The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Another blues for New Orleans

Jan 2, 2006

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin may claim he wants everyone who left the city to return. But barriers have been thrown up for working class and poor people who want to return.

Their jobs either disappeared or were handed over to companies like Haliburton, which have hired hundreds of immigrant workers, paying them low wages, giving them no protection against serious on-the-job hazards and no benefits. Then these workers are thrown out of the country when the companies are done with them.

There is no housing for workers either. Almost two-thirds of the city’s 145,000 homes were designated for destruction by city officials, with no provision for other housing. Rents for remaining houses have soared to levels unaffordable for ordinary people. Yet no rent controls have been set up.

As for the famous FEMA trailers – where are they? If the promised trailer camps existed in the city, workers could come back.

Insurance companies make it nearly impossible for all but the richest homeowners to rebuild. Workers who had insurance won’t come anywhere near to covering the cost of rebuilding. And FEMA’s maximum grant to owners of damaged homes is only $26,200 minus any insurance payments.

Furthermore, most applications to FEMA for aid in rebuilding have been turned down. By a slight of hand, the applications were sent to the Small Business Administration. Out of nearly two million applications for government loans to rebuild houses in the entire Gulf Coast region, only about 17,000 have been approved, while 77,000 were rejected. The rest of the applications still haven’t been processed. The vast majority of the few approved loans went to wealthy people.

Permits to rebuild in areas where most working class people lived are being held up by inaction of local officials. Electric service hasn’t been restored to many poor neighborhoods. Half of existing homes have no natural gas service.

Only 10% of pre-Katrina bus service is running. Even if workers’ children could get to school, there are no affordable schools for them to attend: Only one public elementary school is now open; a public high school is supposed to open January 9. These are the only public schools scheduled to operate this school year ... out of 116 before Katrina!

While government officials are welcoming the rich back to New Orleans, the people who once created the vibrant culture of New Orleans have been thrown to the winds, scattered in cities all over the country.