Dream and Reality: The Modern Black Struggle for Freedom and Equality

By Jeannine Swift | Go to book overview

directed their energies toward bringing jobs to their constituents. In many instances, this was achieved at great health risks to black workers and the surrounding communities. The promise of jobs and a broadened tax base in economically depressed communities are often seen as acceptable tradeoffs to potential health and environmental risks. This scenario has proven to be the rule in economically depressed and politically oppressed communities in this country (especially in the South) and their counterparts around the world (especially in the Third World). Workers are often forced to make personal sacrifices in terms of job security and job safety. The work place in this case is an arena where unavoidable tradeoffs must be made between jobs and work place hazards.( 44) If workers want to keep their jobs, they must work under conditions which may be hazardous to them, their families, and their community. This practice amounts to "environmental blackmail" and is equivalent to economic bondage.( 45) Black workers are especially vulnerable to job blackmail because of the threat of unemployment and their concentration in certain types of occupations. Fear of unemployment acts as a potent incentive for many blacks to stay in and accept jobs they know are health-threatening. There continues to be considerable overlap between the agendas of black civil rights advocates and those of economic boosters (both groups call for more jobs). However, the 1980s have seen the emergence of a small cadre of blacks who also advocate environmental issues as civil rights. An alliance has been forged between organized labor, blacks, and environmental groups as exhibited by the 1983 urban environment conference workshops held in New Orleans.( 46) Environmental and civil rights issues were presented as compatible agenda items by this coalition. Environmental protection and social justice are not necessarily incompatible goals.( 47)

Black communities, especially in the South, are just beginning to integrate environmental issues into traditional civil rights agendas. The jobs vs. environment argument is now being challenged as black organizations broaden their definition of civil rights to include air and water quality, hazardous wastes, and other environmental issues. Finally, black communities need to incorporate environmental safeguards into their agendas for economic development. The promise of jobs may provide shortterm solutions to economically depressed black communities. However, health and environmental risks can often overshadow the benefits associated with hazardous low-paying occupations.


NOTES
1.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Report on the Secretary's Task Force on Black and Minority Health ( Washington, D.C., 1985), 2.
3.
Nicholas Ashford, Crisis in the Workplace: occupational Disease_ and Injury, Report to the Ford Foundation ( Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1976); Morris Davis, "Occupational Hazards and Black Workers" Urban Health ( August 1977): 16-18; Samuel Epstein, Lester Brown, and Carl Pope, Hazardous Waste in America ( San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1983) ; Morris Davis, "The Impact of Workplace Health and Safety on Black Workers: Assessment and Prognosis," Labor Studies Journal 4 (Spring 1981): 29-40; Richard Kazis and Richard Grossman, Fear and Work: Job Blackmail, Labor and the Environment ( New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1983; Robert Bullard and Beverly Wright, "The Politics of Pollution: Implications for the Black Community," Phylon 47 ( March 1986):71-78.

-133-

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