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April 25, 1996

East Side, West Side, All Around the World

A salutary way to view the drama of the recently-concluded city economic summit would be to regard it as a proscenium framing competing urban visions: Two cities with similar cosmopolitan virtues and problems -- San Francisco and New York; and two mayors, hammy and driven -- by popular acclaim the new municipal darlings of their respective parties.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has set out to midwife the corporate/right agenda, laying off city workers, instituting stringent workfare regulations for New York's welfare recipients, and stilling city unions' complaints about workfare participants doing the jobs of laid-off union workers. "Slavefare," as its recipients call it, is the city's stated response to its financial crisis, even though New York corporations and the wealthy have received more than a billion dollars in no-strings tax cuts over the past two years. A "revanchist city," was Rutgers Professor Neil Smith's apt description of it to me last week; in arraigning New York as emblematic, he draws a parallel in his forthcoming book between the revenge launched by elites against reformers in late 19th century France and corresponding retribution in late 20th century America. The Paris communards of 1871 and the motley aggregate inhabiting today's Lower East Side are representative of that same loathsome impulse toward liberal and progressive beliefs.

Though we can make the contrasting logical assumptions about Willie Brown's generic stance on issues, Brown failed to use his summit showcase to address one of San Francisco's paramount economic concerns. The creation of manufacturing jobs was pointedly excluded from consideration by the speakers. The focus on already well-established high tech, multimedia, tourism and service industries was risk-free and unimaginative, and suggests that Brown does not understand the elementary urbanism underlying the summit's theme of equating community development with economic development. As New York has dismayingly found out over the past two decades, the loss of manufacturing jobs drives the working poor out of their homes and apartments, although they tend to remain nearby, doubling up with others or living on the streets. Density increases as housing costs escalate and white-collar "pioneers" move in to tame the new urban frontier. Old neighborhoods shortly undergo gentrification; skyrocketing commercial rents displace markets and small businesses, which are supplanted by urban professional yuporia dispensing coffee, bagels and nouvelle tostadas. Class differences become glaring, thefts and assaults rise, as does drug dealing. Over time, continuing layoffs replicate the process. The well-heeled, whose rising prosperity is a direct result of national downsizing strategies they've implemented, become fed up; in New York, there is the sudden realization that there are one million people on public assistance. The overclass exacts its revanche. Rudy is elected.


At no point during the summit was there any mention of Supervisor Mabel Teng's efforts to establish an industrial policy in San Francisco. Since February, Teng has authored two pieces of legislation and proposed two others to benefit small business in general and to specifically enable the city's garment industry to remain globally competitive. The initial resolution urges HUD to revise underwriting criteria for funding to allow small businesses greater access to the business revolving loan fund of the Mayor's Office of Community Development (MOCD). Its accompanying legislation would provide for a minimum of one million dollars of the MOCD loan fund to be allocated for loan requests of small business owners in the garment industry. A garment company tax credit and a proposal to extend enterprise zone status to Chinatown and the Tenderloin will be before the Board of Supervisors next month.

As Teng points out, revitalized garment manufacturing is the key to the future of overall manufacturing in San Francisco. Employing 14,000 residents, apparel accounts for 36 percent of all city manufacturing, has a substantial multiplier effect on other job creation, and generates as much as $9 billion yearly in revenues and $188 million in payroll taxes. Since 1979, 20 percent of U.S. apparel jobs have been lost, affecting mainly immigrants, women and minorities with few transferrable skills. The social services and infrastructure consequences of such labor-intensive job decline produced New York's current exercise in viciousness. What manufacturing that remains in Lower Manhattan is predominantly garment work, done in primitive, deplorable conditions, with no labor standards oversight and at wages often on a par with those of Third World countries.


Using financial inducements to expand and modernize garment manufacturing can create inroads for union organizing. San Francisco's renewed labor militancy, spearheaded by the garment workers union, UNITE, should complement its domestic efforts with trans-border organizing. Confronting the real culprit -- mobile global capital -- by working to lessen wage disparities between U.S. and offshore plants, is a strategy that has not been sufficiently deployed.

It's a safe bet that New York won't be seeing this type of leadership from Rudy Giuliani. Which leaves the marquee open and the stage set for our local leading man. Assuming, of course, he's equal to the task, or even wants the role.

Copyright John Hutchison 1996
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