(eng.) SOUP KITCHENS

curtis price (cansv@igc.apc.org)
Tue, 23 Jan 1996 00:21:38 +0000


SOUP KITCHENS: A U.S. GROWTH INDUSTRY

If there has been one hallmark of American life over the
past 10 years, it has been in the growth of soup kitchens and
shelters everywhere in the big citys. Traditionally, soup
kitchens have been pointed to as a sign of growing poverty
among the very poor here, particularly those on welfare
wages. Certainly, the "new" poverty is widespread and
increasing visible everywhere. According to the last census
bureau report, the number of people living below the poverty
line alone increased from 25 million in 1980 to 36.9 million
in 1992. Since the 1970's, the minimum wage, in real dollars
(after adjustment for inflation) has gone down nearly 22% A
report issued in New York City in November of 1992 claimed
nearly one per-cent of the city's population had spent at
least one night in a shelter over the course of a year.
Similar figures were found in Philadelphia. All of this
translates into huge numbers of homeless and destitute
crowding the downtown areas of American cities.
In response, many city governments, have passed anti
panhandling bills or authorized privatized security forces,
often set up in cooperation with business groups and funded
through special tax assessments, to patrol the business
districts to keep "order" and repress the homeless.
In the Sixties, when protest was much more open, many
poor people flooded the welfare rolls in record numbers.
Because this increase in welfare applications was a hidden
movement, that is it involved people just acting on their own
and not forming formal organizations pressing for reforms
(although that happened too in the Welfare Rights movement)
much of its significance was lost, especially considering the
more spectacular and visible expressions of protest that were
then occurring everywhere. The increase in welfare
recipients in turn, threatened to bankrupt local governments
and contributed in producing the so-called fiscal crisis of
the State - or in particular, the fiscal crisis of the large
cities, such as New York..
But for the past twenty years (and especially in recent
years), cutbacks to social services have forced tens of
thousands of people off the roles entirely. Several States
have now eliminated welfare for single people and nearly all
the rest have set up severe restrictions preventing people
from getting on relief. Meanwhile, charities have picked up
the burden, although even today they are overwhelmed beyond
their slender resources.
One of the ironies in the present situation is that
while the State wants to transfer as many social costs as
possible back to "the community", even recuperating the 60's
catch phrase of "empowerment" to justify doing so i.e.
freeing the community from the impersonal and bureaucratic
intervention of the public sector, the so-called "community"
has been steadily withering away under the onslaught of two
decades of economic restructuring. Quite bluntly, there is no
mythological community to dump responsibility for providing
increasingly unprofitable services on. The community groups,
which in the sixties, provided some sort of integrating
buffer between the State and the neighborhoods, often
articulating people's grievances and concerns are all but in
the process of disappearing. No one comes to meetings nor is
anyone much interested in anything beyond so-called private
interests.
More than ever before, and especially in the ghettos,
people are just refusing to participate entirely in anything
"social." Homelessness, soup kitchens and shelters are just
the tip of the iceberg for what are undoubtably worsening
conditions for the most precarious U.S. workers and long term
unemployed.
But unlike social services (welfare), which has been
de-legitimated in the past twenty years, the specter of
people going hungry in the wealthiest country in the world
still strikes a chord of sympathy among the public. Around
the winter holidays in particular, people are flooded with
charity appeals to help alleviate hunger (if only for one day
or one meal) by contributing money to the hundreds of church-
based and community agencies who have taken up the burden all
too willingly abandoned by the State. But there is another
side to this spectacular growth of soup kitchens.
The stigma of being seen in a soup kitchen now longer
carries the weight it did ten years ago. Many people I know
go to soup kitchens now as a way to maximize their shrinking
income and out of a gut feeling that food is something you
shouldn't have to pay for. In many of the larger daily soup
lines, in fact, sometimes there is almost a festive
atmosphere now. Soup kitchens are appropriated an
alternative social space to meet and be around people.
This need to maximize your income is contradictory of
course. Part of it is consumerism of a very individualistic
sort i.e rejection of the commodity in one area while you
embrace it in the other.( perhaps in buying drugs or alcohol)
But part too, is a new sense of entitlement that is hidden
away from the usual charity appeals. People readily
acknowledge this fact by pointing to the fact that it is
"others" who are always "getting over." For certain layers of
the poorest part of the ghettos here, going to soup kitchens
becomes a collective way of organizing for survival outside
and against the system. You learn to play the beggar if it
delivers the goods normally denied.--CP

THE REFLUX

I remember back in 1967 my older sister Wanda she was on
welfare she had two kids and wasn't doing too good she went
to a Welfare Rights meeting and I went along just for the
hell of it everybody in the hall was angry and was speaking
up they didn't have that beat - up resigned look you get
when you are on check - time no they were tired they were
fed up now was the time to act one lady got up and said
are we going to live like second class citizens what about
our children's future you can't live off the chicken feed
they hand down to you the social workers talk to you like
dogs what about those investigators they send around to spy
on you we need to do something and we need to do it now
and everybody did they stood up as one and cheered they
were angry then the lady who had just spoken so grandly said
we should go down there and take over those offices and
everybody streamed out the brown church door down to Gay St.
to do just that

We were marching down Lafayette St. it was hot outside
and you could smell the ripe fruit on the Arabber's carts we
passed and sweat was pouring down our faces but nobody cared
we marched down the middle of the street and even the old
wine heads came out of the bars and cheered us on the mood
was spreading to everyone we passed people were joining in
and the white boy from SDS started up a chant and everybody
was beaming and laughing you felt together with people but
times was different then nobody was thinking just of
themselves like they do now

When we got to the Welfare office door Sadie Jones
pushed it open the social workers had never seen a sight
like this before you could see it in their eyes everybody
started yelling and Wanda sat in one of those comfortable
chairs the big shots always sat in clients could only sit in
those hard wooden chairs that were too small for a grown
person and would hurt your back when you were sitting all day
to see a worker these were chairs from the old elementary
school on Aisquith St they had sent up here because they
didn't want to throw them out some of us sat on the floor
and linked our arms just to make sure they coudn't transact
business

Someone started singing WE SHALL OVERCOME and pretty
soon everyone was singing it a white man in a suit and tie
came out of the back he had a strained look on his face he
was nervous because all these rowdy Black people were in his
face he was saying"Where is your leader?" and we all laughed
loudly because he sounded like one of those Martians in the
movies asking for a leader we don't have no leader is what
we told him what you would say to one person you can say to
all because we are learning to speak for ourselves now

He paused for a moment and tried to smile but it was not
a real smile it was a phony smile one of those smiles you
give to people when you are trying to make them think better
of you than they have reason to he said, "I understand how
you must feel but our hands are tied policy decisions are
made down in Washington and all we can do is enforce them
Congress has put a freeze on the budget and you should write
letters to your Congressman and lobby the politicians if you
want to have an effect you should demonstrate down there and
not here because HERE is not where the decisions are made

The lady who had spoken so well at the Welfare Rights
meeting got up and said "We don't live in Washington we live
here and besides we don't have busfare to get down to
Washington because we do not receive the type of money that
lets us catch busses to the Wesside of Baltimore let alone
Washington so that is why we are HERE and not THERE
furthermore Mr.- Man-IN Suit-And- Tie, we figures if we puts
enough heat under the kettle in our own backyard maybe YOU
can go down to Washington and lobby the politicians who never
seem to get around to ever helping poor people anyway this
lady had more confidence than the rest I guess it was
because her old man worked in the coke ovens down Sparrows
Point and made good money and she didn't need to depend as
much on welfare like everyone else

Thirty minutes later the man-in suit-and-tie came back
out and said he had made a few calls downtown and perhaps
there had been a misunderstanding maybe there was some extra
money for clients to get furniture grants afterall he said
you can't do this though you can't just come in here and
demand things you should form a committee to responsibly
address your grievences you should file complaints to the
Social Services appeal committee he put a special emphasis
on the word responsible but no one was really listening to
him because everyone knew the only reason we had won anything
was because we had all marched in here together and we hadn't
played the game like it's normally played

We all left as a group that night Wanda went down to
the furniture store on Gay St the one that hadn't been burnt
down in the riots and picked out two new beds her old beds
had holes in the mattress and were falling apart now her
children could sleep better in their own beds and not be all
crowded up on one mattress like before

That was more than twenty years ago a few years after
everyone was protesting it seemed there was more dope than
ever in the ghetto I don't know where it all came from but
it was there like a flood that had broken loose from a dam
and people stopped protesting as much and the lines in their
faces grew tighter and the lady who had spoken up at the
meeting that night well her old man got laid off from the
coke ovens at Sparrows Point and the papers were all saying
those jobs would never come back they were gone forever and
her old man he started drinking real heavy and then he
disappeared her sons got into dope and started stealing from
her and she had no more time to come to any meetings anymore
people drifted apart and Wanda's kids are teenagers now they
drive Nissan's and wear those ropes and carry beepers and
nobody calls one another brother and sister anymore those
days are gone now it seems.

A CHRONOLOGY: OCTOBER 15TH - DECEMBER 31ST,1993

OCT. 15TH-- Thirty thousand lay-offs to take place as
companies ranging from Bank America to the Los Angeles Times
announce lay-offs expected to be put in effect between now
and Nov.4th.

OCT. 19-20TH-- Twenty thousand applicants line up for post
office jobs in Detroit.

OCT. 30TH-- Sixty-seven percent of nearly 700 major U.S.
corporations report earnings high or better than expected for
third quarter of 1993.

OCT. 30TH-- Sixty marchers protesting police racism and
brutality in small upstate New York city of Peerskill hold
"Day of Outrage" rally in city streets.

OCT. 25TH-- High school students stage walk out in two
schools to support four hundred teachers on strike in east
Los Angeles suburbs. Strike issues: Concessions (district
school administrators asked teachers to accept 3 day unpaid
furlough , increase in class size, increased co-payments in
health care coverage.)

NOV. 1ST-- Four hundred Chicago workers attend citywide
support rally for locked out Staley workers.

NOV. 6TH-- Strike of northern New Jersey dye workers enters
third week. Picket lines set-up at 20 dye and finishing
houses in Paterson, Passaic and other towns.

NOV. 6TH-- Blue Cross/Blue Shield workers in Michigan end
seven week strike.

NOV. 7TH-- Murders in Baltimore expected to reach over 350 by
end of year. According to press, twice as many people in
Baltimore have died of gunshot wounds since 1970 as civil war
casualties in Northern Ireland in same period. Washington,
D.C., Detroit, New Orleans and Baltimore are top murder
cities in U.S.

NOV. 7TH-- Fifteen hundred workers attend solidarity rally in
Decatur,Illinois to support locked-out A.E.Staley workers and
southern Illinois coal miners.

NOV. 8TH-- One hundred demonstrators hold sit-in to protest
Seattle's "aggressive panhandling" bill in city's Pioneer
Square district.

NOV. 10TH-- National wildcat strike of independent truckers
begins. Two Ohio scab drivers shot and nine others target of
sniper fire first day of strike. In California, strikers
throw stones and bottles at scab trucks outside four docks.

NOV. 11TH-- Five hundred independent truckers hold rally in
Wilmington, California, jeer passing scab rigs and make
picket signs saying "No Justice, No Work."

NOV. 11TH-- Ten thousand line up to apply for non-existent
casino jobs in Detroit. Developers announced they were taking
applications as means to pressure city government into
permitting legalized gambling in city limits by showing need
for jobs casinos would create if allowed to operate.

NOV. 11TH-- Two hundred locked out iron ore miners and
supporters rally outside National Steel Company headquarters
in Mishwaka, Indiana. A total of six hundred workers have
been on strike since mid-September against the National Steel
Pellet Corporation in Keewatin,Minnesota, which is a
subsidiary of National Steel,.

NOV. 11TH-- Kennel workers on strike at dog pound on
Cleveland,Ohio's west side. Issues in strike: understaffing,
increasing numbers of stray animals, pay premiums for weekend
work. Strikers supported by Near West Side Community Council,
a neighborhood group who have pledged to mobilize residents
in support of strikers if necessary.

NOV. 12TH-- Fifteen hundred workers at York, Pennsylvania
Caterpillar plant stage solidarity walk-out over suspension
of union representative at Mossville,Illinois Caterpillar
factory. A total of nearly 14,000 other Caterpillar workers
nationwide joined protest, shutting plants in three other
states.

NOV. 13TH-- New Directions, a UAW reform group disbands at
its conference this weekend, citing worker's apathy towards
New Directions goals. Jerry Tucker, former national director
stated at conference, "They (rank and file workers) are not
flocking to New Directions because they view the union as
irrelevant. Why would you want to reform something that is
irrelevant anyway?"

NOV. 13TH-- National wildcat strike of independent truckers
enters third day. Truck shipments completely blacked at Long
Beach and Los Angeles ports. Issues in strike: Federal tax
increases on diesel fuel, which have increased from ten cents
per gallon to forty cents per gallon. Also protesting NAFTA.
Independent truckers comprise 500,000 of total industry
drivers of 4.5 million. Independents claim they are not
receiving the 70% of gross freight-hauling charges they are
supposed to get in informal agreement with trucking companies
and as contractors, get no medical or vacation coverage.

NOV. 14TH-- UAW calls off national Caterpillar solidarity
strike after three days.

NOV. 15TH-- Third month of hotel workers strike in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Three hundred hotel workers at
Sheraton Hotel ( a posh middle class shopping and
entertainment complex) are demanding $1 per hour raise and a
50 cent an hour pension plan.

NOV. 18TH-- Arraignment of eight Logan County, West Virginia
miners for alleged involvement in shooting death of scab
contractor during miners' strike July 1993.

NOV. 18TH-- Twenty- one thousand American Airline flight
attendants strike, shutting American down nationwide right
before busiest travel season of year.

NOV. 20TH-- Police in Los Angeles dressed in riot gear drive
striking independent truckers off vacant lot near the port
which had served as informal strike headquarters. Union
officials claim rubber bullets were fired at strikers with-
out warning. L.A. Harbor Department spokesperson labelled
police action "an aggressive means of returning to a better
work environment."

NOV. 22ND-- U.S.Air Shuttle flight attendents picket Logan
International Airport in Boston protesting lack of new
contract and baggage handlers being dismissed by company.

NOV. 22ND-- American Airline flight attendents return to
work, claiming victory as company forced to submit to binding
arbitration after intervention from Clinton administration.
During five day strike, company lost an estimated $50 million
a day in operating losses.

NOV. 25TH--Record numbers line up for Thanksgiving soup
kitchen dinners nationwide.

NOV. 27TH-- New Jersey dyers on strike hold rally in
Paterson,New Jersey attended by 1800 workers and supporters.

NOV. 30TH-- Three hundred and fifty Legal Services workers
represented by United Auto Workers go out on strike. Strike
issues: Health care benefit cut backs, two year wage freeze
proposed by management.

DEC. 4TH-- Three hundred airline workers at Alitalia in New
York City continue four month strike against concessions.
Alitalia had been asking for a 40% pay cut and a two tier
system for new employees.

DEC. 7TH-- RJR Nabisco announces it will cut back workforce
by 9.5%, eliminating 6,000 jobs.

DEC. 7TH-- United Mine Workers union calls off strike against
Bituminous Coal Operators pending settlement vote by
membership. Strike began May 10th, 1993.

DEC. 12TH-- Tugboat workers settle five year strike against
Bouchard Transportation Company (strike began Feb.16th,
1988.)

DEC. 12TH-- Striking dye workers in New Jersey walk out of
proposed settlement meeting before vote taken on contract,
thereby continuing strike.

DEC. 14TH-- One hundred thirty-eight hotel workers locked out
by Madison Hotel in Washington D.C. In response, workers set-
up intentionally noisy picketline in front of hotel seven
days a week, forcing cancellation of many room bookings. By
end of month, new contract signed. Union officials state
noisy picket line tactics have been used to pressure hotel
owners in two other recent disputes.

DEC. 15TH-- City uses bulldozers to level Lower East side
shantytown, displacing eight people.

DEC. 18TH-- Brockton,Massachusetts teachers settle five day
"illegal" strike over cutbacks to workers' health benefits.

DEC. 18TH-- Steelworkers strike at Bayou Steel in La .
Place,Louisiana continues after ninth month. Strike issues:
Concessions, contracting out, health and safety, lead
poisoning in the surrounding community related to Bayou Steel
presence.

DEC. 24TH-- Wildcat strike by Philadelphia longshoremen
protesting shipping companies using non-ILA labor. Strikers
force ships to be diverted to nearby ports of Baltimore and
Wilmington. Reports in media state workers wearing bandanas
and ski masks to protect their identities.

DEC. 31ST-- Aerospace Industries Association reports profits
of 5.5 billion dollars-the highest since figures began being
tracked in the mid-seventies. In 1993, thirteen per-cent of
all aerospace workers were laid off.

FROM NEWS AND LETTERS, DEC.1993:". . . I read a story about a
business, Glenn Furniture in Huntington Beach,California,
which closed and moved to Tijuana, Mexico to exploit low
wages. After being there for a few years, they found out that
the bosses couldn't kick the Mexican workers around like they
do in the U.S. The owners thought they would move back to
Huntington beach and steal two weeks' wages owed to the
workers.
Trucks were sent to move the machinery out of the plant
on Saturday while the workers were off for the weekend. When
the truckers entered the plant, they had a surprize waiting
for them. The Mexican workers were there, sitting on the
machines. They told the truckers to get the hell out, nobody
was moving these machines untill they got their two weeks
pay. After a month or so of guarding the machinery but not
getting their pay, the workers sold the machinery for
$250,000 and divided up the money. . ."--Felix Martin,
WORKSHOP TALKS

"WALL STREET JOURNAL",DEC.9TH: "COMPUTER LINKS ERODE
HIERARCHICAL NATURE OF WORKPLACE CULTURE". A very interesting
article describing how office workers are using new
technology to their advantage as computers networks expand in
offices around the country. Article contrasts first wave of
computerization, which saw workers confined to word
processing stations and performing work in isolation, to the
second wave, where inter-office linkages spread, thus
increasing workers' ability to communicate grievances and
concerns among themselves as well as increasing workers'
ability to counter-manage supervisors by gaining access to
internal memos posted on computer bulletin boards.