Friday, September 26, 2014

The Deindustrialization of Detroit

Thomas Sugrue's "The Damining Mark of False Prosperities"' The Deindustrialization of Detroit portrays Metropolitan Detroit in the 1940s through the 1960s and the challenges the city, workforce, and overall industrial economy faced (and still face today) due to automation, deindustrialization, and discrimation caused by the movement of major auto companies out of the city as did the smaller businesses (runaway shops) that supplied them.
          In the 1940s, Detroit was booming with industry, car manufacturers and independent auto bodies, were prospering, and the number of entry-level manufacturing jobs was growing so fast that discriminatory barriers lost some of their salience. Even when large segments of the auto industry remained closed to black workers, they still found operative jobs in the automobile, and other related industries. However by the 1950s, this changed drastically. By the 1950s, Detroit had become unrecognizable. Sugrue stated this was due to deindustrialization( the closing, downsizing, and relocation of plants and sometimes whole industries) and capital mobility. "Advances in communication and transportation, the transformation of industrial technology, the acceleration of regional and international economic competition, and the expansion of industry in low-wage regions, especially the South, reshaped the geography of American cities". Major auto-companies like Ford and Chrysler were expanding to down south, and to rural areas in Ohio and Indiana thus reducing their employment in their older Detroit-area plants.
          Sugrue describes "Automation" as the most important force that restructured Detroit's Economy after World War II due to the advent of new automated processes in the automobile, auto parts, and machine tool industries. Automation offered two major benefits to manufacturers by promising to increase out, and reduce labor costs. These automated assembly lines, and new technologies, took the place of thousands of employees and left them jobless. Automation also led to auto companies to take on productive capacities formerly left to independent manufacturers, thus driving many parts suppliers out of business and further reducing Detroit's employment base. Sugrue challenges the idea that the relocation of corporations was a "neutral response to economic forces" and technological advances and more because automation and decentralization together could take away power from workers and labor unions.
          Other reasons described by Sugrue that were major factors in plant relocation were high taxes, costs of labor, and decentralization. Detroit's tax levels were higher than the cities where the new plants were located. During the Korean war buildup only 7.5% of the 353 million dollar budget allocated for the purchase of new equipment and construction in metropolitan Detroit actually went to firms located within Detroit. Detroit had become a "ghost arsenal". The use of overtime in the mid 50s also became more common and allowed managers to reduce the costs of hiring and training new workers, and benefits packages, while maintaining high production levels. This has serious negative effects on people trying to enter the workforce, and young black men in particular. Young black men between ages 21-29 were four times more likely to be out of work then young white men.
          Overall, this article described what once was thought to be a city filled with hope and industrial longevity, turned into what was (and still remains in the city today) a landscape rotted by factory buildings that once were, and crippled by unemployment.
          Thomas Sugrue is well known for this article as it has won many awards including the Bancroft prize in History. Sugrue actually grew up in Detroit Michigan, so it is fair to say he knows what he is talking about. He is an alumni of Columbia University with a degree in history and also has a PhD in History from Harvard. This article is important because he has background knowledge and talks about the problems that the city he grew up in faced, and still face today.

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