In the latter half of 2016, the Paul Robeson Division of the American Party of Labor along with members of the student group the All Marxist-Leninist Union (AMLU) started a solidarity program with the people of New Brunswick. They began to collect food, clothing, beverages, hygienic products, and other materials of survival. Aimed at providing material support for the people of New Brunswick, the initiative has grown in contributors, patrons, and reputation. Every Sunday at the train station in New Brunswick, the New Jersey members of the American Party of Labor and AMLU distribute goods.
Leonard Zorfass is a member of the American Party of Labor. He says the project was launched to bring about positive change and organization to the community of New Brunswick. The gentrification of New Brunswick led by Johnson and Johnson and DEVCO are putting more people out of work in the city, and more people onto the streets. Between the city council being in the pocket of the corporate centers of the town, Johnson and Johnson and DEVCO, and the rising of fascist practice in mainstream politics the need for the construction of community-run political bodies of the workers is necessary in fighting the forces of reaction and capitalism.
Red Aid aims not just to relieve the condition of working poor and homeless, but to bring organization as well. This interview, conducted by Red Aid organizer L. Zorfass with one such worker named Mike L, highlights many of the persistent challenges facing the working poor in the era of austerity.
L. Zorfass: Would you mind if we start off with some background information about yourself? Where you came from, when you started working, etc.?
Mike: I came from Pennsylvania. My father was a coal miner and my mother took care of the six of us (kids). I started working at 12 (years old) at a barber shop that I walked about a mile to everyday from my house. I moved to New Jersey when I was 22 hoping to go to college and get some better work.
L. Zorfass: How old are you now?
Mike: 56. Never stopped working since I been 12. I had to work so much when I got here just to make rent I only went to a community college up north a bit for one semester. I didn’t mind though, the professors weren’t too kind to us black students.
L. Zorfass: What have you been working as since then?
Mike: I done a bit of everything, honestly. I did construction for a good time. Worked as a shop keep in Newark. Was in a garment factory in Elizabeth in the 80’s; made shoes. That was a good union job. Only time I could afford to live outside the projects.
L. Zorfass: What happened to the factory job?
Mike: Closed down over 30 years ago. Never found work that good again. Last 15 years I’ve been working two or three jobs at a time. Now I’m lucky I have one job.
Mike’s position illustrates the problem facing millions of workers around the world. Under a global capital economy, production moves itself to wherever labor power is cheapest. This means the loss of productive jobs for workers in one area or country and the creation of highly exploitative jobs in another country, usually overseas. The capitalists need to produce as much as cheaply as possible and this adversely affects all workers.
L. Zorfass: Why have you gone from three to one jobs?
Mike: Shops closed up. Shame too. I was a chef at one. I enjoyed that work. H***, walked five miles a day to it. I love working, man.
L. Zorfass: What’s life like now? What do you do for work? What’s it like?
Mike: Well, I got a job at one of these big corporate buildings in town (New Brunswick) as a maintenance man. It was alright for a while but we’ve all had our hours cut back. I had to sign up with a temp agency to try and find more work but it never does. I pray to God everyday I get enough hours in a week to make rent.
L. Zorfass: What’s your living situation?
Mike: S***, I pay almost a thousand bucks a month to rent a room the size of closet. I ain’t even got a stove to heat up some d*** soup. The kids in these dorms (at Rutgers University) live a mile better than I do. Then everytime I walk out of my closet I have to keep looking over my d*** shoulder for the police. You think the gangs in the projects are dangerous, try running into a man in uniform and leaving with your life.
L .Zorfass: Have you had encounters with the police?
Mike: In my younger days we was all getting harassed. They’ve kicked it up a notch. I just try to keep my head low and not be out at night.
L. Zorfass: You don’t leave home at night out of fear of the cops?
Mike: D*** straight. Not if I can help it.
Mike illustrates a position shared by people of color under capitalist society: the systemic racism compulsively practiced. In college, at work, and walking down the street Mike is treated as less than human due to the color of his skin. Workers of color often face great social challenges as Mike has. This social stratification has been cultivated by the ruling class, both because of their assumed superiority and the disunity racism causes amongst the workers themselves.
L. Zorfass: What’s your work life like?
Mike: Like I said they cut all of our hours back so the money is hard and the hours are getting less and less. The worst part is when you walk into the office with all of those computer jockeys. I’m there to fix something so they can go about their work and they look at me like I’m a d*** roach and they sit there staring waiting for me to leave their space.
L. Zorfass: That’s really awful. Without your work they wouldn’t be to do theirs.
Mike: Preach it! Those sons of bitches need me to fix the lights so they can work and then act like I’m burdening them by being there. I’m just trying to do my job so they can do theirs and I feel like shit just for working. They just look at you like you gonna give them a d*** disease cause you’re in the same room.
L. Zorfass: Would you mind if I asked how you feel about capitalism?
Mike: I’m sure life is hard no matter where you at. But it seems to my head that capitalism just makes a hard life a lot harder. I work to the bone to live in a closet and the g****mn boss gets a new g****mn Mercedes every year! What the h*** does he even do? I barely even see him in the d*** office.
Mike shows the growing consciousness of the working class in the age of austerity. Without a powerful socialist camp, the capitalist-imperialist centers can exploit greater than they did before 1991. Labor power in the United States is at an all-time low, yet production is at an all time high. This is not lost on the working class, who can smell the rot of the capitalist system we are compelled to participate in for our own survival.
L. Zorfass: Well, thank you for your time. This was really great.
Mike: S***, man, thank you for your time. I thank god every week that you guys are out here feeding and clothing us. If it wasn’t for you cats I’d have no soap to wash myself.