- Reporters Desk
We Can Be Pro-Business and Pro-Labor
By James Preston Allen, Publisher
I recently found myself involved in a very long conversation about development issues with a local business owner. But something he said stopped me cold.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Let me make sure I heard you right. You think that this newspaper is ‘anti-business.’ Is that what you really think?”
He answered affirmatively citing the many articles written by my senior editor Paul Rosenberg and my managing editor Terelle Jerricks.
“And you support all those labor unions with your progressive perspective, too,” he added.
Well, my friend, it seems that you have only part of this right. Let me explain. I run two small businesses. Both are located on a main street in this community. The one more widely known of the two is a progressive newspaper that’s been continuously operating for the past 35 years.
We don’t hide our progressive leanings. However, during the course of these three-and-a-half decades we have probably done more to support, promote and advertise local small businesses than any other publication, chamber of commerce or any other entity that purports to be “business friendly.” Furthermore, I defend our support of both small business and labor unions with the rationale that a strong, well-paid middle class is both good for business and it’s just and fair.
The complaint that is often lodged directly at the local longshore union but applies generally to the 30,000 members of other unions in the Harbor Area is that these workers are “overpaid.” These relatively good paying jobs with benefits form a significant backbone of our local economy. But their pay is in parity with other public sector jobs like police and firefighters—both represented by unions with arguably comparable skill sets. Yet, hardly ever do you hear complaints about the pay of the men and women in the police and fire departments—except when they want a raise.
The larger issue is that more than $200 billion worth of imports and exports flow through the industrial ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach every year, creating up to 230,000 jobs in Southern California. Many of these are not well-paid union jobs, but the amount of wealth generated by this industry has a huge impact both economically and environmentally on our Harbor communities. The pay of these union workers represents less than 5 percent of the employers’ average operating costs. As a percentage, this is far below the costs paid by the average small business owner, which results in the disparity in scale.
These workers buy homes, raise families, pay for goods and services and contribute in many other ways to the community and economy of this region. Some estimate the spending power of this group at more than $1 billion per year. The connection is that without these good paying jobs, the local economy would suffer even more than it has over the past five years of this Great Recession.
Well-paid jobs are not a detriment to small business. It’s just the opposite. The issue is that the small business owners have been squeezed by the recession; the tightening of credit by Wall Street banks and their incomes have failed to keep pace because of foreign competition and technological innovations.
The problem is one of perspective. The corporate-owned media likes to chide the waterfront unions for being the highest paid blue-collar workers in the nation. Yet, you never hear them lodge the same accusations against the trade unions in the entertainment industry. Hollywood is one of the great sacred cows in Southern California that draws a large number of incentives to keep their highly paid professionals and union jobs from evacuating California in favor of Florida. Don’t get me wrong, the Hollywood “dream machine” is a huge economic factor in our region. It supports directly, or indirectly, a large number of small and medium sized businesses, even when they film in our business community and disrupt things.
Seven years ago this past December, RLn launched the first Shop Local campaign in the Harbor Area. Only much later did some corporate types, like American Express co-opt the idea to promote their brands.
It was small independent presses like this one that originated the idea, promoted it and made it popular. And, we continue to do it still while the corporate brand names have moved on to the next gimmick to suck more money out of the local economy and give little back.
On the editorial side, I can’t even count the amount of ink we’ve used promoting small business related to dining, entertainment and the arts in this region. I have personally volunteered more hours of my life to promoting the arts and entertainment in this area than I have almost anything else, except running this publication and making it succeed against all odds.
On top of this, I have spent thousands of hours consulting hundreds of businesses in this area on how to market, advertise and promote their goods and services, helping to make them successful. My personal philosophy is, “if you’re not successful, I’m not successful.”
We are all in this economy together. Small businesses especially must realize that collaboration trumps competition almost every time. Yet, we get programmed to argue for the competitive model of doing business even when the evidence proves otherwise.
It is true, however, that this newspaper and I have regularly taken aim, criticizing the “too-big-to fail” banks, Wall Street capitalists and other corporations for their greed, corruptions and tax avoidance schemes. We have also challenged our government on every level, holding them accountable for their mistakes, deceptions and corruptions. This is a part of what we journalists do—ask hard questions and do the research when others don’t have the courage or the access to do it themselves.
So in short, Mr. Small Businessman, I do take sides. I’m on your side (even if you won’t admit it) and on the side of the working class. The two are not mutually exclusive. I’m for the people who fight for a fair and just system of labor and governance. I’m for people who stand against injustice and who believe that there is still some part of this land that was made for you and me. I am also on the side of a Main Street that is more concerned with quality of life, not a Wall Street that is more focused on profits than people. And, you sho