In San Francisco there is a new gentrification project going on in Bayview/Hunters Point, a predominantly Black community made up of people already displaced from the great Fillmore District gentrification project in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
When I first moved into a flat in San Francisco’s now famous Castro district (bordering the Fillmore) in 1966, the community was half Black. Within a year or two it became almost all white. The rents began to skyrocket. Renovations were going on all over and it was not uncommon to see Victorian houses moving through the streets on super-wide trucks as the Fillmore and Castro districts were being transformed and gentrified. Now Fillmore Street boasts of the most expensive boutiques in the city. It borders on Pacific Heights, the wealthiest community in the city, and one of the wealthiest communities in the world.
Now, especially in this commuting-nightmare situation of today, where many former residents of the city who were forced to move into the suburbs are experiencing a threefold increase in their commute time to and from work, the Bayview/Hunters Point district with its warm San Francisco summers (the warmest district, right on the bay and in close proximity to downtown) sits on choice land.
The City and County of San Francisco is bound and determined to transform it into luxury land but has to get rid of the Black community first. It is using every means, including the implementation of eminent domain (whereby local governments may force property owners to sell out and make way for private economic development when officials decide it would “benefit the public”); citing building-inspection violations against elderly owners of dilapidated homes; frequent code inspections of Black-owned businesses in the community, etc., to achieve their goal of driving out the Black and poor from the community.
They even disqualified a petition that gathered over 33,000 signatures this summer to put a measure on the ballot against the current gentrification plans in the Bayview/Hunters Point district. A court case is pending against the city government office that dismissed the petition out of hand and against all ballot regulations. (A declaration by the city’s own signature-verification worker stated that the required number of signatures were valid and received on time to qualify the initiative for the ballot.)
They are beginning to use yet a new tactic“gang injunctions”to facilitate the removal of the Black population. Gang injunctions have been used to evict tenants from public housing. If you have a child in a gang, you’re out. If you have a relative who’s a drug user and they come to your house to stay a few days, you’re out. And so on.
Those the police identify as gang members are subject to immediate search and arrest at any moment and are not allowed out in the street after midnight; they can’t stand outside a store or in front of their house together with one or more persons; and they’re barred from public housing altogether.
What the City completely ignores is the unbelievably high unemployment rate and rates of abject poverty in this same community, as well as in similar poor communities across the country. Here are some statistics, taken from a March 20, 2006, New York Times article, “Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn,” by Erik Eckholm:
“The share of young Black men without jobs has climbed relentlessly, with only a slight pause during the economic peak of the late 1990s. In 2000, 65 percent of Black male high school dropouts in their 20s were joblessthat is, unable to find work, not seeking it, or incarcerated. By 2004, the share had grown to 72 percent, compared with 34 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts. Even when high school graduates were included, half of Black men in their 20s were jobless in 2004, up from 46 percent in 2000.... Incarceration rates climbed in the 1990s and reached historic highs in the past few years. In 1995, 16 percent of Black men in their 20s who did not attend college were in jail or prison; by 2004, 21 percent were incarcerated. By their mid-30s, 6 in 10 Black men who had dropped out of school had spent time in prison.
“In the inner cities, more than half of all Black men do not finish high school.... With the shift from factory jobs, unskilled workers of all races have lost ground, but none more so than Blacks. By 2004, 50 percent of Black men in their 20s who lacked a college education were jobless, as were 72 percent of high school dropouts, according to data compiled by Bruce Western, a sociologist at Princeton and author of the forthcoming book “Punishment and Inequality in America” (Russell Sage Press). These are more than double the rates for white and Hispanic men....
“Among Black dropouts in their late 20s, more are in prison on a given day34 percentthan are working30 percentaccording to an analysis of 2000 census data by Steven Raphael of the University of California, Berkeley.”
These are conditions resulting from centuries of slavery, racism and imperialist-capitalist exploitation around the world. And this is the daily brutal reality that poor and working poor residents of Bayview/Hunters Point and in all such districts around the country must endure. The same thing is happening in poor white communities. The difference between those in the inner cities and those in the deteriorating rural areas is that nobody wants the land in the rural areas. It’s only logical that those who can afford to pay the highest price for real estate will buy up the choicest property in the country. This is happening in all the metropolitan cities around the worldit’s a worldwide trend.
When the gang injunction was put into effect on November 22, 2006, for the first time in San Francisco, I searched the Internet with the words “gang injunction,” thinking that the relevant article pertaining to the S.F. injunction would come up right away. To my surprise, lists of gang injunctions came up all over the countryespecially in areas that the real estate is at a premium.
This is just one more arm of the war on the poor designed to divide worker against worker and enforce oppressive police measures against the poorest communities.
How capitalism benefits from criminalizationof the poor
The City and County of San Francisco are supposed to use only local labor for their constructions projectsprivate or public. This sounds good, except for the fact that anyone with a felony is disqualified. Drug tests further screen prospective construction workers, almost all of whom are young and reflect the high rate of drug use among youth of all colors, economic status, and ethnic backgrounds in today’s world. Statistics show that young people use drugscertainly marijuanaon a routine basis, yet drug screening disproportionately leaves Black youth out of job opportunities since they represent the bulk of the applicants for the hardest and lowest paid jobs.
Because Black and Latino youth are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated, their criminal records further screen them out of job opportunities. Youth with felony records are disqualified from government financial aid for collegeeven community college. This is being fought but the incidences of discrimination are rampant. The criminal records follow these youth to adulthood and remain an anchor to poverty and hopelessness.
San Francisco construction projects routinely violate the rule to hire within the community and to employ union labor. Their excuse? They can’t find a drug-free or criminal-record-free applicant. But there has been a building boom of sorts, especially in California. In a review of Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s new book, “Golden Gulag Prisons, Surplus, Crisis and Opposition in Globalizing California”, which appeared in the S an Francisco Chronicle of December 31, 2006, author Tony Platt explains:
“California may lag behind many other states in high school graduation rates, welfare benefits, and investment in public health, but when it comes to punishment, we rank at or near the top. We’ve crammed 173,000 convicts into the nation’s largest prison system, designed to house at least one-third less. Our prison suicide and recidivism rates approach twice the national average. And we have one of the most extravagant penal systems in the country, costing taxpayers about the same as the state spends on higher education.... Today, 90 penitentiaries, small prisons and camps stretch across 900 miles of the fifth-largest economy in the world. It hasn’t always been this way. Between 1852 and 1964, California built only 12 prisons. Since 1984, the state has erected 43 penal institutions, making it a global leader in prison construction.
“Most of the new prisons have been built in out-of-the-way rural areas, making it easier to lose sight of the humanity of the people we warehouse: mostly men (93 percent), mostly Latinos and African Americans (two-thirds), mostly from big cities (60 percent from Los Angeles), and mostly unemployed or the working poor.”
Now there is a massive criminalization of undocumented workers going on across the countrymany of whom share the same communities with Black America. Police occupation of the inner cities is being beefed up and expanded with new technology. They are putting up cameras on targeted street corners; in front of every store; in front of public housing; and anywhere young people tend to gather. In some of these communities it is illegal for youth to gather, periodunless it’s at a private residence that isn’t a housing project, a club, a store, or a ball game. I’m not kidding. In San Francisco after 8:00 p.m., kids are not allowed to sit together in a park. That’s illegal. So is hanging out together on a street corner or on a front stoop.
Money for human needs, not war
Compounding the problems of youth, the general lack of employment, and the high incarceration rate, is the fact that youth between 17 and 25 years of age are just now feeling the impact of the multi-tiered union contracts their parents have been forced to sign. These kids will earn, on average, half what their parents earned at the same job. They won’t be able to afford to flee the nest. And many of them have children of their own. Families are doubling up as they did in the Depression.
The multi-trillion-dollar U.S. war machine is feeding on these very youth. With nothing but illegal street sales that lead to incarceration, or a job at the local burger joint or supermarket to look forward to for an income, the military seems like a good alternative. Especially when the recruiters lie and tell them they won’t go to war. The military also preys on poor rural areas, where they are sometimes more successful because the youth so desperately want to get out. Many of their parents have suffered the effects of factories closing down and the lack of employment that results. These youth are more vulnerable to the allure of the military because there are no opportunities available in these communities that will allow them to rise above abject poverty.
The military is even promising instant citizenship to non-citizens if they join. But less than 10 percent ever actually get citizenship; it’s easy to be disqualified for myriad reasonslike getting drunk, say. Oh, you still get to stay and be cannon fodder, but you are disqualified for future citizenship, or even benefits. There are now plans to search Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America for volunteers for the U.S. military, offering the chance of citizenship as a lure. This will be a mercenary army being paid with the “promise” of citizenship and the “American way of life.”
This is nothing but gang mentality: “We will provide for you if you fight for us. And if you don’t, we’ll relegate you to poverty and the constant threat of deportation, imprisonment or worse.” Ironically, the capitalist class cannot survive without the masses, but the masses can save all of humanity by disarming the capitalistsboth financially and militarily.
This is a job for organized labor!
The recent Swift raids and the courageous stand of the fellow workers of those who were arrested is an inspiration. Autoworkers are also beginning to organize into a fighting force. Joining all our forces together can become the axis of a new revolutionary movement to defend the rights of all workersorganized and unorganized, documented and undocumented.
The Democratic Party, which intends to dazzle American workers with a meager increase in the minimum wagean increase that still leaves the working poor living on starvation wageswill not be able to significantly change the circumstance of the poor. The capitalist can’t afford to raise the standard of living of the poor without dipping into the untouchable zone of soaring private profits. They will and must continue to squeeze more, send more troops, hire more police, and militarily assault more of the world to maintain their domination and control over wealth, power, and natural resources, no matter whose borders they have to cross to get them. From oil to gold to diamond minesthe capitalists want to get their hands on it all. And right now, U.S. capitalists are the most powerful.
The American labor movement is in a position to organize the unorganized. By taking up the rallying cry of Blacks, Latinos, and white workers for a decent living wage, healthcare, and educational opportunitiesespecially for the youngby taking up the rallying cry of the most disadvantaged workers of every ethnic background, the American labor movement can expand its own ranks, broaden its base of support, and successfully challenge capitalism’s interminable greed.
But no matter how many victories workers win, as long as capitalism is in control, every one of these victories will be continually challenged. To defeat these challenges, workers need to stand united against capitalists and capitalism. Together, the workers of the world are an undefeatable force. We make everything work and we can make it stop working. This is the power of organized labor acting in its own defense.
As leaders of the working class, organized labor has the job of giving workers the tools necessary to harness the great power of the growing turmoil. Labor must show how to direct its energy against capitalism by organizing working-class solidarity in defense of all workersdocumented or undocumented, Black or Latino or whatever race, religion or ethnic background they are from. The captains of laborthose who are already organized into a fighting forcemust begin to organize the unorganized working class to join their ranks throughout the world and across all borders, as the capitalists do. This is the depth and breadth of solidarity needed to turn back these attacks and disarm and defeat the ruthless and bloodthirsty capitalist attacker.
The single-minded principles of international working-class solidarity for a world socialist revolution, the legacy of Lenin and Trotsky based upon the fundamental analysis of Marx and Engels, still form the bedrock of the struggle for human emancipation to come. This is because the basic contradictory forces between workers and their bosses is still the reality of capitalism on an international scale. But it’s the workers themselvesalso positioned internationallythat have the jackhammers and the know-how to break up the foundations of capitalism and render their military might defenseless.
We are only as strong as our weakest link. Our success will depend on how seriously the organized labor movement adheres to the principle that an injury to one is an injury to all and carries it out in concrete and unified defensive action.
Special role of international, revolutionary socialists
Revolutionary socialists have the further responsibility to make the class line clear! At every opportunity we must show that, indeed, this is a class struggle between two fundamentally contradictory forceslabor and capitaland that either labor is victorious or life on our planet will end at the hands of the capitalist class and their mighty weapons of earthly destruction.
We must take up the struggle of inner-city youth; we must defend undocumented workers; we must demand an immediate end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the War on Terror! We must demand that all the troops be brought home now and that all U.S. funding and support to Israel be stopped immediately. We must demand that massive financial reparations be made to the people this government falsely made war uponmaking sure the money comes from the profits of the giant corporations that have already profited from this bloody war for oil.
We must further demand that the multi-trillion-dollar Pentagon budgetvoted for by a 100 to 0 vote by the U.S. Senate last yearshould be reallocated to fulfill the needs of the people! We should demand that we tax the rich not the poor, and promote a progressive income tax beginning with incomes over $100,000, say. Enforce a sharply increasing rate of tax for incomes higher than $100,000 per year, i.e., a progressive income tax where the rich pay more and at higher, graduated rates and the poor don’t pay at all.
We must demand that the giant war budget be redirected to social and human services such as improved housing and healthcare for all workers, the sick, the very young, and the elderly. (It is a testament to capitalist injustice that we even have to spell this out!) We must defend the inalienable right of all human beings to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That includes the right to move to a location that will offer such when no such opportunity exists where one lives. (Should we blame the masses who left the drought-ridden dust bowl during the Great Depression to find work in California to quench their thirst and feed their bellies, for leaving certain death for a chance for survival?)
A powerful organized labor movement capable of organizing the unorganized will be able to show concretely that universal labor solidarity in defense of these basic human rights, whenever they are threatened, can ensure them for everyone!
This will require that unconstitutional labor laws be revoked; that workers from one industry, indeed, should go out on strike in support of workers from other industries; that documented and native-born citizens should support undocumented immigrant workers and their right to enjoy the same pay, benefits, and conditions that they have. This kind of labor solidarity increases workers’ power. In fact, workers in each industry should organize themselves to fight for the same demands in each country across the globeafter all; they very often work for the same corporations! The right to strike should be exercised across all borders. That is workers’ solidarity!
These are just a few examples of the power and effectiveness of labor solidarity and how it could solve so many of the economic problems faced by the vast majority of humanity at the hands of the elite and wealthy one percent. As dedicated Marxists, Leninists, and Trotskyists, that’s our job. That’s what we’re supposed to aim the world’s working class toward.
We already have a vast and powerful arsenal of Marxist thinking and practice. We have the advantage of watching history in action from a Marxist point of view and over a dynamic period of changefrom a period of an increase in the living conditions of workers to a marked, overall decreasein both living standards and in numbers of organized workers in the past 50 or so years. We have seen the fall of the Soviet Union, on the one hand, and the perseverance of the Cuban revolution and the spread of its influence across Latin America and the world, on the other. And we are witnessing a speed-of-light increase in the gap between the wealthy and poor of the globe. Profits cross all borders freely while workers are criminalized for seeking work where they can.
We are standing on the threshold of a new day. The economic impact of lower wages and higher costs will force the issue. Workers will be compelled to fight back and the capitalists themselves will be helpless to stop it.
In the words of my mother, the great revolutionary fighter “I am an optimist. I have witnessed the magnificent power of the workers in struggle for their unions, women who have defended our clinics against the pro-life fanatics, Blacks who have fought and won against the most racist system of Jim Crow, and oppressed people who have the power to fight and the will to win. If we are united and know who the real enemy is, we cannot lose.”
We who consider ourselves revolutionary Marxists, are obligated to illuminate the glowing pathway of revolutionary worker’s solidarity for a world socialist revolution, which will ultimately lead to human salvation and universal emancipation.