|The Bronx Burns - with Activism |
Speaking Out for Social Justice
| By Bill Hohlfeld |
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Last night, in the auditorium of Our Lady of Refuge School, in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, the clergy representing several local churches and faith based groups, neighborhood residents and community organizers, came together with union representatives from RWDSU, 32B&J, Local 608 of the Carpenters, and of course, Local 46 Metallic Lathers to put pressure on NYC elected officials to ensure that the development project at the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, is of maximum benefit to the NYC citizens and taxpayers who live there. The event was aptly titled: Rally for Responsible Development, and its chosen slogan was: Good Jobs - Strong Communities.
The meeting was brought to order and the seriousness of both the subject and the moment was made evident by one of the local pastor’s fervent opening prayer ”to the Almighty God of justice” that her community might be empowered. Make no mistake about it. A little divine empowerment will come in handy when a Bronx community is up against a multi-billion dollar Corporate developer like Related, who, after receiving city and state subsidies that allowed them to purchase a property estimated to be worth 20 million dollars for a much reduced price of 5 million dollars, plans to install yet another “big box” store in the space.
That type of development provides no real benefit to the community because operations of that nature typically employ people at low (non-union) wages in part-time jobs with no medical benefits. In the Kingsbridge scenario, the picture becomes even bleaker as such a retail model would virtually destroy the two neighborhood Associated Stores and possibly the seven other smaller supermarkets in the surrounding areas that manage to employ over 450 local residents with living wage jobs. And living wage jobs are very much on the minds of members of a community that is currently trying to cope with an 18% unemployment rate, a rate that is roughly double the national average.
Another chief concern among the community residents is the usage of the non-retail space being developed. At present, only 3% of the 875,000 square feet is being allocated for community usage. That’s totally unacceptable to the young people from SUBA (Bruthas and Sistas United) Don’t be misled by the hip-hop choice of spelling. These kids are bright, articulate and focused on the future and the path they need to take to insure that future. They know that the library needs to be developed, a minimum of another 2000 school seats need to be provided, recreational facilities made available and a general attitude of investment in our city’s youth be taken. Their voices did not fall on deaf ears.
NYC Controller, and candidate for mayor, Bill Thompson has pledged his unbridled support for the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA) and all its aims, bar none. City councilman Koppell has pledged 100% commitment to the residents right to organize the workplace as well as to hammer out a palatable community benefits agreement with Related. And last, but certainly not least, the indefatigable Assemblyman Jose Rivera, one time union carpenter and one time ILWGU member pledges his support in the “fight for the right to be union.” In NYC politics, this might be as close to divine empowerment as one gets.
An interesting footnote to the story is that the NYC Union Building Trades have been “good” on this project for well over a year now. Yet, that hasn’t stopped or even slowed down their efforts to guarantee that all the stakeholders receive their fair share. The Building Trades were keenly aware in this case, that to simply insure that the project was to be “union built” and walk away, was simply not good enough. There is a revitalization in the belief that only through true solidarity can working people ever acheive the economic justice they want and deserve.