The Bronx has the highest unemployment rate of any borough in New York City, so the borough was a logical choice for the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ Speak Out for Good Jobs Tour’s area stop.
On Thursday, June 30, barnstorming Congresswoman Barbara Lee brought the national tour to Hostos Community College. At each national tour stop, Lee shares the stage with members of the Progressive Caucus from that region. In the Bronx she was joined by New York congress members Carolyn Maloney, Charlie Rangel and Jerrold Nadler.
The Bronx tour stop, like each of the previous three, followed a town hall-style format. Audience members lined up in the auditorium’s aisles for a chance to tell the congress members about how bad the job situation in their communities have gotten, give suggestions about how to create jobs, and ask questions about what Congress will do to improve the economy.
A laid-off Lehman College security guard may have summed it up best at the microphone. He asked, “what can you do to help us?”
Bronxites in attendance complained about being laid-off or working at jobs that paid too little to make ends meet. A woman talked about working in sweatshop conditions at a Laundromat for $8.05 an hour with no health insurance, and a former USPS worker talked about borough post office closures.
After the forum, Lee said that while the issues raised in the Bronx reflect the boroughs demographics, they fit in with the pattern she has seen across the tour that began in mid-June.
“I think that in this community, people are feeling the pain,” Lee said. “Eight dollars an hour in this day and age is a disgrace. Immigrant communities here are being exploited. The American dream has been shattered and we need to do something fast.”
The near-capacity crowd was made up mainly of union groups, including several area SEIU chapters. As such, the evening’s discourse had a distinctly pro-labor feel. Economic solutions offered included raising taxes on corporations and cutting defense spending.
“The country is not broke, we’re just not taxing the billionaires and big corporations,” hometown Congressman Nadler told the crowd to sustained applause.
Beleaguered Representative Rangel said the current trend of cutting government-funded programs would not set the country on the road to economic redemption.
“They don’t realize that the more services that are cut, the more people end up on the street,” Rangel said, “And then the harder in will be to get the economy back.”
The tour is scheduled to conclude in August. Lee told the crowd that the anecdotes she hears in the Bronx and other stops will help her formulate the agenda for the Progressive Caucus when Congress is back in session.