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LOCAL News :: Labor & Class

New Orleans has Class

A VCU student initiates a discussion of the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and the net result for poor people. Keep the dialogue going and post a comment ...
I'm sure it's no foreign concept to anyone viewing this at the moment that the failures of the Bush administration, and the fledgling Department of Homeland Security (the overseer of FEMA), were derived from a neglectful attitude due to the race and class of those left behind when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.

It has been proposed that the relief efforts for the Gulf Coast and the city of New Orleans wouldn't have been so painstakingly drawn-out if the hurricane had hit Beverly Hills. I tend to agree with this statement, because the tax base of a place such as Beverly Hills and the amount of capital owned by such individuals ecplises the majority of the poor left behind in New Orleans. I'll choose to omit the race factor of this argument for now, and let you decide the rest for yourself. However, focusing on class, as Jeff Egeland, the United Nations emergency relief coordinator pointed out, Cuba, who is no stranger to powerful hurricanes, had evacuated nearly 1.3 million people who could not afford to leave as Hurricane Ivan pounded a part of the island with torrential rains and heavy winds. Not a single death was recorded.

I'm also fairly confident that most of you are probably exhausted from being constantly barraged with updates from this catastrophe. So let's look forward, at what is on the horizon as it deals with the integral part of our economy: labor.

The economy is constantly in question, and the gas prices scare is just one evident example of how each piece of the puzzle can affect the other moving parts of the machine. But behind every distaster, every tragedy, the plain fact is that there is money to be earned. Resources become scarce, prices go up. Let's rebuild New Orleans. Let's have Donald Trump and random real-estate moguls buy up this cheap property now that it has been wiped out, only to have its price skyrocket as the "old" New Orleans is recreated. Let's have Mardi Gras this year. And how will all this come to fruition? On the backs of who else but the working poor?

Now, our beloved President Bush has suspended what is known as the Davis-Bacon Act, passed in 1931, which protects workers contracted through the federal government by paying them what is known as the "prevailing wage" of the locale in which they are hired to work. Granted, there is a clause that states that the act can be suspended during times of national emergency, but for how long? How long will this be considered a crisis to which laborers can only receive lower wages than usual along the Gulf Coast, which is one of the poorest areas in the country?

And who gains from this?

Are the companies contracted out to clean up and rebuild reaping a majority of the profits? I mean, if I were part of the reconstruction effort, there would be a certain sense of duty in my work for the fact that I may not be getting paid the amount I'm used to in another state, but I'm part of something that's larger and more important than myself. But looking at my paycheck a week later, and trying to keep a family fed with a roof over their heads, I might get a bit testy.

So if these companies contracted out to rebuild are making good money from government contracts, and then the real-estate moguls and executive types are buying up all the freshly-cleaned property and hiring more workers in an economically devastated area at lower wages to build their new hotels, shops, and other places of commerce, where do our priorities lie? We're still not helping the poor.

I thought that was the problem in the first place.

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