Friday, December 18, 2009

Sinner, Repent-Not!

It certainly is funny to us that the folks in the building trades are issuing woof tickets to the RWDSU's Stuart Appelbaum for his "job killing" effort on the Kingsbridge Armory. As Liz Benjamin reports, Appelbaum remains, "unrepentent" for his success at thwarting the poverty wage project: "RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum doesn't think he needs to apologize to his labor brothers and sisters for his role in killing the Kingsbridge Armory project. In fact, he doesn't think he's at fault at all.

"I don’t think we’re responsible for Kingsbridge going down," said Appelbaum, pictured here at his union's holiday party Wednesday night with his ally in the living wage fight, Bronx BP Ruben Diaz Jr., as well as Comptroller Bill Thompson and former Bronx BP Freddy Ferrer.

"We were ready to negotiate throughout the process. The administration refused to talk with us. Related refused to negotiate with us. We stood ready. They were the ones who wouldn’t negotiate."

But to imply repentance is to presuppose sinning-and to transpose Appelbaum's success into a sin is an unreflected adoption of the building trades' narrative. Stuart has nothing to apologize for in successfully resisting the efforts of the mayor, Related, and their building trade allies, to push through a bad deal for the Bronx. In fact, the reaction of the trades amounts to what the shrinks call displacement-externalizing their own guilt at being unable to effectively mobilize to pass the project onto a convenient scapegoat in Appelbaum.

Over the past thirty years or so we have been involved in scores of land use projects, and in every single case-no matter how vehement the community's opposition to the development may be-the trades have been out in force; basically saying we don't care what the project's impact might be as long as our members are doing the work. Real civic minded, don't you think?

In this, their power is similar to the shining of the moon-a light that owes its radiance to the reflective power of another; and in this case it's the city's real estate community that is the power source. And with the council's composition changing, along with that of the city, the trades are in need of new allies if they want to continue to prosper.

Which is something that the RW has understood better than most-and its coalition building, first with Make the Road New York, and now with KARA, has established a new political and development paradigm that the trades need to be cognizant of before they start huffing and puffing against our friend Appelbaum. The reality is that the trade locals wouldn't get out of bed for the wages that the KARA coalition were advocating for-underscoring the stark disparity between the retail workers in this city and those laborers, carpenters and electricians who are doing much better than the rest of the city's working class.

Which is why Appelbaum and the KARA folks deserve praise for their efforts to raise NYC's wage standards. As the Norwood News pointed out: "Because Related was receiving an estimated $50 million in city and state tax breaks, as well as a highly discounted purchase price of $5 million (it cost $30 million just to replace the roof), KARA members and many elected officials said that Related had a special responsibility to make sure that retailers paid wages that could support workers and their families. In Los Angeles, Related has complied with a local law requiring the living wage."

And BP Diaz-representing the new political wave-states the new paradigm quite well: "Diaz, whose firm stance on the living wage issue was a sharp break from his pro-developer predecessor, Adolfo Carrion, Jr., said private companies can pay what they want, but not when they’re receiving taxpayer money. “If you want to create a mall on your own dime, [then go ahead and pay what you want],” he said. “If you want a subsidy, then the community deserves a subsidy as well.”

In our view, this should be seen by the trades as the handwriting on the wall-and an impetus to their vigorous support of a living wage bill in the city council in order to avoid this kind of impasse in the future. As KARA's Pilgrim-Hunter tells it: “This is not just about the Kingsbridge Armory,” said Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, a Fordham Hill resident and a leader in the Coalition and KARA. “It’s about every development in every borough in New York City."

So, while Appelbaum is now taking unwarranted heat for his remarkable success, he should take heart. Because before too long he will be marching in the lead, with those behind him finally recognizing the visionary nature of what he has started in this incredible successful effort to defeat the attempts by the city's richest man to impose his will on the poor folks in the Bronx.