Monday, August 22, 2005

Labor Day, 2005: Breaking Through--Creating the Foundation for Economic Democracy

My professional life is the Center for Labor and Community Research (CLCR). This is my "soft-ware company" that has been in a 20+ development phase--working on a product that nobody asked for. Now we have our "product" and it seems to have appeal and potential. If that is the case, can we manage the competition in the market and survive growth? But at least true to our strategic perspective, we are contending.

CLCR has been a catalyst for some new initiatives in Illinois and Chicago that represent a breakthrough of a new model for community and economic development as well as a foundation for a potentially powerful social partnership of labor, business, government, and community. Civic, governmental, business, and labor leadership are leading the Race to the Top in contrast to watching our communities be destroyed by the powerful economic forces taking us on the Race to the Bottom.

  • In the last month, the top business, labor, governmental, and educational leaders in Chicago, at a meeting in City Hall, launched the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance (CMR)—a long-term initiative for Chicago to become the world leader in modern, high value-added manufacturing. They began the CMR Council and steps are now underway to give life and depth to this campaign. CLCR’s vision of a High Road/High Performance manufacturing economy is the foundation for this initiative. As Chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago, Wayne Watson commented, “We have to have an educational and economic infrastructure that is superior to Germany, Denmark, and India, and not be satisfied with out-competing Indiana;”
  • Superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, Arne Duncan, in joining the CMR challenged us to create a public high school that reflects the ambitions and partnership of the CMR. CLCR led a team that submitted an application to create the Austin Polytechnical Academy—a high school academy in an African American West Side Chicago community that has been devastated by deindustrialization. This “small school” of 400-500 students will have a direct relationship with high performance manufacturing companies in the region and be able to provide work exposure, internships, apprenticeships, and access to careers in all aspects of manufacturing;
  • The Department of Planning and Development is exploring a partnership with Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s South Side—a church with 15,000 members in the African American community and with a well-known prophetic pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright—to create an Early Warning Business Development System based on CLCR’s model. This is the new kind of partnership required by the vision of CMR; and
  • This Chicago initiative is a product of the state-wide partnership between the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association representing 4,300 manufacturing companies and the Illinois AFL-CIO representing 1 million union members and CLCR that has been developing a state-wide campaign over the last 9 months that seeks to make Illinois the destination place for global high performance manufacturing.

Our approach—developed in the course of our 20+ year history in the trenches of the economy and working with specific firms and communities—is premised on ending poverty through promoting sustainable economic growth based on a High Road stakeholder vision. This is in contrast to the Low Road demand for the highest return in the shortest possible time for shareholders no matter what the social impact. Defining and creating a High Road social partnership of labor, business, government, and community around this approach is central to CLCR's mission and experience. We have been a leader in:
1. Showing the causal relationship between the growth of poverty and the de-industrialization, particularly, of urban areas;
2. Proving that the decline of industry is not inevitable and out of the control of local communities. There is a way within reach that can dramatically reduce poverty on a significant scale through making good work and jobs available particularly in inner-city communities
3. Advancing policy and program that retains and develops the manufacturing economy in ways that are both competitive in the market as well as consistent with our social and moral values; and
4. Winning over the major institutions in Chicago and some of the key powerful state organizations from business, government, labor, and community to embrace and apply our approach.

This framework becomes a “barn door” for a social movement with vision and the desire to influence the way our society and its economy operates. This approach is clearly replicable in other communities.

In the next couple of days, you can find detailed descriptions of these initiatives at