Remembering Labor on Labor Day

IMG_1710New Orleans       I’m not sure whether I’ve ever driven through Warren, Monticello, and Dermott, Arkansas, but being in Little Rock for KABF and various business, gave me a chance to go visit a Labor Day picnic with Local 100’s great members in Warren.  The food was great and the solidarity stunning, but driving on to New Orleans later in the afternoon got me thinking in this time of the 1% about how important it is that we keep hearing voices celebrating the virtues and struggles of working.  Here are four.

Working Class Hero by John Lennon

As soon as you’re born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool
Till you’re so crazy you can’t follow their rules
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can’t really function you’re so full of fear
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free
But you’re still peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

There’s room at the top they are telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

If you want to be a hero, well, just follow me
If you want to be a hero, well, just follow me

                                 Factory by Bruce Springsteen

Early in the morning factory whistle blows
Man rises from bed and puts on his clothes
Man takes his lunch, walks out in the morning light
It’s the working, the working, just the working life

Through the mansions of fear, through the mansions of pain
I see my daddy walking through them factory gates in the rain
Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life
The working, the working, just the working life

End of the day, factory whistle cries
Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes
And you just better believe, boy, somebody’s gonna get hurt tonight
It’s the working, the working, just the working life
Cause it’s the working, the working, just the working life

                          Workingman’s Blues #2 by Bob Dylan

There’s an evenin’ haze settlin’ over town
Starlight by the edge of the creek
The buyin’ power of the proletariat’s gone down
Money’s gettin’ shallow and weak

Well, the place I love best is a sweet memory
It’s a new path that we trod
They say low wages are a reality
If we want to compete abroad

My cruel weapons have been put on the shelf
Come sit down on my knee
You are dearer to me than myself
As you yourself can see

While I’m listening to the steel rails hum
Got both eyes tight shut
Just sitting here trying to keep the hunger from
Creeping it’s way into my gut

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind
Bring me my boots and shoes
You can hang back or fight your best on the front line
Sing a little bit of these workingman’s blues

Well, I’m sailin’ on back, ready for the long haul
Tossed by the winds and the seas
I’ll drag ’em all down to hell and I’ll stand ’em at the wall
I’ll sell ’em to their enemies

I’m tryin’ to feed my soul with thought
Gonna sleep off the rest of the day
Sometimes no one wants what we got
Sometimes you can’t give it away

Now the place is ringed with countless foes
Some of them may be deaf and dumb
No man, no woman knows
The hour that sorrow will come

In the dark I hear the night birds call
I can feel a lover’s breath
I sleep in the kitchen with my feet in the hall
Sleep is like a temporary death

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind
Bring me my boots and shoes
You can hang back or fight your best on the front line
Sing a little bit of these workingman’s blues

Well, they burned my barn and they stole my horse
I can’t save a dime
I got to be careful, I don’t want to be forced
Into a life of continual crime

I can see for myself that the sun is sinking
How I wish you were here to see
Tell me now, am I wrong in thinking
That you have forgotten me?

Now they worry and they hurry and they fuss and they fret
They waste your nights and days
Them I will forget
But you I’ll remember always

Old memories of you to me have clung
You’ve wounded me with your words
Gonna have to straighten out your tongue
It’s all true, everything you’ve heard

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind
Bring me my boots and shoes
You can hang back or fight your best on the front line
Sing a little bit of these workingman’s blues

In you, my friend, I find no blame
Wanna look in my eyes, please do
No one can ever claim
That I took up arms against you

All across the peaceful sacred fields
They will lay you low
They’ll break your horns and slash you with steel
I say it so it must be so

Now I’m down on my luck and I’m black and blue
Gonna give you another chance
I’m all alone and I’m expecting you
To lead me off in a cheerful dance

I got a brand new suit and a brand new wife
I can live on rice and beans
Some people never worked a day in their life
Don’t know what work even means

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind
Bring me my boots and shoes
You can hang back or fight your best on the front line
Sing a little bit of these workingman’s blues

And finally one for President Obama

              Mr. President (Have Pity On The Working Man) by Randy Newman

We’ve taken all you’ve given
But it’s gettin’ hard to make a livin’
Mr. President have pity on the working man

We ain’t asking for you to love us
You may place yourself high above us
Mr. President have pity on the working man

I know it may sound funny
But people ev’ry where are runnin’ out of money
We just can’t make it by ourself

It is cold and the wind is blowing
We need something to keep us going
Mr. President have pity on the working man

Maybe you’re cheatin’
Maybe you’re lyin’
Maybe you have lost your mind
Maybe you’re only thinking ’bout yourself

Too late to run. Too late to cry now
The time has come for us to say good-bye now
Mr. President have pity on the working man
Mr. President have pity on the working man

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Taking the Poor Door to Extremes in London

Tower-Hamlets-20140820-01167Warren, Arkansas       Recently we discussed the potential evolution of the so-called “poor door” housing programs implemented by developers trying to segregate one-percenters from affordable housing units in their complexes in New York City.  I warned that Mumbai offered a potential case study in how such lack of integration could lead to rebuilding substandard housing next door to marble façade high rises in the name of slum renewal.  Now that ACORN is organizing in London it didn’t take a New York minute for me to hear from one of our organizers there that London has already doubled the ante in developing poor doors and housing segregation.

            The Guardian jumped on the “poor door” issues over the last several months, finding cases as extreme as the entrances to affordable housing units in poorly lit back alleys back by the garbage cans.  The segregation is complete down to the bike racks, postal boxes, and of course separate rubbish bins, as they call them there.

            Developers, required to have such units, go to slick extremes in making their cases for segregation from these reports.  Some lay the blame on the fact that there are separate housing associations that manage the joint tenancy for the affordable units, and claim these housing units “demand” separate entrances so that common space fees are less.  One developer made a flat statement, unsubstantiated from what I could tell, that allowing the poorer tenants to enter through the front doors and fancier lobbies would amount to “cross subsidization,” whatever that might be, and “was illegal.”  Clearly, that’s a ludicrous statement on its face.

            In Mumbai I mentioned how elevators were frequently shoddy and unusable so quickly evolved into giant vertical garbage receptacles.  Well, in London, same-same, almost.  Tenants in some of the segregated housing talked about regular breakdowns of their “lifts,” leaving them with a nine-story walk-up climb to their units.  Hey, let’s be fair, Judy Brown, the tenant who walked up nine stories to her flat was quoted in the Guardian also saying that they had told her,

“When both the lifts weren’t working they did say that if you were pregnant, had a health problem or a baby in a buggy you could use the main entrance,” she said. Otherwise, the tenants said, they were “locked out” of the main lobby.

How big hearted can they be, huh?

            On the good side in London any new development is required to provide a portion of affordable units, as opposed to the voluntary program in New York City and the non-existent program in many other cities still at the beck and call of any developer with a line-of-credit and the willingness to make a political contribution.

            Though it’s also clear that the developers in London have the whip hand as well, and see the requirement to provide affordable units as the start of negotiations, not as a prerequisite, even to the extent of blaming the victims, the very poorer tenants they are forced to accommodate for their own segregation:

“…developers are obliged to provide a set proportion of affordable homes when they draw up a new project, but they are often able to negotiate this figure down with local planners. Some provide the cheaper homes in separate blocks, but in a single structure development the affordable homes are often on separate floors – with separate entrances, lifts, car parks and even rubbish bins, so that upmarket apartment buyers have no contact with those occupying the social housing in their buildings.  In some cases, developers have even used the fact they need to provide separate doors and lifts to argue against putting affordable homes on the same site as their premium apartments. Planning documents for the 56 Curzon Street development in Mayfair show that the developers told the local council “that on-site provision of affordable housing would result in significant design inefficiencies due to the need for separate entrances and building cores”.

            Mayor De Blasio of New York City is committed to breaking down the poor doors.  Mayor Boris Johnson of London, frequently mentioned as an outside shot to replace David Cameron as Conservative prime minister material says poor doors are hunky-dorky with him.

            Sounds like we can keep our eyes on London to see an evolving case study on how this residential segregation of the rich from the poor accelerates the path to Mumbai and economic apartheid.

 

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