Workers and the poor paying for the crisis in New York

By Saul Rojas Caamaño

In 2008 there was a 300,000 increase in the numbers of poor people in New York City, according to The New York Times. These days, few can survive on unemployment benefits. Furthermore, the web site of Food Bank of New York , a nonprofit organization that feeds the poor, reports that about 1.4 million people depend on soup kitchens for their daily meals.

Growing unemployment affects African American and immigrant workers in greater numbers, forcing them to set up flea markets and food vending carts. This growing informal sector of the economy, which abounds in Latin America and other regions, is a direct result of the aftershocks produced by the world economic crisis.

The informal commerce in New York includes selling prepared food, phone calls, perfumes, jewelry, bootlegs DVDs and so on. This informal economy is on the rise in places with a high concentration of immigrant and African American workers such as Uptown Manhattan, Harlem, the Bronx and Queens.

Almost every day, street vendors suffer repression and harassment by the police since this type of informal commerce in the streets is not regulated by law.

What happened?

Many unionized jobs have been lost in New York City, a place where the labor movement had a strong bargaining power for decades due to a radical unionism that had deep roots going back to the 1930s. That political situation was essential in preserving hard won worker’s benefits and a safety set for the poor that still exists today in a trimmed down incarnation. Benefits for workers have decreased as the number of unionized jobs decreased.

So it is no coincidence that dramatic drop in union membership over the years have provoked a reversal of worker’s power. But blame should also fall on the labor bureaucracy who in conjunction with politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties helped to dismantled unions contracts and benefits.

One explanation for the drop of living standard in the U.S. is the systematic budgets cuts made to social services under Reagan, Clinton, the Bush gang and presently Obama. As the recession deepens, there will be more people in the streets of New York City selling brand new and used items on the streets in order to buy food and other necessities

However, this phenomenon is not unique to New York. In fact, it is spreading to other places around the country due to the crisis affecting the capitalist system and the government policies of the Obama administration which are making workers pay for the crisis.

Workers and other sectors facing oppression and exploitation in New York and other states have a way out of this crisis by uniting together in order to mobilize and defeat the economic plan imposed by the government and big capital.