LA’s ‘Rust Belt’ Fights for Representation
Without voting for it, or wanting it, Assembly District 63 in the community of South East Los Angeles (known as SELA) has become a laboratory for testing how the ruling class shifts from a system that required human labor to operate its gigantic means of industrial production, to digitally controlled production requiring little to no human labor. The resulting political struggle underway in SELA offers lessons for all Americans about how the new dispossessed class can fight for its future.
South East Los Angeles emerged as an important hub of industrial production in the pre-and-post-World War II period. General Motors, Bethlehem Steel, Firestone, Sampson Tire and Rubber, and a number of other large manufacturing companies formed the backbone of the region’s employment. As early as 1935 Los Angeles was the largest industrial area west of Chicago, in part due to the region’s well-known hostility to unionization. By 1940, there were 900 factories within a two-mile radius. However, during the 1970s, SELA began to rapidly de-industrialize, earning the region the moniker “Los Angeles’s Rust Belt”.
Defeat Trump and Misleaders
Immigrants have come to SELA since the 1930s from the U.S. South, Mexico and other areas, many finding good paying union jobs in auto and rubber plants. But by 1990 the expanding jobs were in the service and transportation sectors, non-union, low paying and often part-time. In the old economy’s place emerged a postindustrial economy that is primarily “extractive,” a new predatory economic order where wealth became concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of apartment owners, gambling operators, and recycling companies “designed to suck from a community whatever economic vitality might remain”(from The Reluctant Metropolis, by William Fulton).
In the national elections, the working class must fight these predators by defeating Trump’s re-election, and many activists in South East LA are part of that struggle. But like many industrial communities, local government in SELA is controlled by Democratic Party politicians beholden to the ruling class. Democrats hold every state-wide office, have super majorities in the state assembly and state senate, and voted in a large majority for Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary. The victory of Joe Biden in California is assured. So, as they fight Trump, the people of SELA are also struggling against the local Democratic misleaders.
Maria Estrada is running to represent Assembly District 63 against Anthony Rendon, the Assembly’s Speaker, one of the most powerful politicians in California and the second most effective fund-raiser after Congressperson Nancy Pelosi. Rendon refused to allow a vote for a Healthcare for All bill, which would have passed in the Assembly, effectively removing it as a ballot measure across the country.
In the years from 1997 to 2010, when South East Los Angeles was rapidly changing, average voter turnout dropped to 13 percent. This low voter turn-out can be explained by the high percentage of non-citizens, wide-spread poverty, and a transient population. For example, in the city of Bell, 91percent of the city’s population identified as Hispanic and 88 percent spoke a language other than English. This political base for the ruling Democratic Party rests on non-representation of the poorest, primarily Black and Brown workers.
Politicians Neglect Needs
With the loss of employment and a vanishing tax base the ruling class party, the Democrats, are unable to bribe the organized section of the working class like before, but instead steal and privatize the district’s resources. The Central Basin Municipal Water District, serving over 2.5 million residents, is in immediate danger of being privatized with the help of Assembly Speaker Rendon and the Democratic Party establishment.
Ms. Estrada’s campaign to represent this district literally represents a life or death battle for the residents. The 63rd Assembly District suffers severe pollution from abandoned factories, such as the abandoned Exide battery recycling plant that left a blanket of lead-contaminated dust over the entire region. Other abandoned plants have housing built right up to their gates. “The corporations are funding candidates and they are funding the party itself. We the people do not have anyone representing us. It is more obvious now, but it has always been here,” she has said.
Assembly District 63 is plagued with problems of corruption and self-dealing among elected officials, but this is also true throughout LA County and the state. For example, when the FBI raided LA City Council member Democrat Jose Huizar‘s house last month, they found suitcases of cash they said were from real estate developers. California has the widest disparity of income of any state in the country. Farmworkers in the San Joaquin valley, which is so productive it could feed the world, have to buy their own COVID-19 masks from growers on a daily basis.
In a recent speech, Ms. Estrada said “The lack of engagement with the people in this community is the reason why Los Angeles County has the highest poverty rate in the nation. SELA has the highest rate of uninsured children, the 2nd highest rate of uninsured adults. We have some of the worst environmental conditions in the country. That is directly related to the Democratic Party and its failure to stand against big oil, big pharma, the health care industry, the corporations and building contractors allowing people to get priced out of their homes. That’s why homelessness has gone up.”
She adds that, without realizing it voters have been “supporting people that support builders that are gentrifying our community. We’re supporting people who are fighting against Health Care For All which is part of this [Democratic] Party’s platform and this party. The fact is that it is not the people that support the Republican Party and support Donald Trump who are making this happen. The biggest threat against progressivism is the Democratic Party.”
Estrada’s campaign challenges workers to decide “do we actually mean that Black Lives Matter, do we actually mean that Medicare for All is something that we’re going to have, do we actually mean that we’re going to have rent control and housing as a human right, do we actually mean that we’re not going to have mass incarceration?”
New Class, New Leaders
Across the country there is the emergence of a vibrant group of new leaders running as candidates against corrupt corporate Democrats by presenting a new vision of what society should be. In New York, this resurgence of progressive candidates running for municipal, local and state elections includes Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. She has observed that “When politicians cease to worry about re-election, they become free to pursue government policy that does not reflect constituent preferences. They acquire the ability to enrich themselves and their supporters.” She has made clear that she intends to support the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden but said his current overtures to progressives must go further, “and what I hope does not happen in this process is that everyone just tries to shoo it along and brush aside real policies that mean the difference of life and death or affording your insulin and not affording your insulin.”
The result of low voter turnout, non-existent media coverage and disappearance of community organizations once led to lack of any valid political representation. But with the November 2020 elections there’s a real chance that things have changed. The merger of the government and the corporations has set the basis for the working class to support candidates who oppose the corruption and misrepresentation by current Democratic Party elected officials, candidates who seek to represent voters from the new dispossessed class. Fueled by the Bernie Sanders campaign and progressive local candidates, these voters will eventually succeed.
September/October 2020 Vol30.Ed5
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011