Buffalo Driving through neighborhoods on first the east side and then the west side of Buffalo was a reminder of what happens in America when your issues fall to the bottom of the pile. The impact of deindustrialization was an ever present scar even when we found the occasional still operating Wonder Bread or Milk Bone plants, steam still moving into the frigid air from the smokestacks. There were beacons certainly. Rehabs of some low-slung plants into office space, the rebuilding of the Armory, the work done by Extreme Makeover, and signs, some painted and some peeled and falling, that signaled areas where city supported block and civic associations reigned supreme.
Even the bright spots crept through some clouds when we would pass massive new school construction blocks away from huge shuttered parochial facilities with fences flapping in the wind. Bill Covington, an old colleague from the HOTROC organizing drives in New Orleans, was my guide and mentioned there were 11,000 abandoned houses in the city now. Each one entailed $10,000 in costs to demolish. The city had announced a multi-year plan to tear down 500 per year. Gulp. That would be 22 years of demolition while the inventory would continue to grow and communities would be living with permanent scars.
Washington There are few grace notes in the current divisions within the forces of institutional labor, but I happened to experience a small one at Georgetown University in a special ceremony held to honor John Sweeney, retiring President of the AFL-CIO, with an honorary degree. I had been invited by Joe McCartin, an organizer with Houston ACORN decades ago as a Jesuit Volunteer Corps member, and Jennifer Luff, who worked as a researcher for me in the HOTROC campaign in New Orleans. Joe is now a professor at Georgetown specializing in labor history and Jennifer just signed on with him to help put the Kalmanovitz Institute for Labor and the Working Poor together, where he is also acting as director. The Georgetown Labor Center, as another organizer called it, as we drove to Georgetown was exciting enough to drawn me down to talk about what people had in mind and how I could help.
I stumbled into the fine hall after the ceremony had already begun, taking a seat just behind Jon Hiatt, Sweeney’s long time general counsel at SEIU and now the AFL, who reached out his hand, and Bill Lurye, from New Orleans sitting down the row past Ray Abernathy and Denise Mitchell, the communications wizards I had known so long.