The first two articles I read upon returning to work this morning after the holiday break (that I am fortunate enough to have) were about persistent racial discrimination against black and Latino sheet metal workers from within their own union, and about AT&T going big on “Smart Cities.” The details of what a “smart city” might be, according to AT&T, are yet unannounced, as it plans a big reveal at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show. For Greenlining, these issues are closely related.
Local 28 of the Sheet Metal Workers has been under investigation for racial discrimination for decades, and only began allowing non-white members after a court ordered it to. Its non-white members still face internal inequities in the hours they work and the pensions they’re able to earn. Sadly, sometimes even the organizations designed specifically to level the playing field can turn into old-boys’ clubs, laced with inequity. And when they do, workers and their families struggle to achieve that dream they were promised – work hard and you’ll be alright. Happy New Year, everyone, nothing has changed.
And on the other hand, we have corporate giants like AT&T using their massive innovative and financial resources to…..make smart parking spaces. Important? I’d actually say yes, conceptually – though we don’t know details, many of the “smart” innovations in today’s consumer marketplace are all about saving energy, which is critically important as our environment becomes more and more scarred by our polluting consumer habits. But at the same time that companies like AT&T are wiring up your car and its parking space and who knows what next, they’re not providing more affordable broadband access to low income customers. Heck, even many customers who don’t qualify for low income support struggle to pay around $100 a month, maybe even more, for the internet access that is overwhelmingly agreed to be a gateway to survival, much less success, in society today.
Two years ago, our then-Fellow Carmelita Miller wrote about garbage cans that have better Internet access than thousands of Californians. Much like the sheet metal workers’ plight, little has changed here (and don’t be fooled, two years is a long time in the tech age). As we think about what 2016 might bring, I can’t help but wonder – what could happen if the nation’s biggest, wealthiest corporations dedicated their research and their innovation to solving inequity instead of making Internet-connected trash cans? Human innovation has taken us into space and to the bottom of the ocean. It has cured disease and it has saved lives. And yet we are led to believe that the largest companies in the world would go bankrupt, toppling the world economy and roiling global chaos, if we actually start to do a right by our poor and our working families? I’m not buying it, and you shouldn’t either.