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February 8, 2008: “AIMCO told us they were our enemies, but when we saw how they were being screwed just like us, we realized we were brothers!” the black carpenter told the Supervisors’ hearing, and returned to his seat, where he was hugged by several latin carpenters. This scene was repeated a number of times with both black and latin speakers.

Technically, it was a hearing where 50 black and latin carpenters suing AIMCO, the country’s largest apartment complex operator for racist practices during renovation of its mould-ridden apartments in Bayview-Hunters Point, were demanding the Supervisors’ support.

In fact, it was one of the most inspiring examples of workers’ multi-racial unity and determination to fight back against racist hiring, racist job assignment, racist harassment, racist wage-stealing, and race baiting. Whatever the outcome of the suit, it was a bad day for capitalism and a glorious day for the working class. Several Gray Panthers were there, speaking, applauding, meeting with them.

Carpenters described how AIMCO subcontractors initially hired only latins, whose checks they would cash keeping hundreds of dollars. When local blacks were hired, they were harassed, called lazy and incompetent, and finally forced to race with latin carpenters for finish a wall. Both latin and black carpenters were forced to work as roofers, at a fraction of wages and high up with dangerous scaffolding. AIMCO subcontractors held separate meetings of latin and black carpenters, where they were told each was the enemy of the other. As one carpenter shouted, “You could have started a race riot!” Other carpenters talked about the need to give their children examples of constructive work, and fighting exploitation and racism. Union officials have done next to nothing. AIMCO made a pathetic attempt to say they didn’t know all this was happening. The Supervisors were rocked, and almost dumbfounded. We hold them these abuses were the norm, and will continue to the norm with their Redevelopment plans.

It was a day we will never forget, and we will bring more news as it comes.

Thanks to Francisco da Costa for this photo that captures so well the spirit of the day!

You can read more about the hearing here, and more on the background here, here, here, and here.

You can watch the hearing here, move the slider under the picture to 2 hours, 2 minutes to start the with carpenters' segment.


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