Saturday, January 2, 2016

Making Human Junk on the Upper East Side

The rich might not be so different from you and me after all. Even they occasionally experience twinges of conscience, especially during the winter holiday season.

In a New York Times advice-to-the-landed gentry column published on Saturday, one denizen of the plutocratic Upper East Side of New York City is torn about whether to say something if s/he sees something in the ongoing War of Economic Terror of the rich versus the rest of us. In this case, the "something" is a 16-year-old boy working double shifts as a doorman at a pricey building.
The condominium in which I rent an apartment employs a 16-year-old doorman. He recently worked a double shift on a Sunday, from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., which violates state child labor laws. I find myself in an ethical quandary. Isn’t the condo open to prosecution for breaking child labor laws? Do we have a responsibility to this child to enforce the rules so he is not exploited? At the same time, what if he is the only wage earner in his family? Any thoughts on what to do?
How seriously the Times takes this question is evidenced by its accompanying illustration, casting the Doorboy as a cherubic white cartoon character straight out of South Park.

The Littlest Doorman (Michael Kolomatsky/The New York Times

South Park Stan
Thus is the stage immediately set for an orgy of conscience-soothing from the handful of legal experts that the Times approached to answer the pressing question of Resurgent Child Labor in the New Abnormal Economy. Racism doesn't ever rear its ugly head to further discompose the millionaires of the Upper East Side, home to the most extreme income inequality and concentrated wealth in the entire country. The Times' version of the doorboy is not only white and well-scrubbed, even his couture is non-sexistly correct. The crisp, Little Boy Blue uniform is ever so nicely balanced out by the girly pink pacifier. Ease yourselves, socially liberal plutes!

If the Times viewed the comeback of child labor as anything more than a passing social quandary for the pathologically wealthy, they might have gone the route of  sociologist Lewis Hine, whose Depression-era, WPA-funded photography of  "Kids At Work" literally saved the lives of thousands of effectively enslaved children. If the Times were honest, its editors would have made this shallow advice column front-page news, just as Hine's scathing  "Making Human Junk" broadside slapped the robber barons of yesteryear right where they didn't yet hurt.

One lawyer, while telling the Times that employing a child for 16 straight hours of guard duty for rich people is a clear violation of state and city labor laws, still advised caution on the part of the condo-dweller with a conscience. Reporting the offense might get the tenant evicted. Another expert suggested that the concerned citizen approach the doorboy directly, thereby putting the onus of labor violations directly on him. Ronda Kaysen, the writer of the piece, splits the difference, and suggests that the questioner approach her fellow tenants for further advice.

 When all else fails, oligarchic solidarity is just the ticket. Kaysen did not suggest inquiring about the child's personal situation, commuting time, hopes and dreams, or suggest increasing his tips into the realm of the living wage to enable him to cut down his hours, or god forbid, direct him to the Doormen's Union, which might picket the building.

Let's face it: the only reason for the obscenely wealthy to hire a child instead of an adult is because underage, underpaid, under-educated wage slaves are less likely to be unionized and more apt to be exploited. It was the organized labor movement and advocacy journalism that once put an end (on paper, anyway) to child labor in the first place. The new robber barons hate unions with the same brutal intensity as their pre-New Deal, pre-globalization predecessors.

And that goes for both of our corporate political parties and the antisocial donors who own and control them. Former Obama adviser David Plouffe, now in charge of public relations at Uber, is spearheading the anti-union charge at his own company. He most recently prevailed against mildly progressive New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, who had once sided with unionized taxi drivers before Plouffe and the 21st century robber barons of the Upper East Side made him an offer he couldn't refuse. It could always be worse. they tell us. Uber responsibly requires its low-wage workers to be at least 21 years old, with three years' experience behind the wheel. They are, after all, responsible for transporting millionaires, not simply carrying their packages and opening their doors for them.

It could always be worse. For instance,who can ever forget Republican Newt Gingrich's call to replace unionized school custodians with pupils working off their school lunches with their slave labor? The Newt is just one of thousands of  cold-blooded .01 Percenters whose Depression-era dreams are most likely of the wet variety, not the nightmare variety experienced by the masses.

If the Littlest Doorman looks, in real life, anything even remotely like the children photographed by Lewis Hine during the last Gilded Age-spawned Depression, it is apparently news that the Times doesn't see fit to print:


Jay–Ottawa said...

The doorman? The condo renter is troubling herself over one youth employed as a doorman on a double shift? That was the cloud over her sunny life that Sunday? And then mostly because a minimalist child labor law might have been violated? How dull and narrow can a conscience get? That goes for all the handwringers consoling themselves with her at the Times.

Why not feel bad about the people crouched in doorways along the way home? About the people you pass by every day who don't have a doctor or a dentist or a shrink to address the fixable, and so they suffer more than 16 hours a day. Types like our New York condo renter walk by the homeless every day. Isn't the shift of a bag lady 24/7? Oh, right, she's not a kid, and no labor are laws violated there.

"The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I don't think so, Dietrich.

So (oops) does that mean that along the age spectrum of a sad humanity, we only feel real bad about the youngest who have been delivered unto a raw deal? And our concern stalls there, on the most deserving, to hell with the rest of screwed humanity? That's pretty much the speed of the Times on this case. And the entire USA just about all of the time.

Sentimentality, or even a real concern focused on one narrow 'deserving' segment of society, seldom gets much accomplished in the moral register. Maybe the real test of the morality of a society has to do with its troubling over structural justice for ALL of its people––the young, the old, the minorities, the unemployed, the politically oppressed, the poor of all ages, the weak and vulnerable of every stripe. Anything less is a box of bright bandaids selectively applied.

I really doubt that children can serve as a gateway concern to help the rich attain a respectable degree of solidarity with the rest of humanity. The problem with the rich is that they are blind by choice. That blindness, at best a selective slit of vision, lets them give to the charity of their choice while neglecting structural change leading to broad social justice. The rich are different from you and me because from their islands of plenty they rarely take note of the decay, poverty, pain and misery that fills most of the world, much of which is structured by the superrich themselves and then undergird by the lifestyle and consumerism of the well-to-do.

annenigma said...

You got that right, Jay.

It's the same concern that people have about babies - until they pop out of the uterus, about guns - until they leave our shores (hello Hillary), about humane treatment of those who are caged behind bars - as long as they're dogs....

Cynic Pearl said...

it all comes down to the fact that capitalism especially without regulation does not work for most. However, some experiments with socialism. communism also fell down due to the weaknesses and corruption of leaders. The Nordic states seem to be managing with a social democratic slant with the weaknesses of mankind ever present.
And does the way people are brought up in the system they live in have a good/bad effect on their behavior if it is a caring system?. We are still trying to find out how it all works especially this coming election year.

Maybe having so many people in the world and increasing, makes it impossible to run things properly?
Thanks Karen and Jay for your concern for others. We need much more of that.

Metro Journalist said...

Oh, great! We're going further back in time much faster than anyone could ever have predicted.

Pearl said...

A note after following Trump's criticisms of Hillary which are accurate. Has no one recognized that she may have a burden if president as Bill is a shadow of himself and doesn't look like he will last too long?

Trump has mentioned Hillary's stamina but it is a real concern actually and I also worry about Bernie running for office. I think that there should be an age cut off where people beyond a certain number of years should be ineligible to run. After all 8 years added on has to be considered in voting for someone facing such a tough job. This is a consideration for job choices in business circles.

annenigma said...

Ok, sue me for saying this, but I suspect Trump may actually be hinting at what many of us believe, and that's that Hillary has a drinking problem, not a 'stamina' problem.
Trump has known the Clintons socially, including soirees with drinks I'm sure. As a non-drinker he would never be too blurry-eyed to see it clearly if she did have a problem with alcohol. It's surprising how obvious it is to the sober - not just the speed at which they gulp their drinks but arriving buzzed, or disappearing briefly and coming back in an elevated mood.

Trump is smart enough to know he sometimes has to be careful with certain powerful people. Those 4-5 days of 'recovery' he refers to after she gives a brief campaign performance when she's on the road? It's usually called 'sleeping it off'. There's a whole different vocabulary for what happens with the Rich and Famous.

We all know that people tend to loosen up when they're free on the road, traveling or vacationing. Hillary put in a lot of miles as SoS with only her loyal server/servant Huma at her side. Remember her 'fall' and injury? It's sometimes called 'passing out' when it happens to us low life, but not if you're one of society's elite. The euphemisms are endless when it comes to embarrassing or illegal activity of the powerful.

Most alcoholics I know get injured from passing out even though they'll have every excuse in the book other than admitting what really caused the bruising or other injuries. It's a good thing she's got Huma by her side constantly because she's another woman who knows how to keep secrets and stand by her man.

I've been observing Hillary for years and I spotted troubling signs long ago.(Who can blame her?) Some of us can spot a closet drinker a mile away from experience and/or professional training.

I agree that she'd be lost without Bill advising her every step of the way. He hasn't seemed sharp like his old self since his heart surgery, so I don't think she'd manage well with or without him. She does seem to need him though. If anything happened to him, I suspect she'd need a whole hell of a lot more 'sleep' and I for one wouldn't want a tremulous finger on the nuclear trigger if she wasn't 'rested'.

I wouldn't worry one bit about Bernie's age or energy. He's going strong and his wife is highly supportive, not out collecting hoards of cash bribes from the fellow High and Mighty.

Pearl said...

Annenigma: Maybe this explains Hillary's Bosnia sniper story that was proven to be false by a film report and other people there. It was a truly bizarre occurrence. But how does anyone voting know the addiction habits of people in office unless proven?

I still say that Trump is being helpful to anti Hillaryites because maybe something accurate will come out of these claims one day.
Remember what finally happened to Nixon.

Keep up the good work.

Ste-vo said...

It is my lucky day. There is an uproar in VT media about Donald Trump speaking at the Flynn Center in Burlington, a performing arts venue. My thinking is that Donald Trump is an un-going performing arts spectacle, so what more of an appropriate venue can you ask for and I was able to snag two tickets. I am thrilled. I attended Bernie Sanders official campaign launch in May 2015, at Waterfront Park in Burlington and now this, just a few blocks away. The only thing I am worried about is that "airport security" is in-force. Does that mean that we will be standing out on Main Street in the snow and cold, it is currently 11F, taking our shoes off to enter the venue?
I have asked the organizer for clarification.

Tommy Bones said...

Yes, "The new robber barons hate unions with the same brutal intensity as their pre-New Deal, pre-globalization predecessors." And they have successfully brainwashed the majority of the 99 percenters to hate them as well, much to their own detriment. I have found that most working people who hate unions either know next to nothing about them or have a head stuffed full of propaganda supplied by the well-to-do through their many minions in the news and entertainment industry for example.

Kat said...

I'm in total agreement with Jay. Children as a gateway for empathy is a dead end. Once we start talking about "blameless" victims it is all over. We cannot separate the "deserving" and "undeserving". We're all human and we have all the foibles that that entails.

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