Friday, March 18, 2011

Make No Mistake About It: When You Attack Public Workers Unions, You Attack New York’s Black Middle Class

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

During my forty plus years as a scholar, teacher, coach and community organizer, I have had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in the outer boroughs, not only in neighborhoods adjoining Manhattan, but in places where the Manhattan skyline sometimes looks like a distant universe. Whether it was through conducting oral histories, coaching basketball and baseball games, doing workshops in schools or advising community organizations on how to better reach neighborhood youth, I can say, with confidence that I am spent time in every single neighborhood in Brooklyn and the Bronx, and in large portions of Queens and Staten Island

When I visit these neighborhoods, I can’t help but take note of the age and quality of the housing stock, the variety of stores in local business district, the atmosphere in the streets, and the demographic distribution of the population, not only in terms of race, but occupation.

I have learned many things from these visits, but one of the things that leaps at me is the size of the City’s Black middle class and the its almost complete physical separation from the majority white upper class that sets the tone, and has the power in Michael Bloomberg’s New York.

There are three large cooperative housing developments in New York City that I visit regularly that are majority Black and majority middle class—Rochdale Village in Queens, Starrett City in Brooklyn, and Co-Op City in the Bronx. Located at the very outskirts of each borough, more than ten miles from Manhattan- they are self contained communities with their own shopping centers, schools and ball fields. While they are not without problems, and have only a small number of white families left, for the most part they are safe, well kept communities which are good places to raise families and which, though they are far from Manhattan have excellent shopping, decent public services, and vibrant churches and community organizations.

There is one other thing about these communities, other than their racial composition that distinguishes them from most Manhattan neighborhoods and that is where the people who live in them work. Overwhelmingly, the people in these communities are civil servants or people who work in health care. They are teachers, transit workers, police officers, prison guards, nurses and nurses aids, bus drivers, and clerks and administrators in city agencies. Literally, they are the people who make New York City run.
And almost all of them are members of unions- the UFT, the PBA, the Transport Workers Union, DC 37, Local 1199. The people here – the older generation- are the ones who unionized
New York City’s health care industry in the 60’s and 70’s and helped those workers move into the middle class; they are the ones who led the Transit Strike in 2005, and they are the ones who stand to lose most if Andrew Cuomo’s budget goes through without a millionaire’s tax and
If Michael Bloomberg gets to lay off teachers without consideration of seniority.

Make no mistake about it, Cuomo and Bloomberg may think they are being “color blind” when they fire government workers and undermine the power of public sector unions, but the consequences of their policies are anything but.

Their budget proposals, if implemented, will have a direct and devastating impact on the New York’s large and vibrant Black middle class whose hard work all New Yorker’s benefit from, and will be felt with special harshness in Starrett City, Rochdale Village, and Co-Op City

Do Cuomo and Bloomberg, and their acolytes on the editorial board of New York newspapers know or care that this will happen? Probably not. After all, most of them have never been to the three housing developments I have mentioned, much less spoken to people who live there

This is Segregation, New York Style, in the year 2011.

And another good reason to stand up for unions and accept no attacks on collective bargaining rights in the City of New York

Mark Naison
March 17, 2011


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