(fwd) Rachel #619: Bridge to the High Road, Pt. 2


Richard Moore

Dear rn,

Jan is travelling, and I've been working on my book, so the rn-list has
been neglected recently.  Sorry.  I'll post this follow-up piece to the
earlier `rachel weekly' that was posted on 9 Oct.  Tomorrow I'll post some
of the material that readers have been sending in.


Date: Thu, 8 Oct 1998
To: •••@••.•••
Subject: Rachel #619: Bridge to the High Road, Pt. 2
From: •••@••.•••
Sender: •••@••.•••
Reply-To: •••@••.•••

=======================Electronic Edition========================
.                                                               .
.           RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #619           .
.                     ---October 8, 1998---                     .
.                          HEADLINES:                           .
.              THE BRIDGE TO THE HIGH ROAD, PT. 2               .
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.               Environmental Research Foundation               .
.              P.O. Box 5036, Annapolis, MD  21403              .
.      Fax (410) 263-8944; Internet: •••@••.•••       .
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Our major problems all seem connected:

** Real wages for working people have been dropping for 20 years
and there are no national policies (either governmental or
private) to counter this trend.  Indeed, there are legions of
senators, Chicago economists, newspaper editors, and captains of
finance who view this as a good thing --it holds inflation in
check and "disciplines" working people so they don't get their
expectations too high.  As an unspoken industrial policy, America
is vigorously pursuing the low road of economic development
--"de-industrializing" and expanding the low-paid service

** As wages drop, working people are taking two and three jobs
(increasingly, part-time without benefits) to make ends meet,
thus making it harder and harder to pay proper attention to
children, family, neighborhood and community life.  More and
more, people deal with their troubles separately and alone rather
than in any organized way.  The social fabric is becoming frayed
as people are forced by circumstances to turn inward.

** The people who are promoting the low road are themselves
getting rich.  The S&P 500 stock market index had quadrupled in
the past 5 years.[2]  Mergers and acquisitions now total a
trillion dollars each year.[3] In many cases, speculative
ventures have replaced solid, productive business as major
sources of new wealth.  The newspapers have taken to writing
coyly about our "casino economy."  Many of these speculative Wall
Street "deals" diminish the nation's productive capacity and
destroy good jobs.[4]

In short, many corporate chieftains have figured out that they
can make more money by buying and selling other corporations than
they can by providing high-quality goods and services.  The
chairman of U.S. Steel epitomized this view when he said, "We are
in business to make money, not steel."  And, sure enough,
American steel companies refused to modernize, foreign
competitors beat them to the punch, and the nation's
steel-producing capacity was destroyed.  Communities dependent
upon steel were simply written off, discarded, as thousands of
good jobs were knowingly destroyed.  This is the cynical face of
the low road.

** Our economy is now characterized by an astonishing inequality
--the richest 1% owns more than the bottom 90%.

** Inequality translates into political power for the few, and
disengagement for the many.  In both political parties, big money
translates directly into insider influence with elected officials
and lawmakers, leading to tax policies that benefit the
wealthiest 5% at the expense of everyone else.  This is the low

** Far fewer than 50% of the electorate actually vote, perhaps
because they see that the system offers no real choices and that
voting no longer promises to make any substantial difference in
their lives;

**  The "haves" have shown themselves dismayingly reluctant to
invest in anything that might specifically benefit the "have
nots."  This is the low road.  The wealthiest 40%, emulating the
top 1%, tend to favor tax decreases at almost any cost, so we are
cutting back the hours at our public libraries, and reducing
budgets for our public schools. With voucher proposals, we are
encouraging families to abandon our public schools entirely.  In
some central-city Baltimore public schools, the children have no
books, let alone computers.  No books. Thus are they being
prepared for entry into the information age.  Thus are we paving
a long, low road into the future.

** Government bureaucracies are still huge and burdensome, but
they are now in retreat, unresponsive, protected from public
access by labyrinthine voice-mail systems.

** Technological changes --the electronics and information
revolutions --have put a tremendous premium on quality and
quantity of education that most people cannot afford.  Yet
neither political party --nor the private sector --has proposed
programs to help large numbers of working people upgrade and
modernize their skills, to keep America competitive. This is the
low road.

** Forty percent of the nation's children are being raised in
poverty. The prisons are being expanded now to house them when
they grow up. This is the low road --turning our backs on the
development of our people, writing off whole central-city

In sum: America's governmental and private-sector leaders have
chosen the "low road" of economic development --the road that:

** seeks short-term, speculators' gain for a small portion of the
"private sector" no matter what the costs to communities or the
nation's productive capacity;

** treats workers like any other inanimate cost of production,
relentlessly driving down wages;

** actively discourages worker organizations;

** insists that firms and capital remain footloose and ready to
move offshore at the first sign that a community expects
something in return for hosting a firm;

** pays lip service to environmental values but refuses to
develop sustainable alternatives, such as renewable sources of
energy, and blunders ahead with powerful, poorly-understood
technologies like genetically-engineered crops.

In sum, the "low road" is now synonymous with "business as usual"
in America.  And we are told that this is all inevitable and
unchallengeable, made so by forces of "globalization" that are
entirely beyond our control.

Fortunately, there is another way, though getting there will not
be easy.  Dan Swinney, of the Midwest Center for Labor Research
in Chicago has recently published a manifesto called BUILDING THE
BRIDGE TO THE HIGH ROAD, subtitled Expanding Participation and
Democracy in the Economy to Build Sustainable Communities.[5]  It
could be as important as the PORT HURON STATEMENT was in 1964,
provoking a generation of activists to do their best thinking.[6]

Swinney has worked for 20 plus years in Chicago, as a machinist,
labor union activist, and, most recently, analyst helping small
and mid-sized companies buck the trend and stay in business in
Chicago.  The low road has cost Chicago 80,000 good jobs in the
last 20 years, and Swinney thinks 75% of those jobs could have
been saved by people taking the right actions at the right time.
Recently, Swinney's purview has expanded to New York City and
beyond because the "low road" is destroying jobs and productive
capacity everywhere, and everywhere people are looking for
answers.  Swinney's "high road" manifesto is the beginning of
Swinney's answer --he says he'll probably turn it into a book
during the next year or two.

The high road is about developing the nation's economy around
high-wage jobs, investing in people and equipment to make firms
efficient and productive and therefore competitive and
profitable.  But it's about more than that.  It's about people in
communities taking responsibility for CREATING WEALTH, insisting
that they can control their local and regional economies.

This is the most far-reaching message for environmental and
community activists in Swinney's paper.

For years, in an unspoken social contract, we have allowed the
business community to create wealth, and we --tens of millions of
us working in different ways --have restricted our efforts to
urging a fair distribution of that wealth.  Labor unions have
urged that working people get their fair share.  Housing
activists have pressed for homeless people to get at least a
pittance.  Many people have urged that libraries and schools
should get decent funding, that the minimum wage be raised, that
the well-to-do pay their fair share of taxes. Others have urged
that the salmon be protected, the trees preserved, and that
"justice for all" must include environmental justice.  Most of us
have approached these problems in a single-issue way, focusing
our efforts narrowly, fiercely, without letup.  But we have taken
a hands-off approach to business.

It is now clear that we have failed --failed to achieve a fair
distribution of benefits, failed to persuade the well-to-do to
invest adequately in the nation's human capacity, its
infrastructure, or its productive capacity, failed to protect the
ecosystems provide the platform that supports us all.

And so the old social contract is broken.  It is simply no longer
in effect.  Communities and working people must begin to see
themselves as having the responsibility to not merely
redistribute wealth, but also to CREATE wealth and to do it
sustainably.  It will take 30 or 40 years to make the transition
to the high road, but we are left with no choice.  We must seek
control of the economy, insisting on our right and our capacity
to manage it at every level.  That is what it means to be a
sovereign people.  Only then can the economy be made modern,
efficient, and sustainable.

In Swinney's view, the high road is characterized by:

** Development that is environmentally sustainable, which
requires companies to make products and use processes that are
good for the health of workers, consumers, and surrounding
communities; and that restore rather than damage the environment;

** Good jobs that can support a family and allow time for
leisure, education, and social participation;

** Development that is socially sustainable, with a goal of
overcoming historic divisions and oppressions related to race,
class, gender, and national origin.

** A strategic alliance between the labor movement and political,
democratic, environmental, economic, new immigrant, and social

** Recognition that labor and community must accept the
responsibility to lead in creating wealth and developing
productive capacity;

** Recognition that the business sector includes friends and
allies as well as low-roaders, and that we must be prepared to
modify a narrow anti-corporate analysis;

** Identifying market forces as well as mass movements as our
tools and terrain for change;

** Being entrepreneurial --seeking to be leaders in the market
place as well as in the social and political world --and defining
the essential connection between the two;

** Defining a clear role for government, including a
responsibility to expand our civic structure and life, and to
measure success in governance by progress at the company and
community levels.

Dan's paper is much richer in detail that we can recapture here.
He offers numerous vignettes of real companies in real
communities struggling to get onto the high road, some succeeding
and some failing. Dan's paper is not the last word on this broad
and deep subject, but it is an excellent first crack at stating
the problem and the direction we need to go.

Dan is a member of the board of directors of Sustainable America
(SA). We urge all our readers, including elected officials and
business people, to join Sustainable America, so that, together,
we can build a strong infrastructure for ongoing multi-issue
work. Check out www.sanetwork.org, send E-mail to
•••@••.•••, or telephone executive director Elaine
Gross in New York City: (212) 239-4221.
                                                --Peter Montague
                (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)

COSTS OF A LOW-WAGE SYSTEM (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993,

[2] Data from Prophet Information: www.prophetinfo.com.

[3] "Merger Volume Caves in Amid Fall Market Slump," INVESTOR'S
BUSINESS DAILY October 6, 1998, pg. 1

[4] Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, AMERICA: WHAT WENT
WRONG? (Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1992).  And see Donald
L. Barlett and James B. Steele, AMERICA: WHO REALLY PAYS THE
TAXES? (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994).  Barlett and Steele
both work for the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

Illinois: Midwest Center for Labor Research, 1998).  Available
from the world wide web --www.mclr.com --though you have to
download it in 14 sections and reassemble them into one piece.
You can also order a paper copy for $10 from MCLR, Room 10, 3411
W. Diversy, Chicago, IL 60647; phone (773) 278-5418.

[6] The text of the PORT HURON STATEMENT is available many places
on the world wide web. For example, see http://lists.village.vir-
(omit the hyphen).

Descriptor terms:  democracy; economy; inequality; wealth;
poverty; sustainable america;

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