Day 515: I Just Want a Living Income
Some have parked their tents along the sidewalk since early Tuesday, enduring the brutal cold of this New York City winter for six days and five nights.
Ray only got here this afternoon, but he’s no more than 20 spots behind the front of the line. A stocky guy in his late 30s, Ray’s bundled in a thick, hooded parka; he’s holding a plastic blanket around his legs. Why, I ask him, did someone show up five days in advance?
“He’s hungry,” Ray tells me, his admiration obvious. “Ya can’t knock that. That’s hustle. But he’s gotta live ’round here to take a shower, or he’s gonna need some fuckin’ Old Spice. He’s been sittin’ out here since Tuesday.”
Ray arrived Sunday afternoon, “around 11 o’clock,” but he’d been driving past the entrance all week, checking to make sure early arrivals wouldn’t force him to line up earlier.
These are not welfare queens, “moochers” or “takers.” These are hardworking, blue-collar New Yorkers, camping on the street by the hundred for a shot at one of 30 union jobs being offered by Laborer’s Local 731. The union announced recruitment starting Monday, March 3, scheduled to continue through the 14th, but they could staff every position — four times over — just from the men standing on the street tonight. And while Ray’s got a pretty good shot — he’s near the front of the line, easily within the first 30 through the door — there’s still an air of uncertainty in his voice when I ask him about his chances.
“It’s a gamble,” Ray explains.
And when they tell me the hourly rate they’ll earn if they manage to get hired, I start to wonder if maybe I should go home and grab a tent of my own — these jobs start at $30-$40/hour (with union benefits and perks, of course). According to one applicant, a union like this one only brings in new members once every five years.
Indeed, it’s such a good job that most of the men in line already have jobs. But in the plutocratic mecca of New York, even $16/hour — as Ray earns working as a warehouse supervisor — doesn’t add up to a living wage. So he stands in the cold, waiting for the chance to get a shot at a job. (That is, assuming he passes a physical test that includes pulling a 75-pound weight 12 feet in the air.) - Salon

This is a common occurrence these days, people queuing by the hundreds, or even thousands, for just a few available positions. The reality is that middle class is no longer them middle class but the upper class, and the upper class has now become the super-elite class. Everyone else is in the trying-to-survive class. I don't think I need to give you the statistics, they've been floating around the web and TV for a while now. The question is then, if we all know that there is a problem, why has nothing changed? We are actually the ones who are suffering, who are trying to survive in a system that makes it harder and harder to do so - so why are we not investigating how we can improve the system?

Lately, times have been tough for Joe, and he’s had to rely on welfare and the Back to Work Program just to pay for basic essentials like public transit. Joe lives in Staten Island, obtains work training in the Bronx, and is standing in line talking with me in my own neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. There are also fees for tests and applications associated with getting construction work that Joe could never afford without this assistance. I asked Joe if he thought that this was fair, but he demurred.
“That’s the way it is.”
These men aren’t naive about their long odds, but they’re still determined, even a touch optimistic. I suppose the kind of person willing to stand on line overnight in freezing temperatures just for the chance of a good job is optimistic by default.
The men in line are old and young; black, white and Hispanic; thin and heavy-set. There’s a 19-year-old kid currently working in restaurants, who hopes a union job might offer stability, benefits and raises. For young Americans, these have largely become the hallmarks of a “middle-class” life.
“If I get this job,” a fast-talking hustler named Andrew tells me with a laugh, “I’d be a Republican.”
In his mid-30s, Andrew is a classic, consummate New Yorker, a central casting extra pulled straight from the set of one of the classic Scorsese or Coppola films that have defined this city for a generation. Andrew’s been working a number of odd jobs lately, most recently in plumbing and car dealerships (“BMW, Maserati,” he rattles off to me, clearly trying to impress), but Andrew hopes for something more stable — and more profitable. Like everyone else I talked to, Andrew’s sole concern is getting the job, “winning the lottery,” not the politics that have led him to stand in the cold for the “opportunity” to work as a laborer. Andrew doesn’t have time for politics.
“I care, you know, but I don’t follow it.”
It was the same story all night: these are hard-nosed, pragmatic, blue-collar guys, too busy looking for work that pays a living wage to worry about changing the conditions that led them to sit out in the cold in the first place. - Salon

When your sole focus is on the survival of you and your family there is little room for other considerations. The sad truth is that this will likely lead to a revolution-type series of events, probably violent. Violent revolutions only happen because a part of the population feels like they "have no choice but to be violent in order to be heard" - which is, unfortunately, not an objective assessment. Violence is never the answer and is often incited by a handful of charismatic but aggressive leaders who convince people that there is no other way. As usual, human emotion and our seeming inability to practice self discipline is what puts us in a position that is worse than the one we started off in. Now I know that many people will call me idealistic and unrealistic, that there is no way to change the world without violence because those who are in charge are loathe to let go of their power. It may be optimistic, but I do not think it's impossible.

Real democracy can not be born from violence - that would just be autocracy disguised as democracy. The only way we can change the system in such a way that everyone benefits is by doing it calmly, rationally and with patience. What has happened time and again throughout human history is that our emotions have influenced the outcomes of most events. This is a key element that must be understood: we cannot come to mutually beneficial terms if we are emotional about it. Things like anger, spite, blame - will always sabotage our best efforts if we allow them to exist within us.

I suppose that I do sound like an optimist, but I at least can say that I know this is possible because I have seen even the most unlikely people change themselves for the better and change the focus of their lives from crashing from one self-made mess into the next into living in a way that is considerate of others and without abusive actions (towards themselves and other people). I know it is possible because I have seen this for myself. I know it is possible because I live it every day. I commit to continue living as an example of what is possible.