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VOLUME 2, NUMBER 25   <>  MONDAY, JUNE 25, 2000

sketch #2

all day every day
he sat at mcdonald’s alone
eating breakfast lunch and dinner alone
he’d talk to people who were not there
pointing his finger and raising his voice in admonition
his eyes were beady black and his face rosy red
his scalp was balding but the hair on the back of his head
was long and thin reaching below the nape of his neck
he wore scuffed nike tennis shoes
the ones with the designer’s slash at the ankles
he invariably had his legs up and his shoes on the edge
of the seat directly in front of him
the tourists from around the world would always have chinatown
on their agenda of places to visit in the city
and they too would feast at mcdonald’s
they’d laugh and joke and gesture at this aging horizontal-eyed man
but the chinese men women and children would stare at him with empathy
Philip Hackett


a promise is a promise

San Francisco, they say, is a labor town, always has been.

Where else would the mayor take a stand, shoulder to shoulder, with picketing hotel workers? Only in San Francisco, where Willie Brown called for a boycott of the downtown Marriott until workers obtained an acceptable contract. Of course, Brown also presides over a city in which few workers can afford to live, a city that has returned millions of dollars in back taxes to the corporations that do business there.

Where else would a vast public square be named for a powerful union leader? Only in San Francisco, where the space that spreads across the foot of Market, just in front of the Ferry Building, will be known forevermore as Harry Bridges Plaza. Of course, Bridges is long departed, and during his tenure as founder and head of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union, he was more often reviled than revered by the city fathers.

Where else would a city propose to set aside two sites to commemorate its most disruptive work stoppage? Only in San Francisco, where the Landmarks Advisory Board has proposed landmark status for Pier 38 and the warehouse at 128 King Street, scenes of violent fighting during the 1934 General Strike. Of course, the neighborhood has changed since 1934. Now the sites reside amid some posh “rehabilitated” historic buildings, where live/work rents range from $2,400 to $8,100 a month.

In any case, the King Street warehouse belonged to the enemy camp: it was leased by local business interests trying to break the strike. At the time, local media generally condemned the strikers. In an article that began, “Blood ran red in the streets of San Francisco yesterday,” Chronicle reporter Royce Brier called July 5 — “Bloody Thursday,” which marked the epicenter of the strike — “the darkest day this city has known since April 18, 1906.”

Originally a local effort to remove cronyism and bribery from waterfront hiring, the strike inspired sympathetic labor protests up and down the coast. A catalyst for new federal labor laws, it led to the strong union movement of the postwar period. Through the rose-colored lenses of hindsight, working-class struggles like the dock strike of 1934 have become indicators of San Francisco’s romantic outlaw past.

But today organized labor accounts for only a small percentage of San Francisco’s workers. The other end of the spectrum is occupied by men and women who do not earn enough to support themselves in this very expensive city. To ease the burden, the city passed a “living wage” ordinance last year, compensating its employees and those of companies with city contracts at a rate of $9/hour; as required by the law, Our Mayor’s new budget raises the rate to $10/hour. Progress is also being made toward providing health insurance for these workers.

But last year’s agreement between the mayor and living wage advocates contains other provisions that have not materialized. The thought was there, but the funds aren’t.

A primary case in point is the situation of CalWORKs participants — many of the people who sweep our streets, wash our buses, and clean our service agency offices. The Clinton Administration’s “welfare reform” foresaw their transition from welfare recipients to independent workers. In San Francisco, a program began in the fall of 1998 that promised “to create on-the-job and/or work experience opportunities for individuals transitioning from welfare to work.” The mayor concurred: not only would these workers’ hourly wage increase to $8/hour; their experience would “meet requirements for entry-level city job classifications.”

If funds were provided. They haven’t been.

Instead, participants are recycled to nowhere, just like hamsters in a wheel. Round and round they go, past the time limit set for workfare jobs yet never obtaining official experience that will allow them to move into a “real” job.

The folks at the Living Wage Coalition, POWER, and St. Peter’s Housing Committee say the transition is do-able: “The cost of providing work opportunity for 850 families is just $3.9 million (just .074 percent of the mayor’s proposed $5.2 billion budget).”

The members of the supervisors Finance Committee — Mark Leno, Aaron Peskin, and Matt Gonzalez — can vote to amend the mayor’s budget and provide the needed funds. What could be a better monument to the struggles of Harry Bridges’ longshoremen in 1934 than the establishment of a path from poverty for these 21st-century workers?

Betsey Culp