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Vol. 72/No. 34      September 1, 2008

(front page)
SWP candidate: New Orleans
needs a public works program
Militant/ Jacquie Henderson
SWP vice presidential candidate Alyson Kennedy speaks to residents at the B.W. Cooper Housing projects in New Orleans, Louisiana. Officials are demolishing workers’ housing, such as this project, while refusing to replace it with adequate, new, affordable housing.

NEW ORLEANS—“New Orleans shows the true ‘values’ of the ruling billionaire families. This city is still devastated three years after Hurricane Katrina,” said Alyson Kennedy, Socialist Workers Party vice presidential candidate.

Speaking to campaign supporters here August 11 in the city’s Bywater District, Kennedy called for a massive, federally funded public works program to put people to work at union-scale wages, constructing and repairing schools, houses, hospitals, roads, and other needed services.

The socialist candidate visited New Orleans several days before traveling to Baton Rouge, where she and campaign supporters filed for ballot status in Louisiana. The SWP became the first party to place its presidential ticket on the ballot here.

Civil rights activist Eloise Williams, a retired health-care worker, took Kennedy through the Algiers neighborhood on the west bank of the Mississippi River. Pieces of a barge that hit a tanker July 23 and closed the river for six days were still being hauled to the shore, leaving a heavy smell of oil in the air.

“We have high rates of cancer in this area,” Williams said. “We have fought for compensation and we are still fighting to expose the city and the chemical companies for their total disregard for communities.”  
Decline in public schools
Williams pointed to boarded-up schools left largely untouched since the hurricane. “That one’s been closed since Katrina,” she explained. “That one is a closed public school that is now opening as a charter school.”

Teachers organized protests in the months following Katrina, charging their union was being broken by the city’s refusal to support public schools. Now more than half the schools that are open in the city are charter schools, which receive a mixture of public and private funds. They have no union teachers.

Sam Jackson introduced Kennedy to his neighbors at the B.W. Cooper housing complex. Across the street, a field of rubble sat where until a few months ago most of the apartments stood. City and federal officials agreed last year to demolish 4,605 public housing apartments and replace them with only 744 low-income units. Jackson is part of a fight to prevent further demolitions.

Most of downtown New Orleans and the better-off areas have been lavishly restored, while many working-class neighborhoods are still devastated. This is especially true in areas where Black workers lived and owned houses, such as the lower Ninth Ward, where block after block is now simply fields of weeds.

Jackson pointed out the Danziger Bridge over the Industrial Canal. “That is where the cops shot six people, killing two of them, a few days after the levee broke,” he explained. A New Orleans judge dismissed charges against the seven cops August 13.

Survivors of the shooting and other witnesses have described how unarmed pedestrians on the bridge were killed by cops who jumped out of the back of a rental truck and started shooting. Police claim they were shot at first, but no gun was ever found that was connected to the pedestrians.

Howard Allen, a retired member of the seafarers union and one of the many New Orleans workers who aided fellow residents during the hurricane and its aftermath, said that he is glad Kennedy and her running mate are union fighters who promote building a labor party.

A labor party based on a fighting union movement will not only contest against the Democrats, Republicans, and other capitalist parties, Kennedy said, but will also mobilize workers and farmers by the millions to resist the attacks of the employers and their government.  
Profitable ‘nonprofits’
Kennedy’s proposal for a public works program also received a warm welcome.

“We need that,” said Mike Howells, an elector for the party. Howells said there were some hurricane cleanup jobs for a while that paid decently. But then thousands of volunteers were brought here from churches and profitable “nonprofits.” Many of the jobs disappeared and wages were driven down.

“What’s to prevent governments from stealing the money?” asked Cody Marshall. Earlier in the day it was revealed that the New Orleans Affordable Homeownership Corp., a “nonprofit” supervised and financed by Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration, had been billing for millions of dollars of home building work that had not been done by its contractors.

“Open the books,” responded Kennedy. “When elected, Róger Calero and I will appoint trusted union fighters to oversee agencies like this.”

Jacquie Henderson is the SWP candidate for U.S. Senate from Texas. Amanda Ulman is the SWP candidate for U.S. Congress in Texas’ 9th District.
Related articles:
Katrina disaster caused by capitalist greed  
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