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Friday, September 09, 2005

And If the Bids Still Come in High, He Just Might Suspend the Thirteenth Amendment 

A simple man of the people, helping those who need it most:
President Bush issued an executive order Thursday allowing federal contractors rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to pay below the prevailing wage.

In a notice to Congress, Bush said the hurricane had caused "a national emergency" that permits him to take such action under the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act in ravaged areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The Davis-Bacon law requires federal contractors to pay workers at least the prevailing wages in the area where the work is conducted. It applies to federally funded construction projects such as highways and bridges.

Bush's executive order suspends the requirements of the Davis-Bacon law for designated areas hit by the storm.
Mr. Bush has not yet released details the of healthcare package for sub-minimum-wage workers tasked with draining the toxic sump of New Orleans, but we expect it to be exceptionally generous. (Thanks to Zemblan patriot B.K. and our stalwart colleagues at Cursor for the link.)

UPDATE: We do not really imagine that The Nation ranks very high on Mr. Bush's to-have-summarized list, but if we didn't know better, Thursday's announcement might lead us to think that Naomi Klein's new column had given the President and his cronies a bit of a scare:
When I was in Sri Lanka six months after the tsunami, many survivors told me that the reconstruction was victimizing them all over again. A council of the country's most prominent businesspeople had been put in charge of the process, and they were handing the coast over to tourist developers at a frantic pace. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of poor fishing people were still stuck in sweltering inland camps, patrolled by soldiers with machine guns and entirely dependent on relief agencies for food and water. They called reconstruction "the second tsunami."

There are already signs that New Orleans evacuees could face a similarly brutal second storm. Jimmy Reiss, chairman of the New Orleans Business Council, told Newsweek that he has been brainstorming about how "to use this catastrophe as a once-in-an-eon opportunity to change the dynamic." The Business Council's wish list is well-known: low wages, low taxes, more luxury condos and hotels. Before the flood, this highly profitable vision was already displacing thousands of poor African-Americans: While their music and culture was for sale in an increasingly corporatized French Quarter (where only 4.3 percent of residents are black), their housing developments were being torn down. "For white tourists and businesspeople, New Orleans' reputation is 'a great place to have a vacation but don't leave the French Quarter or you'll get shot,'" Jordan Flaherty, a New Orleans-based labor organizer told me the day after he left the city by boat. "Now the developers have their big chance to disperse the obstacle to gentrification--poor people."

Here's a better idea: New Orleans could be reconstructed by and for the very people most victimized by the flood. Schools and hospitals that were falling apart before could finally have adequate resources; the rebuilding could create thousands of local jobs and provide massive skills training in decent paying industries. Rather than handing over the reconstruction to the same corrupt elite that failed the city so spectacularly, the effort could be led by groups like Douglass Community Coalition. Before the hurricane this remarkable assembly of parents, teachers, students and artists was trying to reconstruct the city from the ravages of poverty by transforming Frederick Douglass Senior High School into a model of community learning. They have already done the painstaking work of building consensus around education reform. Now that the funds are flowing, shouldn't they have the tools to rebuild every ailing public school in the city?

For a people's reconstruction process to become a reality (and to keep more contracts from going to Halliburton), the evacuees must be at the center of all decision-making. According to Curtis Muhammad of Community Labor United, the disaster's starkest lesson is that African-Americans cannot count on any level of government to protect them. "We had no caretakers," he says. That means the community groups that do represent African-Americans in Louisiana and Mississippi -- many of which lost staff, office space and equipment in the flood -- need our support now. Only a massive injection of cash and volunteers will enable them to do the crucial work of organizing evacuees -- currently scattered through forty-one states--into a powerful political constituency. The most pressing question is where evacuees will live over the next few months. A dangerous consensus is building that they should collect a little charity, apply for a job at the Houston Wal-Mart and move on. Muhammad and CLU, however, are calling for the right to return: they know that if evacuees are going to have houses and schools to come back to, many will need to return to their home states and fight for them.
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