Outrage Against Brooklyn Workers
By Arnold Perey,
Almost a year ago workers at Rode & Horn
Lumber, 90 Waterbury Street, Williamsburg, were deprived of their jobs--locked
out--arrogantly and illegally, by the owners, Joshua and Lazer Sternhell.
Why? Because these lumber-handlers and truck drivers, all members of Teamsters
Local 1205, dared to stand up and ask for more than their unjustly low
wages--wages that are 50% below what hundreds of workers doing the same
jobs are making in other New York lumberyards!
I heard some of these courageous men speak
at a large rally, attended by neighbors, community leaders, and representatives
of many different unions. I respect these workers for how they spoke about
their struggle, and about the gratitude they feel toward their union and
their many supporters.
The owners of this lumberyard are despicable--after
squeezing profit out of the hard work of their employees, kicking them
out when they want nothing more than a decent share of the wealth they
created with their own labor!
Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant clergy have
spoken out against this company. And many organizations--including El Puente
and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice--appalled by this inhumanity,
have pledged their support to the men.
The Sternhells exemplify intensely the contempt
for people which Eli Siegel, with whom I studied, showed to be at the very basis of our profit-driven economy. Mr. Siegel, who founded
the philosophy Aesthetic Realism, was the social scientist to see most clearly
the place of ethics in economics. He explained why it is completely unethical--why it
is in fact contempt--for one person to take the wealth another created. It is labor
that has produced wealth in America, not owners who enrich themselves by
robbing the laborers!
The Rode & Horn workers are our fellow
New Yorkers. "Many," writes Tom Robbins in the New York Daily News,
"spent their entire working lives at the lumberyard" (4/3/00). Jeffrey
Green, for example, "worked at the firm for 27 years," and "his father,
before him, put in 40 years at the yard."
How did this lockout happen? The union was
negotiating in good faith with Rode & Horn, but the Sternhells, after
dragging negotiations on for many months, in an attempt to break the men
made a final offer which the company knew could not be accepted. It was
"an offer," continues the Daily News, "which would have added a
solitary dime to [the] average hourly wages." "The move," writes Robbins,
"was a shock to the workers."
But they did not give in. They refused the
offer, and after that, they were locked out! Scab labor was hired to fill
the jobs they'd had for years and which their families depended on.
"It's terrible," said lumber-handler Luis
Prado, "that they have people robbing our jobs because we asked for a raise!"
As an anthropologist, I did field work with
a cannibalistic people in the mountains of New Guinea. I often saw more
fellow-feeling in them than the Sternhells have for the working people
The method by which the Sternhells laid off
the men is a violation of federal labor law. Says the New York Times,
"In March, the National Labor Relations Board issued unfair-labor charges
against the company" (5/7/00).
Timothy Lynch, President of Teamsters Local
1205, described the cause of this brutality: "The owners of Rode &
Horn do not want to see these workers as flesh-and-blood human beings with
feelings every bit as real as their own--who deserve to live with the same
dignity that they, the owners, want for themselves."
He continued: "Everyone in New York should
be very proud of these workers and give them our full support. They are
making vivid with their very lives the most urgent question for our nations,
which was stated by America's greatest friend to labor, Eli Siegel: 'What
does a person deserve by being a person?'"
I agree completely! That question must be
answered now by everyone--it is the only way to stop the economic injustice
and anguish in America. And I say, every person who works deserves the
wealth his or her labor created!
The Rode & Horn workers are urging everyone:
"Boycott Rode & Horn Lumber--support our fight for justice!" That is
what I and many others are proud to be doing. I think everyone should join
NOTE: The union members won this strike. --AP