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This chapter is about the struggle over the future of work on the edge of the global economy. It traces the history of conflict in an industry that is not widely known, but sits at the epicenter of the global supply chain: short-haul trucking responsible for moving the mass of imports from enormous cargo ships to warehouses and retailers around the country. The chapter’s specific focus is on the nation’s largest and most important port complex – America’s port – which straddles the border of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, and includes the ports in both cities. Here, for nearly two decades, labor and environmental groups – bound together in a pivotal “blue–green” alliance – carried forward a monumental campaign to transform working conditions for drivers and environmental conditions for communities.
This book of essays responds to the intersection of two failures, in the hope that approaches with the promise to address one of these failures may also have promise in addressing the other. The first failure is the dismal inability of American urban policy, over at least the past half century, to significantly improve the lot of the low-income populations that are concentrated in pockets of most American cities. The second failure is the increasingly recognized inability of the American legal academy to find models of legal scholarship that achieve relevance for audiences that can have real impact on real problems.
On the rugged coast of Maine in 1978, an emerging community development organization called Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) helped secure financing to successfully rebuild a fish storage and processing plant that had been destroyed by fire.1 Founded a year earlier, the organization began as a modest effort to create and preserve jobs in Maine’s natural resources industry and rural small business sector. It was modeled on the community development corporation (CDC), a form of nonprofit entity that emerged in the civil rights era of the 1960s and proliferated primarily in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods in the years to follow. In contrast to the dominant urban CDC model, CEI worked in the rural setting of Maine and focused its housing and job-creation efforts in small towns and in the state’s natural resources sectors of fish, farms, and forests.
Members of our research team produced the above in-person, ethnographic account of a child support enforcement hearing as part of our data collection plan for a qualitative study investigating the civil justice experiences of noncustodial parents in child support enforcement proceedings. The research team utilized focused ethnography as its methodological approach when conducting the court observations. Most of the parents in these cases are no- and low-income Black fathers who lack attorney representation and owe both current and past due child support, often in the thousands of dollars. We examine how their cases are handled by the judges and attorneys they encounter and how they navigate the civil process in proceedings where they face a variety of increasingly punitive enforcement measures, including civil incarceration for failure to pay support. This social phenomenon is widespread, with county jails across the United States incarcerating poor fathers who lack money to pay the support they owe (Brito, 2012).
The worker cooperative presents a conundrum for community economic development. In theory, it is a business form that seems to match perfectly the ideals and goals of CED. It is one in which workers are the owners – the shareholders – of the business.1 By placing workers at the top of the hierarchical structure of a business, the worker cooperative ought to serve as a powerful vehicle for empowering individuals in the urban core to control their own access to market participation.2 Moreover, by reserving for worker-owners the surplus profit of a business, the cooperative should be an efficient mechanism for poverty alleviation.3 The key to accomplishing these goals is democratic participation by the workers in the business: The workers own and control the business and consequently their economic destiny. However, the sheer paucity of worker cooperatives in the urban cores signals the difficulty of converting theory to practice.4 For reasons that remain under-analyzed, and thus elusive, worker cooperatives are relatively uncommon in American urban cores. Those that do exist typically are small and undercapitalized. Repeated attempts to grow and replicate them have generally foundered.5
As we explained in the introductory chapter, our ambition for this volume is not only to showcase some rich examples of the ways that legal scholars are engaging with the issues that bedevil the urban core but also to explore these examples for hints of how legal scholarship can regain its relevance for a range of audiences who are interested in how the law can be understood and used in tackling societal problems and achieving social change. In this concluding chapter, we share some observations about some of the notable commonalities in the contributions to the volume, in hopes of identifying some of the characteristics that may distinguish such scholarship.
The problems of entrenched poverty and economic underdevelopment in American urban cores involve multiple overlapping challenges that have stymied consistent and long-term progress for many decades. Although inadequate and misguided laws are not solely responsible for this state of affairs, good laws - and good lawyering - can contribute enormously to overcoming the challenges of the urban cores. By showcasing a range of scholarly analyses, covering a broad spectrum of legal issues and methodologies, this book demonstrates how law and lawyers can and do respond to the challenges of the urban cores. It provides paths forward at the local level in the face of federal political paralysis and inattention and lays a foundation for new paradigms and new approaches to intransigent problems. Modeling engaged legal scholarship as a pragmatic response to contemporary challenges, this book is for anyone concerned about the current state of American urban cores.