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  Hauling in the Homeless
Column Written 12/8/99
Mumia Abu-Jamal
All Rights Reserved

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 homelessness.
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 labor's hand:
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.

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