Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Right To Assemble

I was tempted to post something on the Glenn Beck Extravaganza at the Lincoln Memorial today. There was certainly enough material to glean for a post, whether in the traditional media or on the not-so-traditional media (the blogosphere). I decided that I probably wouldn't add much to the discourse, so I'm giving the whole matter a pass, at least for today.

What I will say today, however, is that Mr. Beck and his cohort have every right to hold that festival to "Restore Honor," today and every other day of the year, just as the other demonstration, the more traditional one commemorating Martin Luther King's transcendent speech on the same spot Mr. Beck will be occupying, have a right to assemble nearby. It's guaranteed by our Constitution, and it's one right that gets stronger each time it is exercised.

That said, I want to comment on another assembly, one that has been taking place in the area of Los Angeles known as Century City for the past week or so. The numbers involved are strikingly different: not hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands or even thousands. Less than a hundred union demonstrators representing janitorial workers have been protesting the dismissal of 16 workers. Tim Rutten has a particularly good take on the story.

Over the past week, a drama has been in progress outside two of the city's most expensive office buildings, 2000 Avenue of the Stars and the Century Plaza Tower in Century City.

Two weeks ago, 16 of the janitors who clean the high-rises that are home to some of the world's richest talent agencies, financial service companies and law firms were laid off. Their colleagues walked off the job in sympathy, and other members of SEIU, the union that represents them, have been staging a variety of protests, including a hunger strike that ended Friday. They're demanding that JP Morgan Chase, the $2-trillion bank that owns the buildings and paid out billions in bonuses to its executives last year, hire the 16 back.

The bank shrugs off the situation, pointing out that it contracts with ABM Industries to clean the towers. "The dispute is between a vendor and [its] employees, not Chase," corporate spokesman Gary Kishner wrote in a statement. Meanwhile, the city's news media have handled this story mainly as an exasperated tale of inconvenience and traffic jams for people going to and from work, rather than as a story about 16 people, many of them single mothers, who were tossed out on the street by a profitable company seeking to cut costs. It's hard not to be struck by the contrast between that lack of empathetic generosity and the courageous solidarity shown by their 57 fellow janitors who risked their own jobs in an economy with rampant unemployment. These people make $13.50 an hour; the tenants in that building have blazers on which every button costs three times that. ...

Publicly traded ABM is one of the country's largest maintenance contractors, with annual revenue of $3.5 billion. It earned $855.5 million in the second quarter of this year and paid its stockholders their 177th consecutive quarterly dividend. ABM also has the requisite flashy website that enumerates its corporate principles. Among them is "respecting our employees.... ABM treats everyone justly and fairly. When employees are happy, we know they'll do their best for our customers."
[Emphasis added]

For some reason, the press doesn't seem too impressed by the economic injustice so blatant in the story. Apparently janitors and line workers and clerical workers just don't count. They're fungible, a dime a dozen. Those wearing the expensive suits were inconvenienced, and that's all that matters.

And the fact that ABM has just added to the unemployment ranks of California (which stands at more than 1 in 10 workers) so that the bottom line looks better to the shareholders who have come to expect their dividends as a matter of course is just an irrelevant blip on the whole matter.

Maybe this country really does need to Restore Honor, although I'm reasonably certain that's not what Mr. Beck and the Tea Partiers have in mind. They seem to be more interested in re-sourcing that honor from their idea of the Christian God.

I am reminded of one of the laments from an Old Testament prophet: "How long, o Lord, how long!"

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home