Tuesday, April 11, 2006

When Justice Doesn't Equal Legal

Bear with me, this may get a bit convoluted. As you may recall, December 2005 was not just Happy Birthday Jesus & Celebration of Mass Consumerism Month, but it also saw a three-day strike by New York City transit workers. For three days, millions of New Yorkers were forced to find alternate means of transportation because the subways and buses in Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Queens, and Brooklyn were shut down by striking workers. Offered what was to them a lousy contract, including having to pay into health care plans (crappy but legal) and changes to their pension plan (crappy and prohibited), they said "hell no, we won't go" to work.

Millions, including me, were inconvenienced. And yes, according to the Taylor Law, which loosely (very loosely) interpreted, prohibits employees in industries or service that are vital to the functioning of society (air traffic controllers, cops, transit workers) from work stoppage. Anyone found guilty of said work stoppage is subject to fines and jails. But, for most New Yorkers, the Taylor Law wasn't as profound as the sense of inconvenience. Who wanted to walk however-many miles in bitter cold (and there did happen to be a freeze just when the strike took place) to go to work? Who wanted to pay for a cab, or find a carpool to go to work? I didn't try either because I was still in a cast, and wouldn't be caught dead walking the 9 miles from home to my office. Who wanted to have to push back holiday shopping or find a car to fill already clogged streets to complete said holiday shopping? God knows little Man-Man, Jordan, Sean, Henry, Kyphon, Shaquaneesha, Heather, Rainbow, or Ling Ling Schwartz shouldn't have to do without their Xbox for Xmas. And, merchants, already struggling to pay high store rents by selling craptastic merchandise, were pissed off too. No buses means no one buying penis-engraved gold fronts (for y'all what don't know, fronts or grills are gold or platinum pieces fitted over the front teeth). And, somebody has to buy them joints.

On the other front (not for your teeth), the Feds want to clamp down on illegal immigration by making it officially a felony, subject to jail time. Although somebody has to clean those toilets, build those overpriced snap-set houses, play mammy to Ling Ling Schwartz so mommy can be all she can be out in the workforce, Americans, so-called real Americans, want to do the aforementioned jobs at twice the price our illegal friends will. Never mind that for good or bad, they support the economy by buying things and paying rent (stop acting like taxes are the only thing that support the economy -- if rich people paid taxes in any fair proportion, we wouldn't have this discussion), and by building and making the things other people make money off of, and don't always pay appropriate taxes on, and by providing services that allow higher classes to provide other services that either maintain or build the economy (remember, someone has to watch the baby while Mom and Dad make stock trades).

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not in favor of illegal behavior just because. I don't support illegal immigration, but if America does such a good job of spreading the gospel of the good life in America (and that's what brought my mother here from the Caribbean), then we can't expect that people won't want to come. And it's pure racism that clamped down on immigration of black and brown people (Africans, Caribbeans, Mexicans, in particular) versus whites (Irish, eastern Europeans), according to the Immigration and Nationalization Act of 1965, which set a higher cap for white immigrants. I'm also not in favor of non-English speakers not learning English, simply because there are basic things you must understand English in order to accomplish -- did you know that a potential driver can take the New York State writtin drivers' exam in languages other than English?

There are times when justice, defined as the quality of being impartial or fair, isn't the same as legal. Transit Workers' Union president Roger Toussaint was sentenced for sanctioning a strike by transit workers. The strike wasn't legal, but just. Immigration, legal or otherwise, is inconvenient, but done by people seeking a better way of life for themselves and their families. It may not always be legal, but it is just. And are we not interested in justice, or are we simply interested in what's legal?

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