While we’re debating what to cut and why, here’s a little bit of privatization that seems to have been overlooked in the ongoing gush of patriotism and the fact-checking of Founding Fathers and British warning riders and suchlike.
Once upon a time, I went to Philadelphia, and I couldn’t sleep. I took a walk, and, blogging from the “guest” computer by the check-in desk in the wee hours of the morning, I wrote …
Flag at Independence Hall, Philadelphia
(photos: Hart Williams)
July 16, 2008
Long flights, long days. Can’t sleep: still on West Coast time.
After a five hour nap, I catch the last three innings of the 15-inning All Star Game. Not much to write home about, but it’s something.
I walk the six blocks to Independence Hall, which is completely deserted. I get there right at 3 AM, and while I’m standing outside the cattle gates (decorated with bunting), staring up at the venerable old place, the night guard approaches. We don’t have anything to do, so we talk.
Guarding Independence Hall
He’s originally from Brooklyn, but grew up in upstate New York. Lives in New Jersey now, but took the job, because it pays better than Jersey law enforcement jobs. The economy in Jersey’s “not too good, but it’s pretty bad everywhere.”
He’s working for a “vendor” Wackenhut, who has the contract to guard our national treasure. The National Park Service fellows are inside, but the subcontractors are outside, getting chewed up by mosquitos. He can’t afford the gas to drive anymore, and they’re “upping the bridges” which seems to translate as “increasing tolls.”
They’re trying to form a union, but Wackenhut doesn’t like it. The guy who is organizing “is just trying to help out the other guys.” They don’t get any benefits, health, retirement, etc. They had a big meeting at Christ Church. Ed Rendell and other bigwigs were there, but nothing’s come of it.
Guarding the Liberty Bell, across the street
They don’t give much allowance for winter gear, and the raincoats they issue are so thin and cheap that they tear at the slightest provocation.
The guy who was trying to organize the union was just suspended, the guard tells me. He hopes that they’ll get a union, but he can’t see where it’s going anywhere.
Then his shift replacement shows up, and he rotates to another station. “Take care,” he tells me.
“You too,” I say.
Where the Declaration and Constitution were hammered out
And this is how our liberty is honored at the home of the Declaration and the Constitution.
Rent-a-cops with no benefits, private subcontractors guarding “liberty” — as cheap as possible, while the NPS people doze inside the Great Building.
Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.
Washington statue outside of Independence Hall
But no unions, dammit: Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.
~ July 16, 2008
Back to 2011.
It’s a lot worse than I thought.
Wackenhut finally reached an agreement with SEIU on December 16, 2008, five months to the day after I’d talked to the night watchman. It was the end of a long, ugly battle, that included Wackenhut filing RICO racketeering suits against SEIU and the City of Los Angeles, among others.
But Wackenhut is not exactly the same Wackenhut that was contracted to “privatize” security at the Independence National Historic Park.
Here’s an item from 2007:
Philadelphia, Pa. (Vocus) September 13, 2007 — Six years after the World Trade Center was attacked in New York City, security officers who guard Philadelphia historic sites testified about their poor working conditions at a community field hearing held yesterday, September 12. The hearing was chaired by Congressman Robert A. Brady (D-PA) at Christ Church Community House just blocks from the Independence Hall and Liberty Bell sites.
Security officers who guard the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall National Park raised concerns with the panel regarding training, equipment, health and safety and workers? rights. Wackenhut Services Inc., a division of Wackenhut/G4S, the foreign-owned security services company, employs the security officers….
George stares down at Wackenhut guards @ left
What? A “foreign-owned security services company”??
Yup. The Palm Beach Post explains:
Wackenhut has new HQ, new ID
By JEFF OSTROWSKI
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Posted: 8:57 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 18, 2011
… The Wackenhut empire began modestly. In 1954, George Wackenhut started a detective agency in Coral Gables. A couple of years later, he expanded into security guard services, and the company mushroomed.
Wackenhut Corp. was publicly traded for years, as was a separate prison company, Wackenhut Corrections. In 1995, Wackenhut moved its corporate headquarters to Palm Beach Gardens from Coral Gables.
In 2002, Danish security firm Group 4 Falck bought Wackenhut Corp., and in 2004 Group 4 Falck and Securicor combined to create G4S. The Wackenhut name survived until this month….
Yes. Wackenhut is no more. Only G4S remains.
Wait a minute? A BRITISH firm is guarding INDEPENDENCE HALL???!!? The “Birthplace of the United States of America”??!?
Washington Statue from above @ left
Yeah. Wackenhut was bought up, along with its contract first by a Danish firm, and then by a British company, who then fought a vicious (losing) battle to keep American workers from their American right to collective bargaining.
All in the shadow of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Take a minute to let that sink in.
So, the Redcoats are guarding Independence Hall?
The chair from which Washington presided at the constitutional
convention, now guarded by Redcoat security.
Breathes there an American with a soul so dead that s/he is not profoundly and deeply insulted by this, I cannot hope to help. But I don’t want to ever be stuck in the same room with ‘em. Symbolism MATTERS, dammit, else why bother preserving that valuable downtown Philly real estate in the first place?
And that’s pretty much a parable for modern American life, taken from actual REAL life™.
Greed, ideology and blindness allowed Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell to be guarded under a “privatization” contract by a British security firm.
(What was it that Lenin said about a capitalist would sell you the rope to lynch him with?)
The Redcoats are coming! The Redcoats are coming!
Note: Originally published in February, the temperatures were, perhaps, too cold to get much hot under the collar. Nothing has changed, however.
A writer, published author, novelist, literary critic and political observer for a quarter of a quarter-century more than a quarter-century, Hart Williams has lived in the American West for his entire life. Having grown up in Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico, a survivor of Texas and a veteran of Hollywood, Mr. Williams currently lives in Oregon, along with an astonishing amount of pollen. He has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog.