The law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as the poor to
sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.
Anatole France (1844-1924); French writer
As the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the NADSDAQ (National
Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations) reach daily record
levels, and as every major media outlet boasts about the "booming economy,"
the problem of homelessness abounds.
A recent TV network report claimed that in New York City alone, over
400,000 people were millionaires, and that a bare handful of city residents
have annual incomes that exceed that of several nations.
In the midst of this unprecedented wealth, in one of the wealthiest
nations on earth, lies harrowing, soul-devouring poverty, and even
In a response that gives a whole new meaning to the term
"draconian," New York's mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, announced the city's plans
to toss thousands of women, children and men out of city-run shelters, and
into cold, wintry NYC streets. Those found to be homeless in the streets
will find a new place to stay-Riker's Island prison!
And to those who dare seek refuge in the shelters, they are forced
to work in what is essentially slave labor, or their children would be
snatched away from them and placed in foster homes! Giuliani, in classic
autocrat fashion, has criminalized homelessness! With the small-minded
nastiness of more prison warden than political leader, Giuliani has chosen
to banish or browbeat the homeless. Banish them from the streets, or
browbeat them into accepting jobs no one else wants, under threat of prison,
or under fear of the seizure of one's child.
For these homeless poor, this is not an "economic boom," but a time
of gripping terror. If homelessness is a crime, it is one committed by a
system that does not fairly distribute social wealth, does not educate poor
youth, nor provide decent social services. In a nation where capital is the
greatest possible attainment, poverty is the greatest possible offense. To
the ruthless Il Duce Giuliani the homeless poor are to be put in prison, for
daring to mar city streets, and better a jail cell than a homeless shelter,
for there one feeds the prison industrial complex. This is Rudy's job
application to the ruling class, as he gives rein to his unbridled ambition.
But, there is a malevolent method to Rudy's madness, for, as mayor
of the capital of capital, the interests of big business are paramount. It
was these interests that pushed for so-called "welfare reform" (meaning
abolition of welfare), and are pushing the slave labor angle on the
homeless. Why? Scholars Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward in the
New Class War (Pantheon, 1982/1985) made the point that welfare strengthened
If the desperation of the unemployed is moderated by the
availability of various benefits, they will be less eager to take any job on
any terms.... In short...there is an emerging recognition among analysts of
all political persuasions that the income-maintenance programs have weakened
capital's ability to depress wages by means of economic insecurity,
especially by means of manipulating the relative numbers of people searching
for work. In effect, these programs have altered the terms of struggle
between business and labor. As a result, unemployment has lost some of its
terrors, both for the unemployed and for those currently working [pp. 26, 31].
With those programs gone (or going) the terrors represented by the homeless
serves to discipline and curb the anxious working class, which is what Rudy
means to do.