Written by David Stephen
Local 689 Communications Coordinator
Throughout the month of April, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an international trade bill proposed by President Obama, dominated political conversations and news broadcast. Later that month, the world saw the city of Baltimore — a city devastated by international trade policies that have sent good paying jobs overseas — erupt in protest over the killing of 25-year-old unarmed Freddie Gray by Baltimore police.
Up to now, what has been missing from the conversation is how the issues of trade policy like TPP and the state of Baltimore are actually one in the same.
For decades, trade deals have cost the U.S. millions of good jobs and have contributed to the closing of more than 60,000 factories. These trade policies have shipped jobs away from once thriving cities like Baltimore and left an entire generation of youth jobless and, for many, hopeless.
Take for example Sandtown-Winchester, the neighborhood where Gray lived. Sandtown is a poverty-inflicted community full of joblessness and a perfect example of how decades of international trade policies can take the life out of a once thriving community. In the early part of the 20th Century, blacks from the south and European immigrants would uproot to locate to communities like Sandtown so that they could work in the steel plants of Baltimore. In these plants, they would be represented by their union and earn good wages. Fast forward to the 1970s: those booming jobs started to move south, where there were fewer unions, and, as international trade increased, those jobs were shipped overseas where they could pay workers far less.
Today, the official unemployment rate of Baltimore is 8.4 percent — almost double the national average. For young black men between the ages of 20 and 24 (Gray was 25), the U.S. Census Bureau says the unemployment rate was an astounding 37 percent in 2013. To make matters worse, one-third of all Maryland residents in the state’s prisons are from the city of Baltimore.
If America is actually sincere about addressing the issues of civil unrest, police profiling, and the killings of unarmed black men, it must look at the root causes of the chronic unemployment and crime that have created this state of affairs. Few federal policies harm more working people than trade agreements that literally put Americans out of work. And this is why we must fight against policies that create and expand that chronic unemployment, like the TPP.
Many might say that by looking deeper into this problem it gives the looters and protestors a pass in venting their frustration through violence. But that type of outlook is what dooms anyone who wants to see real progress to be stuck in perpetual failure. In order to fix this problem, policy makers, members of the community, and even police enforcement, must be willing to address how we got here and how best to deal with it. History has proven, there’s no greater crime and poverty fighting policy than a community that is gainfully employed.
Americans simply cannot expect “peace” in economically traumatized areas if the nation is not willing to take action. Action means re-invigorating these devastated communities and the people who live in them through gainful employment. The cycle of unarmed men being killed by police can stop, but, the government and voters must commit to first investing in quality education that prepares young people to get work. Equally important, the work must be here in America and not shipped overseas where multinational corporations can pay their workforce little to nothing. That is how we re-build the devastation of cities like Baltimore and begin address the civil unrest created by unjust killings like that of Freddie Gray.
David Stephen is a the former producer of Inside Detroit with Mildred Gaddis. Stephen is now residing in Washington D.C. where he work for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 as the Communications Coordinator.