to Free Trade and the Broadway K-Mart
by Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice 3-21-02
The US has always practiced a double standard.
Do as we say, not as we do. Hence,
we condemn terrorists we don’t like while supporting ones we do.
We condemn regimes on our regime’s shitlist, often using an infantile
lexicon, tarring them as “evil” or “bad guys,” yet at the same time we
support brutal human rights oppressors such as Columbia and Egypt.
So it should come as no surprise that the double standard is now applying
to free trade – with the US government placing tariff’s on imported steel at
the same time it demands other nations open their markets to US branded
Tax Evil Steel
Now don’t get me wrong.
Steel tariffs are a good thing. They
protect our dying steel industry, where workers earn a living wage and enjoy
some modicum of workplace safety, from a flood of cheap imported steel produced
in Dantesque infernos toxic to workers and the surrounding environment.
Yes, imported steel is “cheap” because the cost is borne by underpaid
workers and a ravaged environment. With
the demise of our steel mills, we enjoy clean air, yet we still have all the
steel we want – only it’s cheaper. From
the perspective of a greedy amoral pig, it’s a great deal.
But, to use a newspeak term, it’s evil.
Am I saying that the unelected Bush administration clowns
squatting in our White House did the right thing? Certainly not. The
steel tariffs are too small to be truly effective.
They are just crumbs thrown out to appease the last vestiges of a
powerful industry and its workers. But
they do form a big crack in the World Trade Organization’s global hegemony.
Bush had to make this concession, or risk awakening a sleeping giant on
the American political landscape. Yet,
by doing so, he is exposing the global trade agreements for what they are –
imperialism reborn. The rest of the
world has to give, give and give. We,
on the other hand get to take, take and take.
If it wasn’t obvious before, it sure as hell is now.
And for the Bushistas, it means the beginning of the end.
A glitch in their post-9/11 plans for corporate global domination.
For Bush, the decision was hellish.
Risk pissing off international trading partners and putting the whole
free-trade mantra in jeopardy, or risk causing the deathblow to one of the
country’s more visible industries and suffering the domestic political
fallout. If Bush opted for angering
his international corporate partners instead of the American people, it shows
there still is hope for grassroots democracy.
Perhaps we as a nation are finally awakening from our post-9/11 nightmare
and smelling the fetid stench of dung in the air.
Republicans and Republicrats on the local scene need to
wake up and take notice of the emerging political reality. On a national level, we’re not going to let corporate
globalization impoverish the world’s labor force and degrade the global
environment. On a local Western New
York level, we’re tired after years of watching our elected leaders give the
house away to developers and corporate interests while eliminating public
services in our communities.
Take K-Mart for example.
A decade ago, the City of Buffalo shamelessly lured the retail giant to
its Broadway location by giving it what amounted to roughly a million dollars in
corporate welfare and tax abatements. The
city used approximately $500,000 in block grant money to “prepare” the site.
This meant, among other things, demolishing an old abandoned department
store, and removing almost an entire block of Beck Street, houses and all.
K-Mart, after extorting their loot from the city, opened
their Broadway store. The initial
reaction was mixed. Small locally
owned stores such as Modern Home and Auto, which were part of the community for
decades, closed down, unable to compete with the new big box.
On the other hand, however, a new corporate ghetto formed around K-Mart,
with other boxes popping up in the emerging branded landscape.
Yes, the K-Mart investment brought life to the Broadway
Fillmore community. But this new
life form, the corporate retail box, turned out to be parasitic.
They brought cheap prices to a community starving for retail merchants,
but they used this lure to vacuum money from East Side neighborhoods.
Gone were community based small entrepreneurs who lived in the city, or
at least in the region, and reinvested in our communities through their own
property taxes and consumption. In
their place, we got a few stifling low wage dead end K-Jobs.
Overall, we lost jobs. Studies
show that stores like K-Mart and Wal Mart, by driving small businesses out of
business, cost communities three jobs for every two they created.
The impact of the other corporate boxes that opened near the K-Mart were
as bad if not worse, with, at one point, five rent-to-own shops peddling their
wares at 500% of regular retail prices.
......Buffalo City Council Member David Franczyk........
......Buffalo City Council Member David Franczyk........
The reality is that the Broadway K-Mart did not attract
shoppers from outside of the area. To
the contrary, it created a massive artery draining desperately needed dollars
from an impoverished community and sending them out of the region.
On a macro level, with most K-Mart goods coming from low wage third world
countries, this city subsidized store also hastened the loss of the very blue
collar manufacturing jobs that built the Broadway-Fillmore community.
Diverting block grant money destined for anti-poverty programs to
K-Mart’s corporate coffers under these conditions was nothing less than
Now K-Mart has gone Chapter 11. This is certainly not the fault of the Broadway Fillmore
community whose residents dutifully emptied their pockets into K-Mart’s cash
registers. By most accounts, the
Broadway K-Mart was a moneymaker. K-Mart
went down nationally because they couldn’t be as sleazy as Wal Mart or as hip
as Target. Neither of those stores, however, have a presence on the East Side of
Bye Bye K-Mart
Chapter 11 means K-Mart can break their lease.
Their motives, however, for closing this particular store are dubious.
They need to close and liquidate stock in a number of stores to raise
capitol as part of their reorganization. This
store represents a location where in the past they were able to extort money
from a city desperate to look like the suburbs.
If past practices are any indicator, K-Mart’s execs could expect a
closure threat to yield a six-digit payoff.
And it did. Before the announcement was official, city leaders were scurrying to redirect more sorely needed city and county funds to the dying retail giant. The “incentive” package praised by The Buffalo News’ editorial writers, proposes giving K-Mart another $200,000 of our tax money so that they can keep their profitable store open and sucking money from our community. This largesse, ironically, follows a 100% reduction in city funding to community based arts and cultural organizations.
A better idea would be to call K-Mart’s bluff and let them close the store. The space could then be developed as a small retail business incubator based on a Flea Market model. This could be an interesting addendum to the now profitable Broadway Market. With the market focusing on food and the former K-Mart focusing on dry goods, the new synthesis could serve the community while drawing shoppers from outside of the area, much as the market does at holiday time and the Walden Flea Market does every weekend. The new entrepreneurs could focus on providing services similar to what the profitable K-Mart provided. With luck, businesses could spin off from the incubator and inhabit the empty storefronts that now dot the area. Maybe it’s not the best idea, but it sure sounds better than giving another $200,000 to a bankrupt corporation that’s already shown it has no qualms about abandoning our community.
Dr. Michael I. Niman’s articles are archived at http://mediastudy.com/articles