Midwest Conference on Technology, Employment & Community

Chicago Circle Center, UIC, 750 South Halsted, Chicago, March 2 - 4, 1995

Notes on PLENARY #3: MOVING FORWARD, PART 1: Local Initiatives

Introduction by Abdul Alkalimat

Alice Palmer, Illinois State Senator

I arrived back from one of the war zones last night which is why this meeting is so important. We have used many means of struggle - the courts, the elections, etc. - it is clear that the legislatures are moving quickly to close off access to these means of struggle. We have to figure out how to forge our local work into a new strategic fightback. Dont agonize, but analyze and organize.

Dave Ranney, Center for Urban Economic Development, University of Illinois at Chicago

CUED is tech research and assistance center to meet economic development needs of Chicago community. Our principles of operation form the basis for this panel: Focus on communities, designed to meet their needs, engage their participation in resolving problems, a grassroots approach. Global econ gone through significant changes during the life of CUED. Despite tremendous increase in productivity, the communities have been continuously declining. The net loss of manufacturing jobs has been 153,000, over half of which are lost to African American and Latino workers. These jobs have not been compensated by service jobs. Thus we face massive unemployment and alarming rate of homelessness. These trends in Chicago reflect national trends. The loss of well paying manufacturing jobs, especially to African American and Latinos, attribute to development of so-called underclass. Some blame this on decline of morality or family values; we see it as caused by the loss of jobs. Clinton's administration is proposing retraining of the unemployed for high tech jobs. The flaw in this that research shows that high tech industry is not supplying new jobs and secondly that the disparity in income between poverty and wealth is not the result of high tech market. Our research and analysis of Chicago suggests that global economic policy seeks to cheapen labor costs worldwide through a variety of means. Thus, we need to address immediate problems of the community caused by job loss, but that this is not enough. We organize for a line of defense while seeking strategic long term solutions. Locally, we need to link labor market and development economic policies. Most production is occuring through highly mobile global webs. At the same time there is some economic development that is fixed in place so a community based development strategy needs to focus on their needs connected to their hiring and procurement policies. In connection with this we focus on training in basic skills and, retraining. But this strategy is limited given the global economy. Our immediate strategy needs to be linked to strategy to move labor and community into the broader arena. Thus, the concept of solidarity needs to be extended globally. There are social movements and organizations working for worldwide standards for labor. We can connect with this. I have been working with people in Canada, US and Mexico toward production of policy for a sustainable economic development for the hemisphere. Critical to bring the community and the international struggles together.

Lourdes Silva, Comite Latino

Organization is 12 years old on the northside. Work with the Latino community around issues of housing, education, etc and currently dealing with the impact of the anti immigrant initiatives recently based. Elimination of jobs results in greater difficulty for these people to survive. This crisis is taking place in the homelands of the immigrants as well as here. We no longer see the back and forth movement because the opportunities have been closed.

The anti immigrant sentiment is more and more dangerous, forcing the immigrant population underground. 50% of Latino children and youth live at or below the poverty level. Median income is c. $12,000. Immigrants are facing more obstacles, the potential elimination of bilingual education, the dropping of legal immigrants from services. High tech is being used punitively, eg the proposal for electronic identity cards. The immigrant worker is part of the globalization of the economy. Their presence here is propelled by the economic system we are part of. Growth of immigrant population has been 45% in last 10 years. The economy stills provides low wage unskilled jobs in production and in home service where immigrants are employed.

We need to work with our communities to build our dignity and from there work for solutions to our common problems. We are barraged by phone calls from people laid off and victims of the anti immigrant sentiment, facing crisis at work at home in the community. We work to educate our community, to build consciousness that it is possible to change. We need to go on the offensive. We realize that without the immigrant population this economy would sink, so therefore we enter into every sphere of social life - churches, streets, schools, homes - to build groups. Crucial that the victims not be the objects of society, but an integral part of the search for solutions.

We recently developed an association of workers, now c. 80 people to solve problems faced by unemployment and poverty. They have developed job bank and have trained selves in job search related, work related and fight back skills. They are choosing to fight where in the past they might have been passive. Because it is an international question, people need to confront the structures which are keeping them down. We need to create multiple bases of power in the community to exert pressure on the power structure. We work together to strengthen ourselves through education and to create alternatives to what we know today. We need to break with what the current structure provides. This will provide basis for new society.

Orrin Williams, People for Community Recovery

We exist on the southeast side. The housing project where it was born is known as and called a toxic donut, the center of a number of toxic dump sites. We concentrate on environmental issues, but they cannot be separated from issues of economic justice. Our founder is called the founder of the environmental justice movement. We work in various movements and organizations fighting for economic justice such as the Common Sense initiative. We face manufactureres and environmental agencies at all levels. Business claims regulations make it difficult for them to make profit rather than the community issues of quality of life.

What is the interface between technology and community economic development? Our people see a lot of opportunities. 60% of housing stock needs to be repaired; 40% needs to be replaced. These are opportunities. In terms of energy, look at windows, they all need to be retrofitted for maximum control of heat and cold transfer. This is work. We had 400 applicants for 60 positions to do lead base paint abatement. There is money available for more. These are critical opportunities. Industrial sites which have left need cleaning up. Some of this space in conjunction with rural community could be used to develop urban agriculture program or could be used for schools. Landfill sites give off methane and gas which can be used as energy for agriculture development. Also we can produce fish in our communities. Do we need supermarkets? Use this space to grow vegetables. What we're getting out is the notion that there is plenty of work to be done, ongoing, sustainable, providing opportunity for many people. Somehow we have to figure out how to develop the capital base to provide new way of looking at things and supporting the work that needs to be done.

Phil Nyden, Policy Research Action Group, Loyola University

For five years we have sought to bring resources of university to the community. We also seek to coordinate efforts. We also help bring about social change. We provide information to pressure politicians and agencies. The relationship is not always smooth. There are examples of collaboration between researchers and community action. Research can provide effective information in social action battles. The kernels of the solutions exist in the communities. Corporations hire researchers; this model can possibly work for the community. Successful collaboraton requires collaboration every step of the way. Within the university, this expands the definition of who should be involved in research; it expands the definition of peers. This breaks through the arrogance which creates research which is totally irrelevant.

From academic side, we have developed view that we need community sensitive research. Academics can provide translation service between community and other academics. We create demand to write so the community can understand our research. We seek to develop trust. We provide a common ground between the university and the community, a free ground. We seek to better use the research capacity. We seek to link up needs of the community with those who can best provide it. We seek to expand the network of people doing this research, training and bringing in young people. Our Community Research Action Group involves 4 universities and at this time 15 community groups. We provide funds to hire interns and fund research projects coming from the community. Over past 3 years we have supported 100 projects. What is now possible especially through computer networks, we can get communities coming up with answers to national and international problems.

Alice Palmer

We are dealing with contradictions. On one hand the theme of this conference - sharing, working for better future for all and on the other hand, the view that there are limited resources and we need to batten down hatches to keep our own. Regean administration was a test run for what's happening now. Block grants where the beginning of the current movement toward states rights. How do we use the community initiatives to build across state lines, globally, etc. They try to fragment us. Power concedes nothing without a demand. We need to figure out what the demand is.


What about problem of pitting immigrant workers and others against each other? Can we appeal to the good will of the corporations? Dont we need to support policies of no boundaries?
They have succeeded in dividing the community. The employment patterns arise not from individual will but from the economic structure. How do we break with the way the multinationals have set up the problem? Lead to know and understand what drives labor to cross borders, then we stop looking to blame each other. We need to look to organize across national lines.

Labor market is worldwide from point of view of multinational corporations. Our politicians try to make us look at it narrowly. We need to see that whether people migrate to work or stay at home, we are all still in same labor market and competing. This understanding needs to be the basis of understanding how to approach our common interest.

Will this conference result in formation of group to keep on this work?
Yes, the organizers see the need.

How viable is it to develop backyard cottage industries? How can we overcome human rights violation which third world workers are subjected to?
At PCR we look for environmentally based cottage industry and look for entrepreneurial interest to develop them. We try to develop entrepreneurial skills.

Have very painful memories of states rights as someone who lives in Alabama. Our governor just ordered 500 leg irons and plans on reinstituting the chain gang. States rights puts exclusive power in his hands. Is this what we want? How do we make the connections which can lead us to making the big changes? How do we transform society while fighting for these immediate battles?
That's the question of the day. How do we use the struggles at the local level without turning it into small is beautiful. You will never be able to understand the eye of the storm if you dont go beyond the edge. We need to learn and organize. Now its possible to bring about the change we seek.

How has the new technology problematized the agenda for the left? How has it made it more difficult to transform society?
This conference is a beginning of finding the answers.
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Last modified: Thu Mar 9 13:54:05 1995