Tuesday, August 29, 2006
A report (PDF) by the Advancement Project, the National Immigration Law Center and The New Orleans Workers Justice Coalition, discusses the racism, abuse, exploitation and violations of law that black and Latino workers encountered following the catastrophe. For instance:
In September, a labor broker arrived at the White Mountain Apache Nation reservation where Dan lived in Arizona and told him about work in New Orleans. He was told the pay was $14 to $16 an hour, the work was guaranteed, and he would have housing. The tribal government paid a labor broker $1,600 for gas and expenses, and some 80 Apaches climbed into vans to find work. In New Orleans, the labor broker disappeared. The Apaches, including Dan, were dropped off in front of a FEMA office, and were turned away. After several days of homelessness, the Apaches found City Park, an unlit makeshift campground, where Dan has been paying $300 a month to pitch a tent. For months, he would barely find enough construction work to scrape by. “Now I have a job. I drive a truck for a company that’s rebuilding the levees.” Dan works 18-hour shifts. Today he works from 6 a.m. to midnight, but the port-o-lets at the park are only open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. “So where do I brush my teeth?” Dan asks, clutching a toothbrush as he leaves the park to get to work.
That would have been around the time Bush was suspending minimum wage and safety laws so that the companies allied to him and the local Democratic political class could cash in.
Another by Save the Children discusses the horrible conditions and the threats to children's health from the transitional 'housing' that thousands are still forced to live in.
A third report by 142 US organisations and 32 individuals documents human rights abuses during and after Katrina.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports on how businesses have taken the opportunity to drastically inflate prices for everything in New Orleans, and while many areas of the Gulf Coast are being rebuilt rapidly, New Orleans is stagnating due to the curious 'inertia' of 'local community leaders' (they're busily privatising everything they can get their hands on and trying to sideline local people so that they can turn the place over to rich developers). Today, by the way, is the deadline for locals to gut and board up their destroyed homes before the city siezes them. If you're out of state for any wierd reason, the state is about to cancel your entitlement to the house you have worked and paid for. Meanwhile, the state has saved the insurance industry billions of dollars by siding against policyholders whose homes were destroyed by a surge.
Those are some of the details of the crime spree that is ongoing, but we need to understand what lies beneath it. New Orleans is still owned and run by a racist, quasi-aristocratic capitalist class, the descendants of slave-owners and segregationists. These people have stated over and over that they do not want the working class, especially the black working class, to return. Lance Hill of Tulane University tells the BBC:
"In the wake of the flood, a small group of powerful business leaders and developers - the old blue-blood elite - took it upon themselves to plan the city into the next 20-30 years."
The problem was that "virtually no African-Americans" had returned to the city when those plans were being formed, says Mr Hill, who describes himself as a white liberal.
There were proposals not to rebuild historically black neighbourhoods, which alarmed African-Americans, he says.
"African-Americans who were displaced became deeply suspicious that their homes were going to be bulldozed, their jobs taken away and their hospitals closed.
"There was a general fear that they were being locked out of the city," Mr Hill says.
He says he believes the intention was to exclude poor people. But because the city had been racially segregated for generations, the practical effect was to exclude blacks.
"If you want to eliminate a high concentration of poor African-Americans by eliminating a neighbourhood, you also eliminate working-class, middle-class, even wealthy blacks," he says.
"Class became race in New Orleans."
Of course, that blue-blood elite had ample warning of the disaster to come, and they were deeply involved in the pre-Katrina planning that mysteriously ommitted plans to assist the poor. Greg Palast reports on the expert who gave advance warnings of Katrina and was threatened for his efforts - by a state official who now works for Innovative Emergency Management. The Bush administration was also warned in advance and then made its curious sequence of decisions including the blockading of aid, the refusal to allow those trapped in the city, starving and dying of thirst, to leave, and then the imposition of martial law and the attempt at forcible eviction of those who remained. If they had been planning to use this catastrophe as an excuse to 'clean out public housing' as one Congressman cheerfully put it at the time, and thereby initiate the 'thirty-year plans' for the development of the city with its 'underclass', they could not have done much better than they have. The only thing that could possibly hinder them would be the resistance of survivors and the solidarity of American workers from across the country.