Page 8 Thursday, May 14, 1981 The Michigan Daily
Detroit's past haunts its present
By Cynthia Cheski
As New England had its fishing and
Iowa had its corn, Detroit has had its
Almost more like a natural resource
than-an industry, cars defined and for-
med the city and gave it an identity.
Unlike renewable plants and sea
creatures, Detroit's cars are becoming
extinct and making a fair bid to take the
city with them.
In these- times of threatened city
layoffs and increased city income
taces, it is fashionable to say the auto
industry blew it in the early 70s. The
twin histories of the city and the in-
dustry, however, reveal a labyrinth of
government regulations and auto com-
pany policies that seem almost to have
conspired to bring the city to. exactly
where it is today.
THE FIRST problem, housing, coin-
cided with the return of the GIs after
World War II. Mindful of the need for
housing for families, the federal gover-
nment moved into action with a Federal
Housing Administration program to of-
fer loans for home building.
But the emphasis on building was
exactly the problem. Federal money
was not available for renovation of the
existing housing stgck, and so the yet-
unended exodus into the fresh, green
suburbs began in Detroit.
About the same time, a great
migration of blacks from the rural
South to the industrial North began.
Unskilled black workers poured into the
city and inherited a housing stock that
was already deteriorating. The
familiar American urban pattern of
block-busting and panic-selling was in
full swing by the 1960s, leaving blacks
to inherit housing in poor condition.
FOR YEARS DETROIT'S feeble bus service rendered suburban access
all but impossible.
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The government saw the FHA error
of loaning only for new building, and at-
tempted to change its ways during the
vogue of urban renewal. The dismal
results left the city pockmarked with
the familiar empty lots and boarded-up
homes still to be found over much of the
THE FHA DECIDED to guarantee
loans for poor people with little money
down. Families were allowed to move
into the homes and pay very small
amounts in monthly rent with the
government guaranteeing payment.
The problem was that the housing
came a little too free. Without any stake
in the homes, many families simply
moved out after falling behind on mon-
thly payments. The government was
saddled with guaranteeing the paymen-
ts, a few real estate companies became
inordinately wealthy on government
money, and houses were still empty and
Meanwhile, as the United Auto
Workers were flexing their muscles in
unified fashion at all three auto com-
panies at once, a large segment of the
work force was being ignored. The post-
war strategy forged by the UAW by
Walter Reuther placed emphasis on
wages and fringe benefits.
Yet as its part of the bargain with
auto management, the UAW gave up
any real power in dealing with worker
grievances in areas such as job safety,
overtimes, and automation, Those most
affected by these policies were the
workers in the older inner-city plants,
and most of them happened to be black;
from 1955 until the Vietnam war
escalation in 1963, many plants did not
hire any black workers.
The UAW's failure to fight for their
black union members resulted in many
blacks fighting both management
and their own union for better treat-
BY THE 1960s auto companies were
having to depend heavily on the most
rebellious, mistreated and dissatisfied
segment of their labor force - young,
In response to the changing face of
the city, the Big Three automakers
began to close aging, inner city plants
and build new ones in the suburbs. Not
only did this deprive the city of Detroit
of the tax revenues, but it closed off the
chance of well-paid work for many in-
ner city workers.
Until the advent of SEMTA in the
1970s, there was no means of reaching
the suburbs through mass transit, ef-
fectively negating the idea of poor
Detroiters commuting to the suburbs
to work. Blacks were not welcome
residents in the white communities
which housed the new plants, thus the
city of Detroit ended up with even more
unemployed citizens on its hands.
The subsequent energy crisis seemed
merely to be the catalyst that brought
past miscalculations tumbling into the
TOMORROW: Part Two.
Part One of a two-part series.
Cynthia Cheski is a graduate
student-in the' Department ef Com
Yesterday'srassassination attempt on Pope
John Paul II was 20th century absurdism
carried to its logical apex of insanity: The one
man in this world most emblematic of peace
and non-violence is himself struck down by an
act of stark, raging iirationality.
The mind reels at the madness of such a
deed; yet one simultaneously marvels at the
ludicrous ease with which a private lunacy was
transmuted into horrifying fact. We may never
know precisely what twisted, quasi-religious
obsession drove the gunman to commit such an
act, yet we are now forced to sufferfrom it.
We live in a brutal, shrinking world-pawns
of an epoch whose technology has so outstrip-
ped its compassion and civility that not one of
us can live out our respective lives on this
planet without fear. None of us is immune to
that swift, obscene act of derangement which
can shatter a life forever.
What is to be done? We scour the ac-
cumulated learning of psychology, philosophy,
politics, religion-yet we cannot find an an-
swer. We conquer disease, our ships scale the
heavens-yet we are no less vulnerable to our
own madness than we were 2,000 years ago.
Perhaps we can only weep for what we are,
then pray for what we may yet become-as we
try, desperately againand again, to love one
another. May God help us.
- - ~cm
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