Labor and Inequality in the City

Keeping ’Em in Their Place: Race, Class, and Transportation Inequity in Milwaukee and Los Angeles
Kimberly Hernandez
Prior to passage of federal open housing legislation, Harvard professor of economics John F. Kain identified a “spatial mismatch” between housing and employment for African Americans, recognizing that racially-segregated housing meant spatial disadvantage for them in terms of employment. They lived farther away from where jobs were located than did their white counterparts. As employment flight to the suburbs intensified, Kain posited that this crisis would only increase. Today, entrenched poverty perpetuates and has expanded the racial job-housing spatial mismatch, as limited access to affordable housing and public transportation now serve to keep underprivileged communities of color in their place. As can be seen in the cases of these two cities—one with an expanding regional transit system and the other without—a “job-transit mismatch” now reifies conditions Kain identified as lack of access to affordable urban mass transit vitiates equity of opportunity across race and class.

Working Class Civic Rights: Atlanta’s Public Sector Union’s Defense of Government Services, 1965-1977
Seth LaShier
In the 1960s and 1970s, public sector jobs became an important source of secure, even middle class, employment for African Americans frequently denied entry into the diminishing number of well-paying industrial jobs. Particularly at the municipal level, employment in government work also provided a platform for political power in under-represented communities. In many cities, public sector employees and their unions served as an influential voice for black working class demands for more and better government services. This paper will explore how members of Atlanta’s AFSCME Local 1644 relied on workplace experience and civil rights tactics to defend government services for the under-served communities they lived and worked in. In doing so this paper will highlight the connections between public sector employees and the communities they serve, as well as conflicts with politicians, including Atlanta’s first African American mayor Maynard Jackson, and their business allies who held different views on budgets and the distribution of public goods and services.

Resistance and Reform: Working-Class Activism and Municipal Governance in Postwar New York City
Jess Bird and Minju Bae
This proposal is for a two-person panel on labor in New York City from 1965-1980 with Minju Bae and Jess Bird.

Minju Bae examines the politics and practices of Asian American coalition building in New York. In 1974, Asian Americans for Equal Employment demanded the enforcement of equal employment legislation in the building trades industry from New York City officials. While scholars of Asian American movement history highlight this conflict at Chinatown’s Confucius Plaza, the largest public housing project of any Chinatown, this episode of activism has gone understudied. Bae’s presentation will examine Confucius Plaza as the nexus from which to discuss intersections of race, class, and housing in the 1970s. From the Confucius Plaza struggle, Bae explores how Asian Americans effectively called for broad multi-racial coalitions to fight the city’s failure to penalize violations of equal employment legislation. She aims to shed light on 1970s radicalism along the lines race and class. Her paper is titled, “‘When Chinatown Rose Up:’ Working-Class Activism in the rise of Confucius Plaza and New York’s Asian American movement.”

Jess Bird focuses on the origins of contemporary inequality in New York City’s fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s. She examines the global and local forces that created a context in which income inequality came to be seen as natural and acceptable. As the “new urban paradigm” became institutionalized in city government and disseminated through society, New York’s working class mounted a fractured response to rising inequality. Bird explores how the divisions among the working class along the lines of race, gender, and immigration status hindered their ability to identify as a class and to resist the political and economic forces that fostered inequality. She considers a fractured working class within the political, economic, and social context of the fiscal crisis to assess the origins of contemporary income inequality in the city. Her paper is titled, “Welcome to Fear City: Dissent, Disorder, and Drugs in New York, 1964-1975.”

Laurie King will serve as chair and commentator for the panel.

About the Kalmanovitz Initiative

Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor develops creative strategies and innovative public policy to improve workers’ lives in a changing economy.