Jobs Are One Tenth of the Picture: Reject the Casino and Build Phoenix Meadows

Back in the 1980s, union jobs made up a robust 20% of the American workforce, down from the one-third stronghold in their glory days. Today, we’re looking at a mere 10%. Here in New York City, where union membership is much higher than the national average, the story isn’t much different: a slide from almost 30% to below 20% over the past two decades. This is not merely a statistical decline but a reflection of the gradual erosion of workers’ rights and overall organizational strength, evident in widespread economic hardship.

The situation in the neighborhoods surrounding Flushing Meadows Corona Park exemplifies these larger dynamics. A diverse populace, from elderly immigrants to college educated youth, struggle in overcrowded living conditions. The housing crisis is compounded by luxury real estate development — one project already greenlit on the Flushing waterfront, another looming at Willets Point, complete with a Major League Soccer stadium. More gentrification & displacement are on the horizon, as a vast majority of the new units being built are far out of reach for existing residents, driving speculation and triggering area-wide rent increases.

On top of it all, billionaire and insider trader Steve Cohen is lobbying hard for a casino license right next to Citi Field, on what should be protected public parkland. The proposed mega-development, “Metropolitan Park,” is an embodiment of the predatory nature of all the area’s proposed developments. Its targeted impact on working class immigrant communities reveals a layer of racial exploitation, and the explicit marketing of the casino towards older Chinese residents further illustrates how racism is utilized for profit — the result being an exacerbation of all existing social and economic disparities.

State Senator Jessica Ramos’ February 7th casino town hall event saw union reps from various sectors show up with one goal in mind: jobs. They want this ‘Metropolitan Park’ project, and they want it union-built and staffed. It’s a scene we’ve watched play out time and again over decades.

Unions have undergone a shift away from their grassroots origins towards a service-oriented brokerage model that aligns with a broader assimilation of oppositional forces into society’s dominant institutions. Their top-down approach serves as a controlled opposition, a cozy setup where unions, bosses, and politicians play nice to keep the status quo unthreatened. In this one-dimensional theater, unions fixate on wages and contracts, ignoring the broader context of working class life.

This poses a serious problem, as unions, generally understood to be bastions of working class democracy, show up to legitimize a symbolic community engagement process that restricts our collective agency and locks us out of decision making. Senator Ramos, chair of the Committee on Labor, is thus provided with the social capital she desperately needs to prop up an otherwise unpopular, predatory project.

The mainstream narrative, focused on job creation, obscures the underlying history of de-industrialization, austerity, and the city’s racist luxury rezoning plans that have led to the destruction of working class neighborhoods, livelihoods, and quality jobs. The construction jobs touted by developers and unions offer a superficial remedy, failing to address the root causes of displacement and economic inequality. The service and retail jobs, typically low-wage and insecure, do not counteract but rather perpetuate the forces of gentrification, as the workforce they’re allegedly intended for will be squeezed out of the neighborhood anyway.

The promised benefits of Metropolitan Park, framed as enhancements to public infrastructure and amenities, must be critically examined. These developments are not neutral but are entwined with the logic of capital, which dictates that public goods are only maintained or improved insofar as they serve the interests of a more affluent demographic. The failure of local officials over the years to implement measures to control rent and preserve jobs, or to address issues like the decay of public transit and the climate crisis, is indicative of the broader alignment of state policies with private interests. In summary, our officials have overlooked our fundamental needs for years, stepping in only when it serves the agenda of capital, and using the veneer of job creation to mask their prior inaction.

For those serious about confronting these challenges, the bigger picture must be brought into focus, with a deeper understanding of the structural forces at play. Participation in a top-down, heavily controlled community engagement process is a dead end. Building a genuine labor movement would involve a re-articulation of priorities and strategies, aligning them with broader critiques of existing institutions and the pursuit of alternative, democratic models of development that aren’t narrowly focused on job creation and profits.

The campaign for the Phoenix Meadows Plan can serve as an opportunity to forge new paths of understanding and political action as we re-imagine labor as one part of a broader, democratic forum that actively engages with and unites all of us to fight for our common interests, beyond job creation. This new movement could be a diverse coalition of groups, ensuring a deep integration of broad interests that would prioritize the preservation and creation of genuinely affordable housing, social development, and quality employment, while addressing ecological concerns: a reflection of our collective well-being and survival over profit-driven motives.

Let us use this moment to start building that movement together.

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