Today is Labor Day in the US.
In previous posts, I discusses races and other organized rides held on this holiday as well as the roles bicycles and bicycling have played in the labor movement and workers’ lives. Today, however, I want to talk about something I saw during my ride this morning.
Knowing that a hot, humid afternoon was forecast, I took a pre-breakfast/brunch spin to Fort Totten (about 40 km round-trip) on Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear. This ride includes, as it usually does, the Malcolm X Promenade, which rims Flushing Bay (where the East River and Long Island Sound meet) from LaGuardia Airport to the Northern Boulevard Bridge to Flushing.
There are park benches along the Promenade so, not surprisingly, it serves as a lover’s lane, spot for impromptu small parties and simply a place for people to hang out and enjoy views of the water, airport and Manhattan skyline.
I have also seen the unhoused there. If J they catch my attention, or they catch mine and I am carrying anything edible, I offer it, They invariably thank me and sometimes eat it as I am pedaling away. Are they testing it, or do they somehow know that I didn’t spike it with chemicals or ground glass?
Anyway, I have also noticed people—almost always Hispanic men—sleeping or hanging out on benches. I know they are not among the unhoused because they are not flanked or propped by bags or carts full of possessions.
They are most likely like a man who sometimes sits in the doorways of apartment buildings or on the stoops of houses on my block. He always greets me; he “knows” me because he works in a store I sometimes frequent. I see him from late afternoon or early evening to around midnight.
What might he have in common with at least one of the people I saw along the Malcolm X Promenade? Well, for one thing, he works a job that doesn’t pay well. For another, he lives in a room in “shifts.”
He’s in those doorways or on those stoops during the hours when his “roommate“—who probably is in a situation like his—is there. They share the room, and the rent, with another man who is most likely in similar circumstances.
I am mentioning them—and the people I saw during my ride this morning—because they are often forgotten on this day. I am happy that unions are regaining some of the power they’ve lost since the Air Traffic Controllers’ strike of 1981. But for every union member who’s regained some of the rights, benefits and pay they lost, there are many more like the man on my block or the ones I saw during my ride this morning: the ones who don’t have unions, knowledge of the system or fluency in English to advocate for themselves, let alone anyone else.