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Unemployment Line during RNC

The Nation (http://www.thenation.com/blogs/protest?bid=12&pid=1776)
Does a Pink Slip Make You a Girlie Man?
09/02/2004 @ 7:02pm

The 8 million jobless Americans have been invisible this week at the Republican National Convention, since it seems only girlie men would dwell on such an unpleasant subject. But a little after 8 am on Wednesday, they appeared out of nowhere along Broadway, in an "unemployment line" organized by the AFL-CIO and People for the American Way that stretched for three miles from Wall Street up to 34th Street. Five thousand people registered online to participate in the action--organized entirely electronically--and received their block assignments by e-mail the day before. At the appointed time, they suddenly congregated and stepped into a single-file line, facing north, their pink slips held aloft. From my vantage point at Duane and Broadway, just north of City Hall, it was pink as far as the eye could see.

Behind me stood Yvons Carriotte, 35, a former Sheridan Hotel bell captain laid off after 9/11, who has been surviving since on part-time work, driving a school bus four hours a day in eastern Pennsylvania. A Haitian immigrant and father of a 5-year-old son, Carriotte's been without pay all summer while school's out, but since he technically has a job, he was turned down for unemployment benefits. A block and a half north stood Kelie Bowman, 25, a print photo technician who's been laid off from two jobs in the past year and a half. She, too, is eking out an existence without unemployment benefits, because her last boss successfully challenged her claim. Nearby stood a reporter whose wife is unemployed and a film production assistant who's been "between jobs" for months. At 8:31 am, the block captains said thanks, and the line evaporated as mysteriously as it had appeared.

That afternoon at 4 pm, some 25,000 of the employed held a gathering of their own, a rally sponsored by the New York Central Labor Council just south of Madison Square Garden that was characterized by lots of girlie talk of the uninsured, the underpaid and, yes, the unemployed. In perhaps the most multiracial protest of the week, Asian electricians, Latino janitors, African- American transit workers, Caribbean homecare workers, and white bricklayers with biceps the size of Dick Cheney's head sang the "Star-Spangled Banner" and lustily chanted "Bush must go." "Inside Madison Square Garden, delegates are painting a picture of an America that's prosperous, caring and sharing," said AFL-CIO president John Sweeney. "We're here to say that America only exists for the privileged and the wealthy." He promised that the federation would work around the clock for the next sixty-two days to mobilize the union vote. Peter Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, was introduced by girlie man James Gandolfini, who said, "I can't tell you how mad I am that these people are in my city. I can't tell you how mad I am that it took George Bush four days to get here after 9/11," a frustration that was echoed by the leaders of city unions, such as transit-worker head Roger Toussaint, whose members "worked the pile" in the months after the attacks.

Gorman, whose union--along with the 260,000-member International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF)--has endorsed Kerry, bellowed, "It's time to send George Bush back to Crawford." But while his words were amplified for the crowd in union hats and union T-shirts, they were drowned out in the news by a well-timed Bush photo-op at a community center in Queens. There, the New York City firefighters' union, which has appealed for the President's help in a contract dispute with the mayor, broke ranks with the IAFF and almost all of organized labor to endorse the Bush/Cheney ticket. Though most reporters were shut out and protesters were kept a block away, Republican videographers were on hand to capture images of Bush with the renegade firefighters, which were displayed that night on the Jumbotrons at MSG.

This morning, the Labor Department quietly released data showing that new unemployment claims rose by 19,000 last week, a number Bush will likely be far too manly to mention when he takes the stage tonight.

Esther Kaplan

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