#PittsburghsFutures: 5/x – A New Pittsburgh Labor Movement, Part 1

The following was published on July 1, 2021 at Postindustrial, a Pittsburgh-based magazine. Part 2 was published at Postindustrial on July 5, 2021 and is reproduced here.

By Michael Madison

Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor, a favorite in Pittsburgh’s iconic Strip District, made national headlines recently when the co-owners responded to difficulty in recruiting scoopers by raising wages to $15 per hour.

As an anecdote about labor markets in a Postindustrial city, the episode offers a colorful and tasty illustration of a larger challenge. Regional unemployment in southwestern Pennsylvania has slowly fallen over the past year, but the labor force as a whole hasn’t grown. In a market capitalist economy, open jobs and fewer people to fill them mean that wages rise, other things being equal. That’s the labor story. What about the management story? Will profits fall? Klavon’s says no; its business is fine.

Beyond the economics of ice cream, the Klavon’s story highlights an even more important theme, one that extends beyond rising or falling numbers of workers and well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Pittsburgh’s future prosperity depends largely on how the regional workforce is compensated. In other words, it depends largely on how Pittsburgh’s workers negotiate for their share of the wealth.

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#PittsburghsFutures: 4/x – Renewing Pittsburgh’s Governance

The following was published on March 31, 2021 at Postindustrial, under the headline “Renewing Pittsburgh’s Governance.” It is Pittsblog-ish content. What does that mean? I explained earlier, here. There is more Pittsblog-ish content to come. Happy New Year.

By Michael Madison

A little more than 15 years ago, I made a minor name for myself as a Pittsburgh observer by publishing a newspaper column that argued, bluntly, that the Allegheny Conference on Community Development had outlasted its usefulness to the region and should withdraw from the stage.

I wrote that the Conference should accept appropriate gratitude for its historical contributions but should cede the region to modern forward-looking, more entrepreneurially-minded leadership. That hasn’t happened, of course. It’s strange to imagine that incumbent regional pooh-bahs would relinquish their status voluntarily.

I persist with the point today because my theme, expressed inartfully back then, is more urgent than ever. For Pittsburgh and other post-industrial regions, governance matters. If Pittsburgh hopes to build a more equitable, sustainable, and prosperous future for itself, Pittsburgh has the wrong governance in place.

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#PittsburghsFutures: 3/x – Who is a Pittsburgher?

The following was published on January 1, 2021 at Postindustrial, under the headline “Let’s expand what it means to be ‘a Pittsburgher.’ It is Pittsblog-ish content. What does that mean? I explained earlier, here. There is more Pittsblog-ish content to come. Happy New Year.

By Michael Madison

What if the future of Pittsburgh did not ritually invoke the historical sweat equity of steelworkers and their wives and children?

What if the future of Pittsburgh did not hinge on the assumption that Downtown Pittsburgh is destined always to center and anchor the region, economically or culturally?

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#PittsburghsFutures: 2/x – Imagining a future Pittsburgh for all

The following was published last month at Postindustrial, in print and online, under the headline “Imagining a future Pittsburgh for all: Creating a thriving postindustrial economy means moving past a region of our imagination.” It is Pittsblog-ish content. What does that mean? I explained earlier, here. There is more Pittsblog-ish content to come.

By Mike Madison

Pittsburgh’s public sphere has no shortage of great, idealistic, ambitious goals for a new, 21st century, now post-pandemic Pittsburgh: equity, inclusion, wealth, happiness, opportunity, effective governance, a clean environment, a sustainable resource base, health and education for all. 

Almost no effort goes into how we’re going to get from here to there, or anywhere else. 

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#PittsburghsFutures: 1/x

“PittsburghsFutures” programming interrupts “Future Law” programming here from time to time.

I’m motivated to do that in part by increasingly urgent questions about the future of cities, with Pittsburgh as prime and local example number one (an interest that goes back at least to 2004, via Pittsblog, and continues very recently in the Tribune Review). Pittsburgh legacy leaders’ endless obsession with making Pittsburgh important again drives me bonkers.

I am all but certain that it irritates Pittsburgh’s emerging next generation leaders no end. Pittsburgh needs to bring different stories, different leadership, and different visions to the fore. “Let’s be as good as we were before” fails as a vision before it takes a single step; “let’s be ambitious and prosperous relative to reality” at least has a chance of success. Still, that’s pretty broad and vague. What does it look like in practice?

I’m also motivated in part by the same questions that drive the “Future Law” material. Legal systems, like cities, are in many ways systems that enable different and diverse groups of people to get along, even thrive, both despite their differences and also because of them. Law, like the city, is a platform. Of a sort. We can’t afford to take for granted either the fact that it exists or the dynamics of how it succeeds, fails, and changes. Again, vagueness. What do we imagine, in practice?

I read Democracy in America many decades ago, and I’m still working through how to translate its themes to modern living. What seemed to work during the 20th century (now speaking both about cities and also about legal systems, the legal profession, and law schools) may not be primed for success, on the same terms and in the same ways, in the next several decades.

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