Real Estate Developers Play and Never Seem to Have to Pay

Greenville   Our union signed a contract with the Regional Transit Authority in New Orleans or rather its management company, TransDev, yesterday. They handle the business end of routes, accounts, and schedules for bus and trolley lines in the city. Reading the paper before triangulating a trip between Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee, I read an article about the burden of lower income workers and their commutes to work in New York City. This is all grist for our mill.

One takeaway from the article was pretty plainly presented. In summary, the New York Times reported on a 2013 study in New York City found that almost 800,000 residents commute more than an hour each way to work, most of them earning less than $35,000 per year. Black New Yorkers’ trips are 25% longer than whites and Hispanics travel 12% longer than whites. I was reminded of a quote from the Greek historian Thucydides writing about Athens hundreds of years ago: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

The reporter quoted a President of the New York City Council speaking over 100 years ago about the building of the subway system in the city. The main driver on the routes was the huge expected increase in property values along the lines. He argued that since real estate interests had lobbied for the project and were the ones benefiting, they, not just the public, should bear the costs. Obviously it didn’t happen then, and it hasn’t happened since. Another bunch of billions was recently spent extending a subway line there, and once again developers promoted, and the public paid. Meanwhile workers schlep to their lower paying jobs from farther distances because they can’t afford rents closer to work any longer, and they do so on buses in the slowest transportation system in the country for the most workers.

I wish the story were only about New York City, but increasingly the real estate interests and their supporters from the President on down, fueled by campaign contributions, push for more public expenditures that skew transportation towards tourism and away from workers, gentrify and jack up rents and eviction rates, forcing zombie work schedules, slow rolls, and hoopty rides to be thin ribbon holding people together between work and home all over the country. Developers dream and then sell out and run as fast as they can once the sticks are built so that some other sucker works the field, while property taxes rise, rents soar, and the public pays the bills.

How about that for a depressing cycle that we seem unable to break in city after city? We’re all prisoners to a national policy that no one owns or seems able to change, while we are all forced to pay for it, as Thucydides said because they can and, it seems, because we must.

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Meeting the Challenge of Organizing Immigrant and Domestic Workers

Rabat   We got a good look at alternative strategies to meet the demand of immigrant and domestic workers in Morocco, one from an NGO project with the African Cultural Center of Morocco and the other from a feisty, political union of 18,000 members that had created a “section” for immigrant workers, domestics, and others, like street sellers.

Rose Monde and the NGO

Rose Monde and her colleagues were sharp as tacks and very articulate. They had narrowed their focus within the outlines of a European Union grant over recent years to the sub-set of domestic workers who were from sub-Saharan countries, like the Congo, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Senegal. Their estimate of the total numbers of domestics in the country and in Rabat, the capital, were huge and in the six figures, but their target was only a couple of thousand. Their main strategy had been education and training in various conferences over the years of the project. The butcher paper on the walls, looked like they had a good understanding of the issues and abuse, but might not have succeeded in forging tactics for effective response. They touted the law that would protect some workers from some of the more extreme abuses, but it still had another year to go before implementation, so it was unclear what their options might be now.

They agreed with the ODT, the Democratic Organization of Workers, and its leadership on several issues, one of them being the fact that Morocco has become less a transition stop for migrant workers moving to Europe, than a destination location now. The ODT was a younger union and touted its inclusiveness and openness to various workers. They ran what they called parallel structures with the formal workers and then the various sections of informal and immigrant workers running semi-autonomous programs within them. They were proud of being the first to welcome immigrant workers.

The legal framework for immigrants is fraught. The law allows a process of receiving registration that allows the ability to work. In a provision that only President Trump could love, they have to re-register annually and certify that no native Moroccan is interested in the job. If not, all good. If so, away you go!

With such a far-flung membership and several offices around the country, the fact that ODT opens its ranks is a smart strategy for growth in the future with limited investment or capacity in the present. Ali Lotfi, the General Secretary, of the union was proud of his international labor contacts, and mentioned having been at the SEIU convention and heard Hillary Clinton speak. He said they had also helped on the McDonalds’ campaign.

The ODT is worth watching. They are doing some interesting work, even if we were sometimes struggling to put our arms around it. The ACM project has some good staff, research, and skills, but lacks some of the innovative instincts and aggressiveness of the ODT.

Immigrants and domestic workers with a clear view of their plight are probably wishing there was one plan to build a real organization so that they could win their rights and protect them. Hopefully we’ll hear about that in the next stage.

Please enjoy David Bowie’s Suffragette City.

Thanks to KABF.

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