Attention Glenn Beck: Capitalism, not unions, is the problem

DETROIT – People in Detroit do not usually pay attention to the senseless claptrap coming from Glenn Beck. Around the country more should follow that wise policy. However our local custom changed this past Monday.

That’s when Beck on his Fox News show singled out this proud city, pronouncing that Hiroshima was rebuilt thanks to a free-market spirit but Detroit lies in ruins because it has been corrupted by liberals and unions. Beck claims those unions made Detroit uncompetitive.

You might say steam is coming out of folks’ ears here over this. People are outraged in this union town, built by the toil of working people, black, brown and white. Not missed by anyone in this majority African American city is the racist inference that Detroit’s residents are the root of the problem.

Now, it’s true, Detroit has come a long way down from its heyday, when it was a bustling city with crowded streets, stores filled with goods and people who stood in line to buy them.

The same could be said for many other cities throughout this country. And not just the cities. One can get off most any interstate, travel the rural roads and see town after town (with mostly white populations) with empty main streets and boarded up stores.

What went wrong?

It certainly wasn’t unions. They have helped keep the American dream alive longer than it would have on its own. When there were ample union jobs and decent wages, working families had the ability to jam the stores, eat in the restaurants, and go to the movies. Those jobs and the incomes they provided were the life support for many small businesses, and the big ones too. Detroiters were among the best customers for Big Three cars.

The short version of what went wrong is that capitalism and in the case of Detroit, racism, combined to set back this great city and cities and towns across the country. Capitalism’s drive to maximize profits caused it to abandon this city, and globalization made the job easier. Ford found it could make automobiles in Mexico, Brazil, and many other places by paying less than the minimum wage. Same for General Motors, Chrysler and a host of other manufacturers.

Contrary to Beck, this didn’t just happen in Detroit or the United States. The world over, corporations have basically abandoned their home countries and workers in search of higher profits and lower wages elsewhere.

That drive for profit also caused capital to flow from productive uses to Wall Street where higher profits could be made gambling in unregulated financial markets.

In Detroit, African Americans and other people of color experienced a double whammy: racism

From the 1930s through the 1960s the policy of redlining severely limited the housing choices for people of color. They couldn’t move into the suburbs because their color alone automatically disqualified them from getting loans. Nor could they receive the loans necessary to fix up their current residences. Neighborhoods were destined to decline.

By the time the Fair Housing Law was passed in 1968, segregation and suburban sprawl were entrenched.

Today many in this city are working to help it “rise up” but help is needed. And interestingly, Hiroshima provides a good example. Why not a massive government intervention in Detroit – just like the one Hiroshima had so it could rebuild? A sustained federal government commitment to rebuild Detroit, provide jobs, and restructure the region’s economy along green lines is exactly what this city deserves and has earned, through the labor of its residents that produced so much wealth over the decades.

Ending this city’s jobs deficit will also help end its budget deficit as the unemployed begin earning and paying more in taxes.

Speaking of which, why doesn’t Beck place demands on Wall Street and the super-rich? They are on the dole, being supported with our money. Isn’t it time for us to stop being so “liberal” with our cash?

That day is coming closer. As the demonstrations in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan have shown, people are indeed growing tired of far-right extremism, scapegoating of unions and the racism, hatred and division coming from people like Beck.

Organizing for 2012 is already getting started. Let’s add him and his right wing Republican friends to the unemployment rolls.

Photo: Andrew Ressa // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


John Rummel
John Rummel

Activist John Rummel covers events in Michigan. It's not politics-only for John; he loves sports, the outdoors and a cold beer or two!