Strikers in an Alley

by Thomas Beller

06/28/2004

15 Broad Street, ny 10005

Neighborhood: Manhattan

I came across a scene today downtown, near Wall Street. Striking iron workers, carpenters, all hemmed into a little alley. They were yelling and screaming. Periodically a group standing on a platform at the front of the alley led them in a chant: "Scabs go to hell!" Some wore hardhats, many had whistles, and a few had earplugs stuffed into their ears. The noise rose up in the narrow space. It sounded like a rock concert.

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There were a lot of policemen around, and a growing number of gawkers at the mouth of the alley, which was Exchange Place. A senior figure in a white short sleeve shirt arrived, all bustle and abrubt head movements. "I want these people off the streets," he said. He looked at a large truck bearinng a banner explaining the rally."Get that truck out of here!" Everything felt brimming, as if the men in the alley would burst forward at any moment. The cops talked the guy sitting in the truck. He moved.

I wandered into the alley. Above the men loomed the building in question, 15 Broad Street, mute and grey. The men had sunburned necks, muscle shirts, tattoos. They were a rough bunch. It was deafening.

"Every contractor in the city is watching this job," one of them yelled by way of explanation. "They’re paying guys ten, twenty dollars an hour, and no benefits. If he gets away with this, forget about it, the union will never work again."

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I stood there in the alley letting the sound wash over me, an incredible noise, threatening and kind of life affirming, and then I noticed that behind me was a beauty parlor in which several women were getting their nails done. I could tell from their body language that though they weren’t afraid, no one was in a rush to be finished and walk out into the narrow street full of construction workers.

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A couple of days later I called the developer, Shaya Boymelgreen, whose number had been on the flyer .

A woman told me that because of their number being on the flyer, they had gotten a lot of calls, and most of the calls had been supportive.

"Even lawyers called!" she said. "They called and said, ‘If you need my support…"

Then she paused, realizing, as I did, this didn’t sound like support so much as a solicitation.

The demonstration was a block away from the New York Stock Exchange. Whenever I’m down there in Bartleby the Scrivener land, I always peer at the faces wondering what their business is. It’s remarkable how much street life down there does not feel moneyed at all, but seedy and desperate. And here was evidence that the streets of Wall Streets are teeming with lawyers who have enough time on their hands, are desperate enough, to cold call a developer who has roused the ire of several thousand whistle wielding construction workers and offer their services.

The woman gathered herself and continued. "They called to say they support us. Because this is what America is about. It’s about the freedom to choose who you work with."

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