Monday, November 14, 2011

The death of manufacturing and the death of a neighborhood

Everyone who cares about the city of Milwaukee ought to read this entire article from yesterday's front page:

Where city factories, and now babies, die

There is something so very wrong here, even more than what these journalists penetrate as they describe what the death of manufacturing has to do with the shocking levels of poverty, deaths of babies, and abandonment of whole neighborhoods.

Just one rotting factory at the 30th St. Industrial Corridor.
This story is about the 30th Street Industrial Corridor, a stretch of toxic wasteland that I had the opportunity to briefly tour in September with the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. There have been other studies and articles written about the link between poverty and the crash of this neighborhood - due in large part to the moving of manufacturing out of the U.S. as corporations chased growing cheap labor pools in other countries.

But for me one of the most shocking things was the abandonment of these workers who once built and assembled the things that we used, that created the base of a broad middle-class. Racism had a lot to do with this, as we all know but hardly ever say out loud (it needs to be said out loud). The tax money of the middle and upper-middle classes poured out of the city as the affluent moved out to suburbs and exurbs. We failed to see the connections between the two, mostly because we didn't want to, and we certainly failed the moral test of the mutual responsibility that comes from living in this world and in a particular community.

For me, one of the shockers was that all these manufacturing companies could just close up and disappear with no sense of responsibility for what they were leaving behind. As our tour guide said, some of them left in the middle of the night - a way to avoid scrutiny and outcry. Left behind were not only abandoned workers and their families, but also a toxic contaminated mess, land so polluted that the city can't even make plans to reclaim this area without having to remove hundreds of thousands of tons of contaminated soil off the top (the guy said 2-3 FEET covers much of the area) and old seeping waste tanks buried underground.

This is among the aspects of capitalism that reveals its voraciousness, selfishness, and greed - that these companies felt and feel no responsibility about leaving in a responsible way - taking their factories apart and cleaning up the mess on their way out. No care for the humans; no care for the land and community.

It's a lot like Walmart and other big box stores. They come; they go; they leave their big box store and paved over land behind for someone else to worry about.

It is not time to rebuild the manufacturing economy of the post- World War II era. It is time to build a new economy altogether, one that puts the well-being of our communities at its heart, one that promotes the health and happiness of the people who live in these neighborhoods, one that does not tear at the fabric of the human community but binds us together.

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