Windy City Blown Away by Globalization

Chicago Blues: Windy City workers

    blown away by new global order


David Ranney, Global Decisions, Local Collisions (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003) $19.95 paper




By Roger Bybee


The City of Big Shoulders, at least for the vast majority of Chicago’s residents, now sags under the weight of corporate globalization’s downward pull on wages, environmental conditions, and genuinely democratic decisionmaking.


While the Gold Coast along Lake Michigan and a number of gentrified areas continue to boom for the wealthy and relatively affluent professionals and executives, large swaths of Chicago have been transformed from vibrant working-class communities into graffiti-scarred, boarded-up shells. It’s as if some gigantic force had ripped the industrial backbone out of blue-collar neighborhoods, leaving them to flop about helplessly.[i]


That gigantic force, according to urban planner and activist David Ranney, is the “new world order” of global capitalism, as he argues in his very valuable new book, Global Decisions, Local Collisions. Ranmey skillfully draws out the linkages between the radical restructuring of the global economy and the re-configuring of urban space—to maximize corporate profit and control– at the expense of any non-monetary values.”The new world order is a mode of accumulation that continues to destroy claims on value and cheapens the costs of production—particularly labor costs,” argues Ranney[ii] Even the low-wage sites that gain jobs–the US South, Mexico, and the Caribbean–soon discover that they are pitted against even lower-wage nations, especially China. [iii]  “Thus, there is no guarantee that the fruits of lower labor costs of global firms will result in investment in any particular place,” Ranney concludes.[iv]


The increasing mobility of capital means the ability to shutter plants and devastate communities, and to extract concessions from  workers  as well as state and national governments, which both drain the public sector and force their re-orientation to serve as the guarantors of a “good business climate” first and foremost.[v] In operation, the new world order means, as globalization analyst David Korten neatly puts it,


“communities and workers competing against each other to absorb even more of the costs of the world’s most powerful and profitable corporations.”[vi]


A particularly appalling example of this shifting of social costs is evident in Juarez, Mexico, which contains the largest concentration of primarily US-owned “maquiladora” plants along the border. Because major corporations pay no taxes and only minimal annual fees,  Juarez Mayor Gustavo Elizondo complained:

      “We have no way to provide water, sewage, and sanitation works. Every year we

        get poorer and poorer even though we create more and more wealth.  [vii]


As suggested by the Juarez example, the new world order is characterized by increasing polarization of wealth and income at both the national and global levels. In the US, incomes of the richest 1% surpass those of the bottom 40%.[viii] Internationally, the gap between the world’s richest and poorest one-fifths has increased from 30-1 in 1960 to 78-1.  The world’s three richest individuals hold more assets than the combined GDPs of the poorest 48 nations.[ix]


Still, cheerleaders for corporate-style globalization like Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof,  in incessant New York Times columns, contend that the poor nations will be lifted upward through the spread of more sweatshops.[x] But as Ranney perceptively points out,  “What this view leaves out is that improved conditions [as in the US] came not through sweatshop labor but through the organized struggle against it.” [xi]  In the current phase of globalization, comparable efforts at labor organizing in poor nations is countered with systematic blacklisting of pro-union workers and their family members, brutal repression of independent labor movements, and even murders of union leaders, as in Guatemala, Colombia, and other nations. [xii] Thus, the introduction of export-oriented plants into poor nations offers no access to uplift for workers but a treadmill of subsistence,  while the workers’ frenetic efforts on the global assembly line chiefly enrich only elites in their home countries and the US. To the extent that workers can overcome repressive measures and manage to win increases in wages either through collective bargaining or government-mandated wage hikes, they are threatened with the prospect that their employers will seek out even lower-wage, more repressive nations. [xiii]


Even in the advanced nations, the upward re-distribution of wealth deprives the mass of consumers even in the rich countries of buying power, but most corporate leaders seem untroubled by this trend, hoping to compensate for dropping real wages via the seemingly unending expansion of consumer credit at home and finding new markets among elites abroad.[xiv]) Using his considerable analytical skills coupled with extensive experience in working with labor and community groups, Ranney shows how global decisions by major corporations and compliant governments have undermined both the vitality and security of working class life in Chicago and across America.

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