Bombs Away, And Poor Pay

Jimmy Breslin


April 8, 2003

People know the figure as well as their home address.

"A million dollars a missile," Eddie Rodriguez said.

"Tomahawks," Mark Rosenthal said.

"They shoot hundreds of them," Rodriguez said.

"Thousands of them. A million each. I guess it costs hundred of millions."

They see them on the television, night and day, a nation's treasure exploding into the sky, glowing, white smoke against a night sky, shooting from an aircraft carrier at sea and then, soon, here are the explosions in Iraq, Baghdad mostly, lighting up the night sky. A million-dollar show. School teachers fly in the explosion. Single mothers who learned how to operate a computer. Clerks in a welfare center.

The missiles going through a sky that is undefended, aiming with precision at a small country that has no missiles that can reach any distance, not one plane in the air, and has been firing anti-aircraft at American planes for over 10 years now and hasn't brought one down.

When national security begins at home.

"I'm going to have 300 layoffs and something," Rodriguez said. He is the head of a union, Local 1549, of municipal clerks, mostly women, mostly of color and Hispanic, and 300 and more of them will be laid off. Altogether, the city is going to layoff 3,400 workers.

"They make twenty two, twenty three, twenty four thousand," he said. "Where are they going to go? There are no jobs. They try to find temp work. They can wind up doing their old jobs at temp salaries. That's if they can find temp work. They go to welfare, that's where they go."

"First unemployment, then welfare," Rosenthal said. He is an officer in District Council 37. "DC 37 loses 1,600 working people. The lower middle class gets killed with Bloomberg. Then you got the war. A million a missile. Do you know how many jobs we could save with a couple of them?"

Their office is at 125 Barclay St., which is only a block or so, yards actually, from the former World Trade Center. They aren't hand wringers. "I knew people who died in that," Rosenthal said.

He is in the part of labor where people wince when they have to pay another fifty cents to ride the subway.

When they are laid off, a part of the city creaks. It is those places where the underpaid working people live, and if they falter, then the whites move in and change the character of the city.

The ones to be cut out of jobs can already be seen in pain. They are in the Brooklyn housing court with their children running up and down in the hall outside and the woman in the courtroom with the landlord's lawyer stating his case, and his case is more money, and preferably the woman and her brood simply getting out so the landlord can bring in some thriving whites. No voice speaks for the woman. The legal services for the poor in Brooklyn were cut to ribbons by Giuliani, whose hatred of the poor was obvious at all times. He cut the Williamsburg legal services to two lawyers, who are so overwhelmed by people that they cannot leave their office.

There are no jobs for people being laid off. I don't know anybody who would disagree that the unemployment down on these streets is 25 percent and rising every day.

I have a few friends from downtown, who for some time have been in employment agencies for financial workers. Of course when the World Trade Center was blown up, jobs went away in the smoke. It has not improved. Not close. The only thing the government has done is take the attack, call it 9/11 and blame it on Saddam Hussein and go to war to steal Iraq's oil fields. No, we say we are not stealing the oil. Bush himself says we are only holding the oil money in safekeeping for the Iraqi people.

The other day, one of the employment agency guys I know had an applicant he thought was a star. He called an old friend, who was in charge of new personnel at a brokerage house.

"I'm glad you called," the guy at the brokerage house said.

"I have somebody I want to tell you about," the guy from the employment agency said.

"Before you do, I have to ask you for a favor," the brokerage house guy said.


"I want to send you my resume. On the sly. It's getting bad here and if they get wind of this I'll be in the winds."


"Now what did you want?"


Late yesterday, Arthur Cheliotes of the Communications Workers was saying that he and his wife were able to buy a house in two years when they started out. Now he has a son who can't get a job. He is in computers and has been on the beach for four months now. "He lives home with us," Arthur said. "He's not alone. He's part of a new movement."

"Let me ask you something," I said.

"Go ahead."

"These missiles. These tomahawks. How much do you think they cost?"

"A million dollars each."

Copyright 2003, Newsday, Inc.