On Baltimore, Ferguson, Los Angeles 1992


by John A. Imani

Lay the cause of the Baltimore outbreak at the feet of where it belongs.  Where?  The death of Freddie Gray?  The viciousness of the police?  The protesters?  Black people, period?  Welfare?  No.  Though some of these contributed as matchstick while others served as long-harvested fuel in stoking the flames, it is the efficiency of the capitalist system that is the ultimate arsonist.
In 1947 agriculture and manufacturing employed a third of the workforce. But by 2009 those sectors employed only one in eight.  Construction and mining together, during that time period, have remained almost exactly flat at 7.6% of the US workforce.  These value-adding employments once promised a decent life to those who worked them and who worked at them armed, in the main, with only a high school diploma. Now these represent only 20% of the US economy.
Capitalism with ever greater mechanization of such work found ways to do the same and more with a relatively lesser amount of workers.  Today, the same pattern continues as ATM machines replace bank clerks, scanners have all but driven grocery clerks out of the markets and the rise of driver-less technology now threatens the extinction of bus, truck and taxi drivers.
Welfare arose as a counter-measure to these trends.  Following Keynes’ proscriptionsii it dug the bottomless pit that is public subsidy to swallow up the unemployed.  That, along with stepped up law enforcement, enabled the system to ìkeep them down on (and off) the farm after they had seen Pareeî (sic), i.e. after they had worked jobs that enabled a decent living.  Blacks, traditionally ‘last hired and first fired’, took a brunt of the blows
And the worse things get, the more the cops raise hell.  Have to.  To terrify people into submission, into accepting their fate in life as unemployed, underemployed and unemployable.  It is the police who constitute the first line of public defense of a system that because of its efficiencies requires fewer and fewer workers.  The national guard and, finally, the army stand at the ready to enter the fray against workers who, out of jobs in Ferguson, were referred to as ìenemy forcesî.iii Out of the mouths of boobs can sometimes come the naked truth.  Indeed.

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