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Race, Poverty, and the Environment

Introduction: Globalization Comes Home

18-1 Cover Globalization Comes Home

Causa Justa/ Just Cause rally, Oakland, CA. ©2011 CJJC

As the United States draws closer to becoming a nation with people of color in the majority, it is also moving into an economic and social program of privatization, cuts in social programs and real wages, restrictions on unionization, a focus on investment in export industries, an emphasis on balanced budgets, and a re-valuation of its currency.

In most of the developing world, this program is called “structural adjustment.” It is a bitter remedy often prescribed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund after economic speculation and the looting of national wealth by a narrow elite has driven a country into near or actual bankruptcy.  While it’s ironic that the prescription is being written by the same Wall Street banks that conducted the looting in our country, this is the way the global North has treated the global South since World War II.

It’s increasingly apparent that Wall Street executives see the working population of the United States as some sort of “other,” very much as the colonial empires of the 20th century viewed the people of their colonies in Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East. This has always been true to some extent, but with the crash of the latest global pyramid scheme, has become ever more critical for the top tier to reap more of their income at home.

That the future retirees who are most likely to lose their pensions are workers of color is no coincidence.

Climate Justice

Recently clear-cut area in Plumas National Forest, Plumas County, Calif. Photo: USGSCalifornia’s landmark 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. These are the most ambitious targets in the United States and environmental justice groups went to bat for the law in a referendum battle (Proposition 23) in the November 2010 election. While there is near-universal support from environmentalists on the intent of the law, a split has developed over the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) implementation of it. Despite recommendations from its own Environmental Justice Advisory Committee and Economic and Allocation Advisory Committee, CARB (directed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger) decided to use a so-called “cap-and-trade” model to provide incentives to businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for 20 percent of the targeted reductions. This decision was finalized on December 16, 2010.

On March 17, 2011 a San Francisco Superior Court blocked implementation of all of AB32 based on a lawsuit by Environmental Justice groups. In their April 22 filings, the EJ plaintiffs offered to restrict the block on implementation to the cap-and-trade part of the plan, but so far CARB has not taken them up on the offer. Many of the elements in the overall California plan—such as vehicle emission, standards and the requirement that utilities purchase 33 percent of their power from renewable sources—have distinct legislative origins and will continue to move forward, but as of May 2011, AB32 remains on hold.

Regionalism: Development and Displacement

Lake Merritt TOD Planning Meeting, Laney College, March 5, 2011. ©2011 Eric K. ArnoldContention over the inner core of cities has escalated as reinvestment attracts former suburbanites back to the center, and rising prices drive low-income people to the outer ring.  From Oakland, to San Jose to South Lake Tahoe, the pressure on low-income populations is intense. While greenhouse gas emission reduction and urban planning principles favor compact urban development, communities of color living in the target zone all too often lose out on the benefits of an improved neighborhood. Instead, they are displaced.

Displacement accelerates the dispersal caused by other factors, such as the predatory lending and resulting foreclosure crisis, which has resulted in millions losing their homes. In their current form, these sorts of struggles are too often seen as something the individual homeowner, evicted tenant, or displaced business must deal with alone. However, organized resistance to flawed development schemes and collective action to resist eviction and foreclosure are more crucial than ever.  —Ed.

Economic Development

Aerosoul 2 Art Exhibit, Joyce Gordon Gallery in Oakland, California. ©2011 Christine Joy Ferrer/www.eyesopened.comOakland and other historically African American cities in the United States have undergone dramatic demographic shifts over the past 20 years.  Even as the overall U.S. population has become increasingly diverse, and politicians like President Barack Obama and General Colin Powell have risen to the top, African American cities have seen a steady erosion in both local and national power. New coalitions are developing as the United States becomes a “majority minority” nation. African Americans, who have led the fight for racial justice in the U.S. for well over a century, have a critical role to play in guiding the country toward a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources. To get there, our cities will need to start guiding their economic development toward building pan-ethnic/working class power—with an educated, capable population that can guide the growth of their own communities. Some battles will have to be fought by winning community benefits agreements from specific developers, others might be won by citywide ordinances, and still others by collaboration with state and national entities capable of moving a progressive and community-centered politics.  In this section we get a glimpse of some case studies of what is wrong and what is right with our polity.  —Ed.


The great recession of 2008 continues, with official unemployment hovering at nine percent. Add under-employed workers and those who have given up looking for jobs, and the rate tops 16 percent. In communities of color, these rates are close to doubled. As people trickle back into the workforce, they are being offered jobs that pay less, have less benefits, and fewer “rights.” At the same time, the right wing has launched a concerted attack at local, state, and federal levels to deprive public employees of the right to collective bargaining, secure pensions, affordable health care, and fair work rules. “Good jobs” with decent pay, vacation, sick leave, retirement, and health insurance, in either the private or public sector, are becoming ever more scarce.

Last year at the U.S. Social Forum, a coalition of workers banded together to form the ”Excluded Workers Congress.” They are engaged in organizing in some of the toughest sectors of the U.S. economy. Farmworkers, domestic workers, taxi drivers, tipped employees in restaurants and salons, day laborers, truck drivers—all are working together to build new kinds of coalitions to win basic rights and to force employers to negotiate.  Efforts, such as the domestic workers bill of rights, passed in New York state last year, and the organizing of direct actions at a restaurant or job site hint at the range of the effort. In fact, as Saru Jayaraman points out, these challenges are not in the margin, they are in the mainstream. These “excluded workers” are actually central to our economy and to our well-being.

What is often overlooked in the public discourse about workers in this country is that the “good jobs”—such as union manufacturing work in industrial cities like Detroit—were not created “good jobs.” They became good jobs after a generation-long fight by auto and steel workers to form unions and to wrest concessions from both employers and governments. There is nothing intrinsically meaningful about working at an assembly line, putting together automobiles, or pouring steel. What made those jobs good was worker solidarity. Caring for children and the elderly, or harvesting and serving food are today viewed as “bad jobs.” Of course, if we get organized and fight, there is no reason why these“bad jobs” can’t be turned into good jobs. And sadly, when it comes to public employees: there’s also no intrinsic reason why a good job can’t be turned into a bad one. —Ed.

Filipina Domestic Workers on the Move


Imagine the life of a domestic worker—a caregiver, nanny, or housekeeper, serving in a private home. Now, imagine not being able to sleep for more than three hours a night, having to wake every few hours to change a patient’s diapers. Or only being allowed sponge baths by the sink, no showers. Or not having access to a kitchen because your patient dislikes the smell of your cooking. Imagine being treated as less than human. This was the experience of “Boots,” a Filipina caregiver from the Pilipino Workers Center who testified at the Assembly Labor hearing earlier this year.

Domestic workers are primarily immigrant women who are usually the primary income earners for their families. There about 200,000 domestic workers in California, according to the DataCenter. The vast majority of Asian domestic workers—97.8 percent—are foreign born. Without these immigrant domestic workers many Californians would be forced to forgo their own jobs to address their household needs, resulting in direct economic consequences for families and the economy. But despite the important nature of their work, domestic workers have historically received wages below the poverty line and continue to be excluded from some of the most fundamental labor protections that other California workers enjoy.

RP&E Release Party June 8, 2011

18-1 Cover Globalization Comes Home

 Causa Justa/ Just Cause rally, Oakland, CA. ©2011 CJJC
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Globalization Comes Home
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