites are too detached to react appropriately even when it would be in their own best interest. Here in California the promised austerity measures are truly shocking with the dems and repubs squabbling over the details but agreed on sticking it to the rest of us. Of course even touching the rich and their seaside golf courses is taboo…
It will get ugly I fear. Obama is now even backing off his squalid “public option” for health care and is settling for cutting costs. “Poor people, fuck you!” is all we hear from Washington. Not even the pretense of looking out for “the least of us”.
I hear you. I have been feeling this for a while. I am no fan of Obama, but I hope he develops a populist bone soon because otherwise I think it could get very ugly and not in a way that I am going to like.