Class Enemy of the Week: Hilco Global

Class Enemy of the Week: Hilco Global

On April 11th, Hilco Redevelopment Partners imploded an old coal stack, blanketing the surrounding Little Village neighborhood in coal dust and ash. Emerging evidence shows a connection between environmental hazards and coronavirus deaths—the ash in the air would be dangerous at any time, but it is deadly during a respiratory pandemic. Hilco was fined $68,000 and they issued a statement apologizing to the Little Village community, but their apology is so insufficient that Little Village Environmental Justice Organization started a petition outlining what steps need to be taken to remediate this environmental injustice. This petition is exactly correct—Hilco needs to pay for remediation, take responsibility for the particulate matter testing, and more—but even that is not enough. The truth is that Hilco has been responsible for community devastation in Chicago and beyond for decades; the Little Village implosion is just one recent example. As long as Hilco operates in Chicago, they are a class enemy.

Hilco Redevelopment Partners is a daughter company of Hilco Global, a financial services company that specializes in “maximizing the value of underperforming retail.” This may sound complicated, but it means that when corporations declare bankruptcy, they enlist Hilco’s help to generate one last profitable quarter for shareholders. Hilco assisted Borders and Blockbuster in liquidating all assets, which means that working class neighborhoods lost their bookstores and video stores, while the executives of these companies received millions in bonuses. While socialists need not feel sorry for these huge corporations, we can condemn a company like Hilco, whose entire business model is based around taking amenities away while making capitalists richer. Hilco makes money by making our cities and neighborhoods worse, and they are very good at it.

Hilco Global does not just assist with corporate bankruptcies, but they take on larger, more sinister ventures as well. In 2014, Hilco managed the liquidation of assets from the City of Detroit after the city declared bankruptcy. Detroit’s bankruptcy led to privatized parks, a reduction in union density for public employees, and reduced pensions for thousands of seniors. Hilco was paid $5 million for assisting the bankruptcy declaration.

Hilco Global, the parent company of Hilco Redevelopment, is a ghoulish agency that makes money from dismantling amenities and public goods. But the implosion in Little Village was under the direction of the redevelopment agency which specializes in maximizing the value of obsolete industrial sites and office facilities. But Hilco’s liquidation services create obsolete industrial sites and office facilities by speeding up bankruptcy. When examining the redevelopment company and the liquidation company together, Hilco’s business model is gentrification—close down existing amenities and bring in new companies as quickly as possible. These changes to our neighborhoods are highly undemocratic; Hilco decides to make these changes, not the people who actually live and work in the neighborhoods.

This rapid gentrification was clearly the intent at the Little Village Crawford plant. The Crawford Station was the last coal plant operating in Chicago and it closed in 2012 in a major environmental victory. It remained unused for several years until March 2019, when the Chicago City Council gave Hilco a $20 million tax break to develop the site into a distribution center. Local environmental and community groups vehemently opposed the development of the site, arguing that the center would increase truck traffic by 173 trucks per day and would denigrate air quality. The tax break passed with only five nays, including Ald. Ramirez-Rosa (the other five socialist aldermen were not yet in office). Since this huge tax incentive, Hilco has ignored calls for air pollution monitoring from Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and overseen disasters like an industrial fire and a tragic death onsite. Due to the tax incentives at the outset of the project, the taxpayers of Chicago have been footing the bill for these disasters for years, finally culminating in the coal dust blanketing Little Village after the failed implosion. Hilco paid $68,000 in fines following the disaster, less than 5% of the tax break the City of Chicago gave away.

Hilco is an enemy of the working class of Chicago. They have overseen environmental disasters, but they also denigrate the self-determination of our neighborhoods. Shutting down the Crawford Station in 2012 was a victory for Little Village residents who had been fighting environmental racism for decades, and then Hilco took that victory away when they implemented a development plan that the residents did not want. Of course Little Village should not be covered in dust—that goes without saying and steps must be taken to remediate. But Little Village also deserves to have good, high-paying jobs and amenities of their own choosing, rather than putting up with whatever Hilco decides to give them.