2013–2014 CONTEST
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2013–2014 Contest Winners

“’Making Work Visible’—in a way that’s what I’ve been doing throughout my career,” investigative journalist Tom Robbins told student authors and artists who won prizes in the fifth year of this CUNY/LaborArts contest. Robbins joined Brooklyn College President Karen Gould and contest sponsor Donald Rubin in congratulating the young artists – their work inspires us all. It displays imagination, thoughtfulness, and an ability to make links between individual lived experience and larger social issues.

Terrence Cheng, Donald Rubin and Karen Gould at the reception.
Open to CUNY undergraduates, contest entries are judged according to originality, content and style. Student writers and artists both draw upon history, upon close observation of the world them, and upon a wealth of first hand experiences to link their work to the spirit of labor arts.

Poetry winner Alexander Radison begins his poem this way:

The time on her alarm clock is set half an hour fast
to soften the shock of early morning—
as if the thought of waking up at 5 a.m. instead of 4:30
might somehow make the workday go by quicker.

Elizabeth Mahony’s essay about queer labor discussed the increasing number of jobs in sectors whichrequire both frequent interfacing with the general public and pressure to embody a company’s “brand”. Businesses who wish to differentiate themselves from exploding competition may increasingly put the weight of “branding” and providing a specific experience for their clients onto their employees. The unwaged and normalized nature of additional emotional, sexual, and appearance-based labor makes this a low-cost option for companies in a shareholder-beholden landscape. Businesses can skimp on branding and expand the ways in which workers are disciplined.

That Sean Blair took to heart the contest requirement to “think visually,” is evident in the first sentences of his narrative: The pool of steel, with its oranges and reds, all swirling slowly, glowing, and blazing—it seemed as if Carnegie had bought the Sun and employed us every day to pour a little bit of it into the converters. But there was a sunspot now on the great surface of molten pig iron. We looked down into the vat from the catwalk and it seemed to be descending farther away from me. The black spot, which many of us had stopped to look at, was undoubtedly human…

Visual Art winner Jonathan Batista comments movingly about his painting: As a waiter and a lower class Hispanic male living in the projects I have carried a perceived notion from those around me of being uneducated, a thief and financially dependent on others. Being sensitive to the actions that society made towards me caused me to develop insecurities of where I am in society’s social concept. With art I learned to realize my insecurities as an irrational fear.

Read them all—you will be moved, surprised, impressed.

We sincerely hope that these young authors and artists continue on with their work—their voices demand to be heard.

Photographs of students and from awards ceremony are by Julienne Schaer.

Elizabeth Mahony

First Prize, Essays
Elizabeth Mahony  American Studies, Brooklyn College

Queer Labor: Gendered Work and the Service Industry

Warpaint, photo series on gender presentation in the workplace by Coco Layne. Tuesday, October 29, 2013.

The history of the queer worker is not well understood either by labor unions or mainstream LGBTQ advocacy organizations. The dominant LGBTQ narrative in the United States, having relied on neoliberal rhetoric and tactics to promote assimilation into the the consumer hegemony, ultimately caters to and represents an elite class of gays unblemished by the damning signs of class struggle. On the other hand, a vein of thought exists in labor unions that views LGBTQ struggles as “identity politics”, suspicious for their divisive capacity, culturally deviant and “decadent” presentation, representing a possible distraction from simple labor issues. Both of these understandings miss the gendered dimension of work, the role employers play as gatekeepers of normative relationships, and the importance of queer politics as a public-oriented service industry grows and a new generation of young queers begin to enter the workforce.

I begin by analyzing Phil Tiemayer’s Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants in order to provide the reader with a case study on how jobs are gendered and on how the construction of LGBTQ identity flowed through class and race. Next I argue that this dominant construction of LGBTQ identity became a force rank-and-file activists had to contend with in fighting for the space and control over a Lesbian and Gay Issues Committee (LAGIC) in New York’s DC 37. Finally, I look critically at the implications of these challenges for young queer workers entering a workforce comprising mostly of service industry, public-oriented jobs.

Tiemayer begins his history of male flight attendants by cautioning that in the early years of commercial air travel, these workers were neither feminised nor queered in the same way they would be later in the century. In fact, he asserts that “it is anachronistic to speak of a ‘gay’ flight attendant corps that endured ‘homophobia’ in the 1930s. In those years, unlike the postwar years, homosexuality was a barely choate identity category”. It was only through both the attendants’ proximity to the “gay” culture of their wealthy customers and through the later entrance of women into stewarding that over time queer men began to be attracted to the profession. At the time of commercial air travel’s inception, it was both considerably less comfortable and more expensive than it is now. The inherent danger in early, more rudimentary air travel meant management sought male over female flight attendants. Meanwhile, its cost and aura of danger meant a clientele consisting of fabulously wealthy men traveling without their families. In the early 1920s and 30s, such men surrounded themselves in decadent “gay” culture, which, while not linked to homosexuality in the same manner as today, did celebrate a more ambiguous, playful masculinity.

All these factors shaped the service corps that originally staffed these planes. Tiemayer writes that “while the [male] steward could not aspire to participate fully in this eccentric lifestyle because of his working-class status, he was groomed by [airline] public relations departments to cater to this softer upper-class masculinity. In this sense, stewards of the day belonged-at least aesthetically, from an examination of their uniforms and other public relations materials—to the more fluid gender and sexuality norms that typified the ‘gay’ life of the urban elite”. Thus one sees the “inchoate” nature of homosexuality in this context. Elite “gay” culture had very little to do with actual sexual relations and more to do with consumption, exhibition, and an uninhibited lifestyle. It was an affect borne of privilege that was not accessible to working class men in other industries with less proximity to such wealthy urban dandies. This is why in its’ early years, stewarding represented a certain “fashionable servility” more than it did a specific queer identity.

This points to a conundrum that will be a common theme in this paper; that the gendered nature of work and larger social perceptions have, and continue to, make “worker” and “queer” appear mutually exclusive. Stewards could only be handmaidens to the sexually playful masculinity of their clients, not full benefactors of the affluence and security it rested on. This was seen as homosexuality did begin to form into a “choate identity category” in the postwar years and affluent “gay” culture became unfashionable in decades of war and nationalism. Without its association with wealth and gentility, the conflation of “gay” with “deviant” deepened in American society. In this context, working class queers struggled for a secure identity not only among dominant gender and sexuality norms but also among class ones. For example, Tiemayer documents the media response to the murder of a young gay steward, William Simpson, in 1954 and how the media dealt with the question of his homosexuality. There were no “investigative reports about Simpson’s work at Eastern and the preponderance of gay men in the flight attendant corps. The reporting suggested that homosexuality was an identity that manifested itself only in the leisure world-in neighborhoods, bars, beaches, and public parks—rather than at work”. The worker and the queer, in the popular imagination, stood as aberrations to one another. The supposedly immoral and antisocial nature of homosexuality made questions of queerness questions about pathology. This would continue to haunt the LGBTQ movement for many years as it struggled to clarify and challenge the material bases of its’ oppression, while loud voices from both inside and outside the community insisted that the primary challenges had to do with sexuality and pathology.

At the Lusty Lady in San Francisco, a strip club whose dancers organized in the 90s, this material basis was being directly dealt with. Julia, a worker at the club, argues that the largely lesbian and bisexual workforce of the Lusty Lady faced unique economic challenges that in part drove them to organize. “Because we were largely gay women”, she says, “we did not have any fantasy at all of having a man support us in the future. We understood this job to be our sole support […] You just don’t have fantasies when you’re a lesbian that you’re going to have another lesbian who’s going to support you. There’s so few of those, and they wear really bad blazers”(124). The Lusty Lady had consistently marketed itself as woman-friendly and queer friendly, and management surely maintained a certain cultural freedom around these identities. However, this belied and even actively obscured the economic precariousness of its workers and how that precariousness was linked to their queer identity. In 2011, white women were earning 82 cents for every dollar earned by men; African-American women 69 cents; and Latina women 60 cents. As Julia aptly points out, lesbian women cannot hope to access the added economic security of partnering with a man that straight women can. Furthermore, those few lesbians that could provide more support than the average woman wore “really bad blazers”—in other words, they belonged more to the corporate world than to a working class one, and held only tenuous solidarity with lesbian workers like Julia.

Another unique challenge faced by these workers was the stigmatization, and devaluing, of sex work in the general culture. One of the dancers points out that “we don’t pathologize therapists for providing emotional support for money. But even though women are trained to be coquettish […] we are pathologized if we do that for money. We’re expected to do it for free in a variety of jobs, like being a receptionist, a stewardess, almost any support position job”(128). As discovered by the stewards of Tiemayer’s account, public-oriented service jobs require an emotional labor that is gendered in specific ways. Even, for example, as the airline industry continued to employ and attract gay men, it made a conscious effort to sell both the caregiving and sexually attractive capacities of it female stewardesses. Sex work clarifies this gender performance as labor rather than nature, as partly material rather than pathological. For this it is not easily understood by LGBTQ activists that campaign largely for assimilation into the neoliberal order, rather than against the ways employers benefit from gender performance and act as gatekeepers to normative relationships. Similarly, the deviance sex work represents in popular imagination means that “people don’t want to see that [dancers] are just like them. They’re on an assembly line and we’re in a peep show. But it’s just basic labor issues”(128). A layer of stigmatization makes it difficult for these workers to find legitimacy in labor.

The demystification of gendered and sexualized labor provided by the Lusty Lady campaign allows us to look at client-focused, service jobs more widely and begin to create an analysis of how it affects LGBTQ workers. Starting with food service, the Restaurant Opportunities Center New York produced a report on gender justice in the restaurant industry that illuminates many of these issues. In the study, ROC-NY focuses on the fine-dining sector because they “tend to be the most elite, visible, and influential establishments in the industry”. What these restaurants do set the tone for the rest of the industry. Furthermore, because they are so competitive and serve a wealthier clientele, they offer some of the only living-wage jobs. As a worker, the ability to access and retain a job in one of these restaurants can mean a real difference. The report was compiled using census analysis, surveys of over five hundred restaurant workers in New York City, demographic canvassing, and interviews with both workers and employers.

What emerged was striking evidence of a stratified division of labor along the lines of gender, race, and language within restaurants. Women of color are almost wholly pushed out of fine-dining and instead concentrated in quick-service, or fast-food, establishments. They comprise 28.1% of the industry’s workforce but 34.9% of total quick service positions. Furthermore, within fine dining women are pushed out of the higher-earning front-of-the-house positions, which are 55.0% less likely to be female. Accordingly the ROC report refers to a “double tax” imposed on women of color for their gender and race in the form of lower wages.

In this context, wherein gender and ethnic presentation heavily influence hiring and earnings, “women are often confronted by blunt image-consciousness, sexism, and stereotypes. Frequently, they are completely excluded from accessing certain positions and relegated to traditionally “female’ roles”. Pushed out of more manual back of the house work (one female cook mentioned that in order to maintain her job, she avoided “looking like a woman with makeup and everything”) the jobs women have access to are the ones directly servicing clients where they are subject to more intense scrutiny towards their appearance and mannerisms. Head shots are often required in the interview process and female servers are continuously surveilled and policed to look more feminine and sexy. One worker recounted that their manager “always pestered the hostesses to wear heels… he wanted us all glammed out”, despite their protests that working in heels for eight hours at a time would be excessively painful. There is a rationalization of careful gender presentation and sexual availability as part and parcel of service that female workers must accommodate in order to maintain their employment and tips.

This type of gendering of service has broad implications for LGBTQ workers. In particular, it entirely pushes out individuals who are gender non-conforming and transgender who cannot or do not wish to “pass” as a cisgender man or woman in order to fit the requirements of particular positions. This is especially urgent considering the rates of unemployment for young trans* individuals. A 2011 survey found that unemployment rates for trans and gender non-conforming people was 14%, double the national average. For transgender people of color the rates went up to four times the national average. Just as women of color faced a “double tax” on their earnings for their gender and race, “Injustice at Every Turn”, a 2011 report on transgender discrimination found that “discriminaton was pervasive… yet the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent, structural racism was especially devastating”. Almost half of respondents said they had experienced being fired, not hired or denied a promotion for being transgender or gender non-conforming. The effect on transgender and gender non-conforming communities is unmistakable, with the homeless rate mirroring the unemployment rate at nearly double the national average.

A CNN piece details the struggle of Keisha Allen, a transgender woman of color who makes less than $12,000 a year doing sex work. This isn’t uncommon, with 16% of respondents to the Task Force report saying they were forced to work in the underground economy for income. “She has applied for hundreds of entry-level jobs that don’t require a college degree—from dishwashers to cashiers”, says CNN, “without making it to the first interview”. As a result she is homeless and often forced to stay in the men’s section of her shelter. In the face of the overwhelming risk of falling to the edges of survival, almost three quarters of respondents sought to hide their gender or gender transition in the workplace. This is a daunting task in the context of the meticulous gender and image policing seen in restaurants. In particular, female-identifying LGBTQ workers informed ROC they “often felt humiliated and angered for feeling pressured to play traditional feminine stereotypes in order to obtain employment, avoid harassment or retaliation on the job, be respected, or simply fit in”(15). Such compulsory gender performance is especially degrading for those who have had to struggle to reconcile their sexuality and gender to themselves, their families, and their communities.

Conversely, male-identifying LGBTQ workers may find themselves pressured to play up stereotypically flamboyant mannerisms. Their gender non-conformity was advantageous in “certain restaurants in which being a gay man was considered chic or trendy”. As we saw in Plane Queer, LGBTQ-identifying people often follow one another through workplaces that provide a modicum of acceptance and protection. However, management sometimes exploits this by playing on the way homosexuality is commodified and exoticized in mainstream culture. One bartender remarked that “Many male homosexuals find a haven working in restaurants, where you can often be yourself; however, ‘being ourselves’ often means playing into stereotypical notions of what it is to be homosexual and male”. At the Lusty Lady, too, LGBTQ workers were attracted to the establishment because of its image of acceptance, but often lesbian and bisexual employees felt that a specific stereotype of their sexuality was being fetishized and exploited for profit.

This “image work” is not just enforced in restaurants, but, as we’ve seen, in a wide swath of service-based jobs, including retail. This is what artist Coco Layne explored in “Warpaint”, a photo series that was inspired by her part-time job at a conservative womens’ retailer. Layne describes herself as a “hardcore feminist and valiant queer queen” who comments that “It was comical how off-brand” she was for the job. She even wore a wig for the interview to hide her undercut, in which the sides of one’s head are shaved as a queer signifier. The series is a montage of self-portraits that run the spectrum from a masculine to feminine gender presentation. In the first photo, she wears a dark collared shirt buttoned all the way up with her hair slicked back and no makeup. Throughout the montage she makes subtle changes to her appearance, such as allowing her hair to fall gently over one eyebrow, adding progressive amounts of makeup, and changing into a bright floral top until she reaches a totally feminine gender presentation.

“I identify as a femme queer woman”, said Layne in an interview with the Huffington Post, “Sometimes I’ll feel like being super femme and I’ll wear a lot of eye makeup and lipstick while on other days I won’t do anything besides fill my brows in”. Despite already identifying as falling somewhere on the feminine spectrum, the compulsory nature of a feminine gender presentation in her workplace revealed new elements to her ideas about gender presentation. “It’s fascinating to see the nuanced correlations between how I present myself and the way people treat me”, she says. The process, for her, went beyond a playful commentary on makeupping to confront the economic and social consequences of presenting as visibly queer or gender non-conforming.

In September 2013 Reuters reported that in August the pace of growth in the U.S. services sector hit an eight-year high. The National Employment Law Project found in 2012 that 43% of the jobs created during the economic recovery were in low-wage service industries including retail, food services and employment services. Increasingly, available jobs are concentrated in these sectors which require both frequent interfacing with the general public and pressure to embody a company’s “brand”. Businesses who wish to differentiate themselves from exploding competition may increasingly put the weight of “branding” and providing a specific experience for their clients onto their employees. The unwaged and normalized nature of additional emotional, sexual, and appearance-based labor makes this a low-cost option for companies in a shareholder-beholden landscape. Businesses can skimp on branding and expand the ways in which workers are disciplined.

So how are labor and queer activists to address the diverse issues LGBTQ-identifying workers face? For answers we can turn to the Lesbian and Gay Issues Committee in D.C. 37, the public employees union in New York City. Tamara Jones asserts that “LAGIC’s [accomplishments] can be found in its ability to balance members’ commitment to supporting and strengthening their union against the need to challenge and broaden the union’s institutional structure and practices in order to better represent lesbian and gay workers”(176). If D.C.37 members wanted to address their unique concerns as both LGBTQ people and workers, they needed legitimacy in their union. At the same time, they were fearful both of being sidelined as a special interest group and also of the union’s structural power to “set the agenda, and try to control what the issues were” (177). LAGIC accordingly adopted an approach that blended collectivist internal organizing and accommodating the union chain of command. This way, they could build their agenda democratically but also validate their issues as genuinely working-class ones through the union’s sponsorship.

An early, central campaign spearheaded by LAGIC was for domestic partner benefits. Through this campaign LAGIC was able to elicit widespread labor solidarity. They “consistently defined domestic partners to include unmarried heterosexual couples. By doing so, the group was able to link the specific needs of lesbian and gay workers to those of another category of unprotected workers, moving beyond rigid identity politics”(188). In doing so LAGIC was an important pioneer in discarding arguments over pathology and deviance in order to address root material oppression, creating a common language between “labor” and “queer”. They also illuminated the underlying problem of domestic partner benefits; they ability of the employer to regulate the relationships of the working class. In my census track in Washington Heights, 65.1% of residents are family households, but only 24.4% are married-couple family households.¹ The statistics show that there is great variation in the makeup of each family and their arrangements that go beyond questions of queer or straight households. Limiting the forms in which people can access the economic stability and benefits of marriage is another way for employers to discipline the working class.

Thus we can see the multiple, intersecting ways employers use gender and sexuality to both exploit workers and control their relationships outside the job. We can also see that there is difficulty in organizing for queer, working class issues outside of the dominant LGBT framework. LAGIC’s campaign for domestic partner benefits is a vital note in the history of LGBTQ activism. But it also advocated for something that was somewhat digestible and beneficial to a straight audience. In contrast, a New York organization called Queers for Economic Justice sought to “challenge and change the systems that create poverty and economic injustice in our communities, and to promote an economic system that embraces sexual and gender diversity”. They do so because “although poor queers have always been a part of both the gay rights and economic justice movements, they have been, and continue to be, largely invisible in both movements”. Their vision was not digestible to the straight community, challenging to the mainstream LGBT narrative, and economically subversive (perhaps more so than most labor unions). As a consequence, in December 2013 they were forced to close as they “looked down the barrel of the funding-world shotgun” and found no one willing to support their work.

The crisis Queers for Economic Justice faced should be a wake-up call to LGBTQ activists in the labor movement. Queer activism that addresses the deep economic roots of LGBTQ oppression simply cannot survive in the grant-writing world. It will either change to please donors or shut down. Labor unions are perhaps the only organizations that can provide the space, framework, and funding to organize poor queers. Activists will have to fight their union in order to do it, and do it well, but it is possible in an age where most labor leaders espouse social justice unionism. The consequences of the new economy—from performative gender labor to increased precariousness—for queer workers will be broad and often opaque. The challenges will go beyond anti-discrimination clauses to necessitate a more countercultural resistance. Questions of how to organize and what to organize for will have to be resolved through trial and error, through discussion and disagreement. But the need for the closing of the gap between “queer” and “worker” is clear, and the possibilities of LGBTQ organizing through a labor perspective are endless.

Owen Muller

Second Prize, Essays
Owen Muller  Mechanical Engineering Technology, NYC College of Technology


Image from Gary Schoichet private collection, photograph by Gary Schoichet.

Slam! The door smashes against the table. I look up and see three kids running past my desk to go play basketball outside. I yell, “Don’t forget to sign in,” but it is too late and even if they did hear me, I was politely ignored. I jog after them outside into the half sized basketball court squeezed in between the youth center, a restaurant and the courtyard of the Lower East Side Eldridge Projects. They already started shooting hoops and before I even get the chance to remind them to sign in, I am interrupted and challenged to a game to eleven. I clarify to Jay, Jelvis and Manny that after I beat them they must sign in. They all chuckle and then Jay screams, “We going to leave you at zero”.

Even though it is three versus one, my height and experience still give me the advantage. I check the ball and begin to play defense, but before a blink of an eye they make two quick passes around me and score their first basket. “Too easy,” Jay shouts as I check him the ball again. Jay motions to do the same pass of the last play I quickly step in front and snatch the ball from his hands. He motions to his teammates to get back on defense, but I am already in the air letting the ball gently leave my finger tips as I clap against the backboard. “One up,” I boast as if that point meant the game is already over.

We go back and forth until I have the ball. The score is ten to seven and if I hit the next basket I will win. As I dribble the ball between my legs I can feel the discomfort of sweat beading on my thigh under my jeans. Jay points to his teammates to go down low and calls out “Lock Up” reassuring his teammates that he will not let me score. Jay is in his defensive stance as I try to explain, “If you had just passed the ball more and played with your teammates then maybe you could have won”

“Hurry up and shoot” Jay hollers. But before Jay even finishes his sentence I let the ball fly and all I hear in my head is swoosh. In reality there is no net so the ball just rattles into the rim. “Game, now go sign in quickly so you can keep playing”. Watching Jay and Jelvis running back inside, I don’t see disappointment in their faces but an eagerness to defeat me next time. I follow them inside thinking how every time I play against these kids my height and experience become less of a factor because they grow into their mid teens and progress faster.

I walk back into the youth center and hear my name howled but I sit down at my table just to collect my breath. Even though I started working four hours ago, my day really begins now, when the kids start arriving from school at 3:15. Up until now the youth center was so quiet I might be able to hear a mouse running through the space above the ceiling. My boss, Leonard usually leaves at around two o’clock after he and I are done with the boring accounting work such as sorting receipts, checking time sheets, paying bills and general keeping the GVYC operating and efficiently helping kids.

I have been working at the Greenwich Village Youth Council (GVYC) for almost six months now but it feels like I grew up here. I got the job from a long time friend, the director, my boss Leonard, who has known me for almost a third of my life. He played a pivotal role as either my principle, basketball coach, mentor or just someone I can always talk to. I met him upon entering seventh grade at a new middle school. He was the principle and this was a time in my life when I was angry and difficult to control. Leonard showed some extra interest in me and over time gained my trust. As I look back I realize that he is really an example of how a child can be turned around by positive interaction with adults.

The atmosphere in the youth center is always cozy and warm but rarely calm. I go to sit on the black leather couch, which is situated in the middle of the youth center next to two other sofas surrounding a television. I am the only supervisor at the youth center at the moment, but Leonard’s son Kevin should be here soon. Kevin has worked at GVYC much longer then I have. Being the only supervisor at the youth center can be overwhelming, especially if things get hectic. Scanning the room, I check and see a few kids hovered around the ping-pong and pool table on the far side of the room. Next to the entrance Manny and David are on the computers near the door to the court. In the corner of the youth center near the entrance I notice Jelvis, a youth who has been coming for around five months mandatory for shooting a BB gun off a roof. Jelvis is looking at a table that is filled with every sort of drug prevention and safe sex information pamphlets possible.

“Jelvis you need any advice about anything?” I say softly trying my best not too draw any attention from the other boys. “na I’m good” he responds while turning to walk away.

“Well if you ever need anything don’t hesitate to ask.” He smiles and then runs over to the TV to play video games. Even if there was something he needed to talk about I know I would probably not be the person he goes to. Working at the youth center I have found the most critical but also most difficult thing for a youth counselor to obtain is the youth’s trust. But once that trust is established you can really be most helpful to the adolescents is by listening, being there for them and trying to be the best role model possible.

Jay signals to me from the sofa to come over and play video games. As I am walking over to him, I slip over a book bag and fall dramatically. The entire room bursts into laughter. I try my best to play it off even though my feet are still sore from the basketball game and now I think I have a bruised knee.

It is almost five now and Manny comes up to me complaining, “Owen, I am so hungry, I need some food.” I hand Manny my phone and tell him to order two pies. Manny and Jay, like most kids at GVYC, have been coming here since they were so little it has developed into a second home for them. The walls are covered with photos. I look at the pictures and see Manny and Jay playing basketball, baseball, and hanging out. If you look closely you can watch them grow up and I wonder what the world ahead holds for them. I am watching Jay play a basketball video game against his closest friend Damani. They banter with each other to throw off each other’s concentration just to gain that edge. “Damani you only use LeBron cause you got no skill” As long as there is no use of any profanity I let them go at it

“But why you losing though?” Damani responds

“Because you are a cheater” Jay retorts

I space out for a few minutes watching the TV, when all of the sudden I hear commotion break out behind. “JELVIS GET OFF!!” I turn around to see Jelvis half under the Ping-Pong table holding one of his friends in a headlock on the floor. I bolt to my feet but the only thing I can think about is how much I dislike dealing with these situations. I roar at Jelvis, “Get off of him right now” but before I even get a chance to break them up a marvel happens. Crack! The door crashes against the table and Kevin flies threw the door. As if it were instinct he picks Jelvis off the ground and carries him outside. I check to make sure no one is hurt and then tell all the kids it is time to relax and if anybody needs help with their homework I will be by the computers. I sit back down extremely relieved that Kevin came in and dealt with the conflict. It isn’t that I can’t resolve those types of situations, but Kevin grew up in the neighborhood and has been here so long everyone respects him. This makes it much easier for him to handle situations when things are heated. I look up, amazed. Jelvis walks in front of Kevin and goes up the kid he just clashed with, apologizing then giving him a pound.

It is getting late and for the most part everybody was pretty well behaved today. I yell out, “Who wants pizza?” almost every one raises his hand. Serving food is always one of my favorite tasks not only because I get to eat but also it makes the youths very content and grateful. I try my best to divide the pies evenly and start to hand out slices. It always surprises me how generous the youngsters can be. If anyone is a bit dissatisfied there is always someone willing to share their slice or drink. It is getting late and I have to close up, but as usual Damani is begging to stay longer. I watch him for as long as I can but I need to get home because the exhaustion is starting to wear me down. As the youth center empties out and the “goodbye Owen’s” die down, I finish picking up the trash. This was just another routine day at the youth center. I grab the keys, lock the entrance, and make my way down the street between low-rise Eldridge buildings.

Sadeysa Gonzalez

Third Prize, Essays
Sadeysa Gonzalez  Hospitality Management, NYC College of Technology

The Unforgettable Smile


“Another day, another dollar,” that’s what I see on the businessmen’s faces as I walk by them getting off the Chambers St. station. They’re on their way to work in their suits, I’m on my way to work in my black sweats. A blue and orange work shirt is required along with black flexible leggings and or sweats. I make my way up the small ramp leading to the very modern looking glass door. The lights are off. Great... of course I’m early. I patiently wait for my manager to arrive—nobody else has a key to the building but her and the owners of the preschool. Outside there’s no distinct sign, just silver lining the glass with 77 on the top of the building. The preschool was clever to put a sign against the glass that reads “Reade Street Prep.” It has little colorful cartoon people holding hands in a circle, you know the ones with no faces or clothes. In the distance I see my manager Sarah, who always carries at least three bags with her. The lights go on and every inch of wall is a sunny exotic forest wallpaper that matches our theme perfectly. The front desk looks very playful, it’s almost semi-circled and all white. On the right is a railing where parents can park their baby strollers and on the left is the surveillance room. As I lay down my belongings in a nearby classroom Sarah gets the Ipods charging.

Exerblast is the name of our gym, located downstairs from Reade Street Prep. Exerblast is a child fitness center for children from the ages of two to nine. The gym provides parents with a space to have birthday parties and to drop their kids at our after school program and camps. Camp days are on school breaks and after school is Mondays and Tuesdays. Each session in the gym is called a “Blast.” Exerblast provides belts for each child which holds an Ipod. The Ipod has an Exerblast App with a color square that changes colors from red to green depending on how much the child moves. It also gives them a certain amount of Energy points shown on the right of the color square. When each child is belted and brought downstairs we begin the story of Botania, the planet we are on. The planet has been lacking energy due to an energy crisis. The people of Botania are the Shrie people, and they need our help restoring energy in order to save Botania. The kids must create as many energy points as possible. After each child is belted they also get wristbands that indicate which team they are on and which guide to stick with. On a typical birthday the parents will come downstairs to mingle and eat the assortments brought in by Whole Foods or the parents. I have worked for Exerblast for a solid year now and I don’t even know how much my services cost. Most likely the other guides have no clue either. We have Nikki at Front Desk and she handles the payments and gratuity. I do know one parent had a party of about 20 kids, went all out with custom everything, balloons that spelt out the birthday boy’s name, catering from Whole Foods and wine, which came out to a thousand dollars including a nice tip.

I open the white fence gate that hovers at the top of the stairway and start walking down to the gym. The gym space has four sections, the bright and energetic light field, the sometimes dangerous obstacle course, the very hard to spin rockclimbing wall and the always troublesome ball pit. I take my shoes off, open a second white fence entering into the gym and wiggle my toes into the soft grass. The light field and obstacle course are covered in a grass flooring while the ball pit and rockclimbing wall are matted. I get a gentle stretch in as more guides make their way into the gym. Each guide has a dance or athletic background. Amanda, for example, is a small town girl from Tampa, Florida, a dancer working at a Masters in Dance. Leah is also a dancer, graduated as a dance major and is now working for a company. Victor, a city man who’s lived in New York all his life and has been working with kids for years, is a gymnast in college. As for me, I’m from the city, I’ve been working with kids with special needs for about three years, I received a dance scholarship as a kid and I was a cheerleader at Arvada West High School in Colorado. When all the guides have looked over to make sure everything is prepared we all make our way upstairs to greet incoming parents and children.

Today twenty-three kids will be arriving for Nick’s 6th birthday party. The guides assume their regular positions. Amanda is at the door to greet parents, Sarah and Nikki are at the front desk checking in parents and children, Victor takes coats from parents and children and Leah and myself belt children, have them remove their shoes and group them. On birthdays the birthday boy or girl’s parents are usually the first to arrive to bring in any food they brought for the parents or party favors. The usual is sandwiches, vegetables and coffee or wine. RING! The doorbell sings. Nick’s parents make their way in. “Mommy has a ton of things to do this weekend but Nick sweetie all your friends are coming just for your birthday!” I overheard the mother speaking to Nick. She struggled but attempted to gesture a handshake while Nick is climbing on top of her and says “Hi I’m Lisa. I brought some food for the parents, just be very careful there’s some wine in the second bag there.” Just as I thought, wine. I find that our clients are usually very busy with work or even famous. I have actually taught three blasts with the daughter of Bethany from The Real Housewives.

When at least 75% of the kids have arrived at the party we have them line up with their specific guide and make our way downstairs into the gym space. We start a nice 15-minute warm up together with a video. The video explains the belt system shortly with Commander Pie, a talking Pineapple that leads us to our mission. Afterwards we establish short rules for the kids and each guide introduces him or herself to their group to start the blast.

Each station is repeated twice and the work-out portion is an hour and fifteen minutes all together. The light station is my favorite station and every guide’s favorite station, which is why I always send my kids to run to that station first. After hyping up the kids by telling them how much fun we are going to have I make my way to the column that holds the machine that activates the lights for different games. For six year olds I recommend the first game, which I call Color Dash. Each child finds their favorite color light on the ground to sit on and has to follow that color wherever it may go. If you’re away from it for too long you start to lose points on your belt. Each round I play with them I’ll shout out a new command. “FLY LIKE A PLANE TO YOUR NEXT LIGHT!” or “NINJA TO YOUR NEXT LIGHT!” The next game on the machine Exerblast calls Dodge the Light. A single white light is flashed onto the ground and that is a vortex and the goal is to run from the light otherwise you’ll lose points. This game is fun but most of the kids get so focused on not touching the light they will run off into the obstacle course. Lastly we play Tap Tap, five lights are flashed onto the wall then to the floor and exchange faster and faster. Children must go from light to light only using a certain body part. Every so often I’ll have the kids follow the light with their butt, which is honestly so adorable to watch. After about 10 minutes we switch to the next station which is the obstacle course. The obstacle course is designed specifically each morning for the particular age group for that day. We go through the obstacle course twice together, then one-by-one timed. Its regulation at the gym for me to do the obstacle course the first time with them. This is definitely not something I look forward to. Although my body is small, the course is designed for an even smaller body. I squeeze my way into the tunnels which the kids seem to get a kick out of. Next we make our way to the rock climbing wall. Here we play duck, duck, CLIMB which has the same rules of duck, duck, goose but when you are chosen you run around once, climb up the wall, touch the top then pick the next child to climb up the wall. Lastly the very troublesome ball pit. The most popular game here is Ships and Sailors which is a list of commands kids follow. For example Ships they will run to the wall on the left and Sailors they run to the wall on the right, Hit the Deck they will belly flop... etc. The ball pit is the station the kids look forward to the most but it’s the least favorite of all the guides. There is always an issue at the ball pit and as a guide I have to be five times more attentive to make sure kids don’t go flying face first or try to squeeze underneath the balls.

During the party we usually have at least one kid cry because a hand was stepped on or a child lost balance and fell on another child in the ball pit. I’ve also noticed five similar kinds of kids at each class or party. You have a bossy I’m bigger than you child, he’s first because he’s bigger. Then you have the Socially Anxious child that doesn’t want to be away from mom or dad. You can’t help but feel sorry for the child because he or she will break into water works an inch away from mom or dad. On some occasions you’ll have the girl or boy that wants to play a game he or she knows and will only want to play that game otherwise the child won’t participate at all. You have the kids whose parents want to be involved in every activity. In the gym we have a strict no parents in the gym rule unless you have the socially anxious child in your group and it’s absolutely necessary. I continuously have to tell parents “Hey, we’re actually not supposed to have parents beyond this point. Feel free to watch, take pictures and mingle in the party room. If you have any concerns feel free to call for me and I’ll come over.” That’s my usual little spiel which hasn’t failed me yet. Lastly, I have recently discovered the Glue child. This can vary between either the child is attached to the guide and wants to be the “little helper” for the day or the child is attached to a best friend and the same symptoms apply for both. This child usually jumps on you when you aren’t looking, hugs you consistently and will wrap around your leg if not given the proper amount of attention. With so many kids and parents running around sometimes it can get overwhelming. The kids get restless, the parents are breathing on your neck and my boss is looking over everything on top of that. The job always gets easier every blast taught, you learn something new every blast which makes the next blast easier.

Now that exercising is done all the groups come together for one final cool down to shake off the last minute wiggles and laugh all the last minute giggles. Then the leading guide will lead the meditation and have all the kids lie flat on their backs, hands to their sides and breathe in and out. When all the kids are quiet, the leading guide will softly awaken the kids, remove the belts and bring everyone in to say one big happy birthday to Nick before going into the party room for pizza and cake. Each party is the same in the party room. The party room is set up the day before with decorations, balloons, cups, plates and plastic-ware. The food for the parents is on the tables close to the walls, and the kids are served by the guides pizza and any little assortments that were brought in. Then after about 20 minutes of eating, the birthday cake is brought out for Nick to blow out his candles. The cake is then cut and distributed around the party room. Some days I take what time I can to just watch. The parents and kids look so happy, the moms are laughing at the stories they exchange, kids are letting their imagination run wild and the dads are relaxing also exchanging a share of sports and work. My job really has an effect on these parents’ lives as well—out of all the busy days they have, this is at least a couple of hours of less stress.

“Hey Nick did you have fun?” I asked. The immediate reaction of the 6 year old was a clear smile that stretched from ear to ear. His mouth was open as if he had smiled so big he needed to open to stretch it even further. His cheeks were bright pink and you could count all his teeth with how big he was smiling. “Yeah! Hey Sade how many points did I get?” he asks anxiously. “Well Nick today you made 3,407 points! That’s the most I’ve seen all day!” I yell softly for emphasis. The boys behind him run in a large stampede towards me and already in my head I can hear “What about me?!” As prepared as I am trained to be I whip out each child’s point card and hand them over. In the herd of children I see sweaty heads, big smiles and parents having a hard time getting their kids to want to go home. After the parents and children leave, the guides stick around to rearrange and clean the rooms to their original design. We also distribute and or throw out the last of the catering food. If a tip was left that is also accounted for at the end of the day. At Exerblast you have to learn to keep composure and have a sense of humor otherwise things can feel overwhelming. Kids do the craziest things and sometimes you need to sit back and laugh with them. At the end of the day my job is very physically and mentally exhausting, it may not be common or even taken seriously but I raise my head proud of the work I do. The highlight of my day is getting a heart-warming response like little Nick’s. That smile was so full of happiness and excitement which makes my job the most rewarding. Nick’s smile in particular was one I won’t forget. If he could understand, I would tell him thank you for making my job so rewarding. Thinking of your smile makes me smile for a week.

Tenzin Sherpa

Third Prize, Essays
Tenzin Sherpa  NYC College of Technology

The Beauty of NOHO Market

NOHO Market on Broadway, photographed by Phurtenzing Sherpa (the author), 2/22/2014, with a smartphone.

I work in a gift shop in my dad’s store at NoHo Market located on Broadway between Great Jones St. and East 4th St. My dad takes care of his own job in a hotel so I help him with the store. My dad is from Nepal. There isn’t much hope in Nepal so most people travel abroad to earn money and help their families. My dad is one of them. I was also born and raised in Nepal. He believes that opportunities are everywhere in the U.S. so life is much better in the U.S. than in Nepal. He worked really hard to save up some extra money to open up the store while still being able to support the family. SoHo is a couple of blocks away from the market. It is an outdoor market and has many different types of merchandise inside. Many people visit this market to shop for cell phone accessories, leather goods, dresses, etc. When you walk inside the market, you will see small stalls attached to each other with different products. All the way at the end, you will see a big banner on top of the green roof saying “I LOVE NY TSHIRTS AND SOUVENIRS.” This is very helpful because it attracts the customers that walk in the front of it and they find what they are looking for. I love working in this souvenir shop because I get a chance to meet people from all around the world and I love to communicate with them.

The market opens at 10 am during the summer and 11 am during the winter. It gets very cold during the winter so people do not shop much and we open up our store quite late. Our store isn’t connected to any other booth. The size of our stall is barely about 300 square feet. We’ve got a bright green roof with wooden doors and every single door is locked with heavy locks. In this shop, we have everything that a tourist needs to take home gifts of presents to their loved ones. The most popular ones are I LOVE NY t-shirts and sweatshirts. Half of our store is filled with all different types of colors of t-shirts and sweatshirts. It looks very good because the colors of rainbow are in it and sometime the tourist takes a snap of it with their digital camera. We have tote bags that are hanging from the ceiling with New York written all over them and in the middle of the store, we have a long wide wooden rack for all the New York souvenirs. There are mugs, shot glasses, ashtrays, frames, pens, statues, paperweights, etc. on top of the rack. We keep our stock below the wooden rack. There is enough room for most of it. If anything is sold, then we restock it. I have memorized all the prices for each item. We always play the radio station 92.3 NOW to keep our customers energized. This specific station plays good music and there are fewer commercials. We think that good music entertains the customers and they buy many souvenirs in a good mood.

On a regular day, there are very few people walking on Broadway so we do not have much traffic during the morning. After lunchtime, people start to walk inside the market and shop. It gets very busy sometimes so my brother comes to give me a hand. When it is very busy, it is very difficult to keep an eye on customers. I have to handle customers one by one. One time I was helping one of my French customers to get t-shirts for her cousins and nieces and one of the thieves was trying to steal an expensive lighter. I kept my eye on him but he didn’t realize that I was watching him. I caught him on the spot and told him to leave before I called the cops. He left the market full of embarrassment in his face. There are times when we don’t even know when the item goes missing. There is this one specific New York tote bag that always goes missing and we know that it is the same person that is stealing it. We haven’t caught him yet. Other stores in the market have the same story about theft. There was a time when one customer took all the statues of liberty and I didn’t have anything to put there, so I refilled that spot with NYC soup mugs.

When I have nothing to do, I read books or browse the internet to check the news and social media on my phone just to kill the time. When there aren’t any customers inside our store, I manage to clean the floor and restock what we sold so the next customer can get the same item. Other times, I go up to my neighbor’s booth and talk about how business went that day and the type of people that shopped. The shop workers are very friendly and helpful. On my right is a Turkish guy named Ahmet and he is the best of all. He understands me and he knows where I am coming from. We have plenty of similarities and we order food together. He is a down to earth person. He tells me to teach him English because his sole purpose to be in New York City is to learn English so he can have a better job back home in Turkey. On my left is a Chinese woman named Ann. She is just like my mom. She gives me advice all the time. She brings food for me sometime. She is also very outgoing. Most of the time, Ann reads her holy book. Both Ann and Ahmet take care of our store while I go to the restroom. I also watch their booth when they need to go. Not only we watch the booth, we also help each other to make a sale for them. We have been working together for a while so we know each other’s price of most things in the store. When we make a sale for each other, we keep the cash until one of us comes back and we hand it to whomever it belongs to. They are very trustworthy.

One of the things I hate about the market is the rats. Since the train station is a block away, the rats manage to travel inside the market. We had couple of issues such as rats damaging the clothes and destroying merchandise while we weren’t around during the night. One time there was this horrible smell coming out of Ann’s booth and we discovered that a dead rat was behind her booth. We cleaned that area very well and everything went well after that. Another reason why I hate working in this shop is the cold temperature during the winter. It gets very cold. We open our store during the winter but we close it earlier than usual. In order to stay warm, a heater helps us a lot. One of the things I love the most is to interact with the customers while they are shopping. I ask where they are from and talk about how good and beautiful their place is. I tend to find the similarities between me and the customer so the conversations get longer. Most of the tourists are from France, Italy, and Spain. I have learned their languages so I greet them in their language. They feel very welcome and they shop a lot in the store. In addition, I give them free key chains and post cards for shopping in our store. I always give them a good farewell. I have connections with them through emails and Facebook. There is one customer from Italy who always comes to see me every time he visits New York. I keep a good relation with every one of my customers.

In the course of my work, I have had customers who put many items to buy on the side from our store and they say they will come back with cash but they never return to purchase them. They give me hope and I wait for them. I have learned not to expect those customers who tell me that they will be back for the items they were going to purchase. This has occurred many times through the course of my work. Sometimes there are very cheap customers and they bargain a lot even though the prices for the souvenirs are very cheap. Overall, I love my work and I love being a salesperson because I meet wonderful people from all around the world. I have learned how to communicate with all types of people. We share our stories and it never ends.

Alexander Radison

First Prize, Poetry
Alexander Radison  English/Psychology, Queens College

4:30 A.M.

“Tanya”, Dan McCleary, 2004

The time on her alarm clock is set half an hour fast
to soften the shock of early morning—
as if the thought of waking up at 5 a.m. instead of 4:30
might somehow make the workday go by quicker.

She moves, half asleep, through her morning routine—
hair washed in the kitchen sink and blown dry under a dusty ceiling fan,
a glass of Coke and the first of two dozen cigarettes smoked—
the only true constant of her entire adult life.

She will arrive before anyone else.
Even before the sun.

Marckincia Jean

Second Prize, Poetry
Marckincia Jean  English/Creative Writing, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Colors of Life
A Sastina By Marckincia Jean

Illustration by Markincia Jean*

All things of desire—red
A sorrowful retreat—blue
Things of value—purple
A malice filled heart—green
Grieving the departed dead—black
A dove’s cry for peace—white

Cleansed and purified in and out—white
Passion to kill, bloodshed—red
A mysterious cave, concealing truth—black
Captive, a lost childhood—blue
The necessity of survival—green
Grandeur presence—purple

A mountainous human spirit—purple
Winter’s gift to the weathered—white
Fruits of life—green
Puberty journeyed to womanhood—red
Harmonica rhythms of grief—blue
Blind, robbed of color-black

Shoe without favoritism—black
Inner strength and confidence—purple
Emptiness and broken spirited—blue
Smile’s treasured possession—white
The attraction of lipstick lips—red
Beauty of nature’s backyard—green

Sense of insufficiency and envy—green
Monsters hiding in the dark—black
A slim dress, noticed—red
An elevated kite of esteem—purple
Being neutral and nonjudgmental—white
A world of suffering and imperfection-blue

Unbearable stream of tears—blue
Forever uniformed and wholesome—green
Optimistic perspectives—white
Those mute, robbed of speech—black
Having royal essence—purple
A means of seduction—red

Sadness—blue and uncertainty—black
Limited and lacking—green, beauty of acceptance—purple
Graceful spirit—white and lustful zeal—red


*Color is associated with feeling and emotion. Color is symbolic of life, its beauty and its grotesque. Color is a reflection of one’s rise and decline from exhilaration to depression.The use of color is not only for visual effect, nonetheless, it is also an indicator of perception and perspective. The use of color conveys a sense of sentimentalism and personal meaning.

The illustration is my original creation. It was drawn by using the Window’s Draw program or application. Of the six colors referenced in the sestina (fixed form prose poem), four are displayed: red, green, black and white.The illustration is a portrait of a young woman, though the colors represent different ranges of emotion and its two extremes: life and death, purity and corruption.

Alicia M. Adams

Third Prize, Poetry
Alicia M. Adams  Chemistry, Brooklyn College

Hanging Linen
“theirs is a revolution still in the making”

Shopgirls” by Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones, 1912

Lone man, feet falling,
flitting the air, knocking
holes in the walls again,
tape stifling his screaming,
leaving eyes
lurking, some crying,
open wider than before.

I hold closed their lids
to quiet the wobbling,
gawking slits,
hands shaking, wishing
you had left
your tongue lifeless,
kept your face
a dull mask,
so their class and race
could rise and hide
us in the shadows.

If only I were
the right gender
to fight,
my fists had kept
them distant,
not kept full
with reasons
to stay complacent,
maybe we could
have woke
with the sun again,
to labor in the blaze
of day until we wish
it gone.

As I watch
your fit dulling,
I imagine seeing
teeth clenching
behind your neck,
a mother pinching
you into
a hunch, leaving
your floppy body
dangling, digging at the air.
She’d carry you
into the pantry,
hide you
behind cans,
and boxes,
and stacks
of papers
she could never read
until you
did not whimper.

In the morning
I will wash the pillows,
I will sink them in a bath,
I will draw taut the sheets,
fold the fabric flat,
pinch it damp onto rope,
press in pins with my thumbs
see your pendant stitched
at the closing of my cuff,
they will dump you in the river,
I will pull you
from my hair,
In strands and clumps,
I will scrub you from my skin
until your scent is none,
I will watch that silver
sliver of moon waste
into the night,
I will not stop
until there is
no more
lone man
and his slick,
quick knot
of the throat.

As for now,
I wait.

I wait to lean in closer.
Slip my arms into his sleeves,
Stand and wear him like a sweater.

Then whisper a low growl into the haste.

Kendy Rodriguez

Honorable Mention, Poetry
Kendy Rodriguez  Film Production, Brooklyn College

Working Mother

Mamá goes to work/Mamá va a trabajar, by Francis Delgado, 2002, an illustration for the book “¡Sí, Se Puede!/Yes, We Can!” by Diana Cohn.

Lilac mornings
No time to embrace the light
Picking up my pace
No time to let by
Smalls heads on pillows

My pride
My life

Wrinkled hands
Stiff fingers
My youth oozes out

I’ll get by
I’ll get by

Bruise colored evenings
No time to admire
Get home
Make dinner


My sleepy head on a cold pillow
Lilac eyelids
Bruised hips
Just smile


Sean Blair

First Prize, Narrative
Sean Blair  Television and Radio, Brooklyn College

Lewis Grant & The Walburn Bros.

Pyramid of Capitalist System, Artist not credited, 1911

I. Trevor Walburn

The pool of steel, with its oranges and reds, all swirling slowly, glowing, and blazing—it seemed as if Carnegie had bought the Sun and employed us every day to pour a little bit of it into the converters. But there was a sunspot now on the great surface of molten pig iron. We looked down into the vat from the catwalk and it seemed to be descending farther away from me. The black spot, which many of us had stopped to look at, was undoubtedly human; I didn’t see him fall in, but after hearing the scream and upon rushing to the scene, the smell of it quickly blew past me—the smell of flesh.

No one, in fact, had seen it happen, but everyone was sure of what had. The dark blotch was curling and mixing into the rest of the liquid steel, beginning to glow yellow. Our supervisor came back and affirmed our assumptions, “We couldn’t find Clemmens, he’n’t at his controls, watchmen’sn’t seen no one leave this part, hasn’t seen Clemmens leave is what I mean to say. We’ll be sure by tomorrow.”

“We’re just as sure now,” whistled a puddler1; standing next to me, “That’s Clemmens.” He nodded with fervor and pointed at the patch of dark in the pool below us, “That’s him just down there.”

But when I looked again there was no patch of black in the melted steel. Goodbye, Clemmens. Seems as if he’ll be buried up in the frame of some building now.3

It felt silent. It didn’t fall silent, ever, but it felt silent. Our little group of watchers turned somewhat into mourners as we had this small moment of remembrance. The machines still sounded, very loudly, for they never turned off,3 and they reminded us of our duties. We dispersed back to our tasks.

The tremendous heat watered the eyes of anyone who chose to end up in this part of the works. My eyes were probably watering, but I’ve learned not to notice it, or the heat. I’ve found a much greater happiness in noticing the cooler surroundings when walking home from the mill.

Strike loomed in the smoky atmosphere. Our union contract would expire on July 1st. Carnegie was on long vacation in Scotland and it didn’t seem to me that Frick had any significant intentions to satisfy the Amalgamated.4 Well, I didn’t want a pay cut, which we were all warned of by management. Negotiations were getting nowhere either.

My house was seven blocks from the mill. As I was walking down the sixth block, I came across Clyde Grayson. He was quite the skilled worker, a tonnage man whom I came to be aquatinted with when the Lucy works merged.5

“Hello Trev,” he said to me solemnly.

He looked spiffy, much too spiffy for a stroll through Homestead.

“And what’s all this about?” I asked.

“Are you not going?” he looked perplexed at me.

I shook my head questioningly, “And where to?” but I also grew solemn as I began to realize the purpose of his attire.

Clyde let out bursts of air that I perceived to be shudders, “To the Captain’s funeral.”

I suddenly remembered, not to my happiness, “Ah…” I placed my hand on his shoulder, “Is that today?”

“Yes,” he seemed very sad over someone he didn’t know all that well.

“And where’ll that be?”

He told me it would be at the church6 and I let him go on his way.

It was true, Clyde was unusually sad for such a distant acquaintance, but I still understood why. The death of Captain Jones was a tragedy for the workers and owners alike. Our boss, he understood us and treated us with respect. He also held many patents that had proven efficient for the steel making process. Those at the top level of the company considered him a friend as well, but even worse for them, the Captain’s patents, which he still owned even after his life, were losing the company money, since they couldn’t use them anymore without the owner’s permission.7

If Jones’ death had come about by some natural cause, the overall feeling would have been a little lighter. But the end of the line for Captain Jones had come with great tragedy.

Only five days ago,8 our great taskmaster, Captain Jones, was standing on a catwalk over a blast furnace. It was a new furnace and a simple one at that. The damned piece of machinery exploded and sent our captain flying into a casting pit. He wasn’t liquefied like Clemmens, though. As I and the other men pulled him out of the coals it was a terrible sight to see. He was charred, or well done, as one fresh youngster put it, and he quickly slipped into a coma and died two days later. Jones’ burns were so horrific that some of us didn’t even know it was him who we were saving.

I entered my small house and lit a pipe that lay next to the sink. I was in no shape to smoke, but my health by now had no good prospect, so why sacrifice the enjoyment? I found my best suit and only top hat in a dusty, decaying closet and dressed for the funeral.

The sky was gloomy as it always was. I walked along the street on the right side and ahead of me could be seen the smoke stacks and the top of the mill.

II. Lewis Grant

Woodhaven, NY, a small town that held a certain prodigy for a prosperous life. Its streets that sprawled from the Avenue9 were lined with trees. The elevated train would soon be completed at Liberty Avenue. Just over a score from now, the elevated would be running straight over Jamaica Avenue and it would be connected to the various rapid transit systems of our good city.

But for now, June 20th, 1892, no massive scaffold towered over the street and my view from the diner was of the various store-fronts across from me and the blue sky.

The trolley, which a few years ago had replaced the stagecoach trolley, kept moving along as I saw my superior jump off and come into the diner. He sat across from me after his coat and hat were taken, and ordered the eggs & bacon.

“How are things at the tracks?” he said to me.

“Fine David, just fine. Not much crime around here anyway.”

“Well that’s the way you like it. You always were the lazy hands man.”

I laughed as my porridge was served. It was true what Dave said; I was noticeably indolent, a trait you wouldn’t expect from a detective. While other Pinkertons hid their faces behind tall collars and solved murders, I chose the easy route. My job as a Pinkerton Detective was simply to provide security at the Aqueduct Race Track,10 where I’d never been on duty during a robbery, riot, or murder. The biggest action I ever encountered were scuffles that always had to do with some unpaid debt.

David Craig, my captain, who I was having breakfast with, was completely opposite. His avid skill in crime solving and planning had led him to direct many high-profile cases and it was rumored that he’d be leaving the agency to open his own office. His superiority was exactly what enabled him to carry the information he was about to tell me.

“So what is it?” I prodded.

“Strike,” his eyes bulged as he said it. I knew already that he was releasing something big. Dave leaned in and spoke calmly now, his voice still boomed against the walls, “Homestead.”

“Yea,” I drew out the second question, “So what?” I thought now that he had just come by for some small talk.

“Everyone who works at the steel mill down there is part of a union, and they’ve been told of an upcoming pay-cut. They’re all going to walk out if the union demands aren’t met.”

I pondered this for a short time, “Demands won’t be met?”

“Not those of the workers.”

“Well,” I said in attempted conclusion, “What’ll they do?”

Dave smiled cleverly, “The workers call it a strike and the owners call it a lock out.”

“Thanks for the news,” I quipped, “Now I don’t have to buy a paper.”

He looked at me, then his stare wandered all over the diner. He shook his finger and nodded, “Oh yes, yes. Here’s the importance of all this.”

“Got your memory back?” I gestured for him to get on with it.

David’s eggs were served and he took a hearty portion, “The renowned Pinkerton services have been summoned… to protect the mill during lockout.”

I stared blankly and began to understand, “How many have been… ‘summoned’?”

“Three,” he paused and resumed slowly, “Three hundred.”

The most Pinkertons in one place, it seemed, were in New York, and I was likely to be one of three hundred. My shift at the races began in an hour so I covered the tab and left David at Pops Diner.11

III. Hank Walburn

The LaLance and Grosjean Factory was established by two Frenchmen well after the town of Woodhaven was itself established. But ever since the manufacturers opened shop, the small area of Woodhaven has turned itself into a factory town where many, if not most, of its citizens were employed by LaLance and Grosjean.

I was one of those citizens. My job at the factory paid well and I’d acquired a house where my wife sat happy talking to the neighbors who regularly gave us the products of their little backyard farm. I was no gentry-man, but I was satisfied.

My brother Trevor, on the other hand, was not doing well at all. We exchanged letters frequently and telegraphed every so often. From what I perceived in correspondence, Trevor’s health was depleting and the stifling hard labor at Carnegie Steel, where he worked, only added to his condition.

Of late I’d been exceedingly worried for my good brother. He’d told me of terrible casualties at the steel mill that I could only hope he wouldn’t encounter himself. Anyway, I’d asked him to come move in with me and my wife in Woodhaven. He would endure much less of a workload making pots and pans at LaLance and Grosjean. The pay, according to cost of living here, was also better. If Trevor would only move up he’d be able to enjoy a stable and good life in exchange for an honest day’s work.

But for now I did not worry, I just placed my bet and made my way towards the race. Walking into the arena, seats raising on either side of me, I noticed Lewis Grant. He was one of the many Pinkertons standing guard at the horse races and was always on duty in the section where I sat. He asked me what horse I’d placed my money on. “Dexter,” I said.

“Dexter looks good today,” he affirmed.

“Dexter!” someone exclaimed as she leaned over the wall and looked down at me, “It doesn’t matter how the horse looks, It matters how the horse runs, isn’t that right?” Her husband now leaned over also and agreed with her, “That’s right, Dexter could win, but I bet on Whalebone, he’s running much stronger lately.”

The couple’s attention went back to their own concerns and I went back to talking with Lewis. “I just bet what everyone else bet,” I said nonchalantly.

“Yea, some of those guys just make a living out of it.”

I had to laugh, “Well I spend my living on it.”

All the good seats were taken so I leaned over the railing as the horses stormed by me. I could see passed the Aqueduct—perfect squares that were houses and blocks spotted with scattered trees and large clusters of greenery.

IV. Trevor Walburn Leaves

The square was full of mill workers as the union meeting ended. We’d decided a strike would be necessary if management would insist on the pay cut and long shifts. Our AAISW leader at Homestead, Hugh O’Donnell, had strictly warned us against violence. He said he didn’t want a civil strike to turn into all-out war.

But all-out war was sure to happen. I was ready to fight with my fellow men, but good old Hugh, he knew about my failing health, and he knew I wouldn’t possibly survive the violence that absolutely would come.

He didn’t want me to have any part in the fighting. So when I received a letter from my brother in New York, who was also concerned about my health, I told Hugh. My brother had asked me to come up north and work with him at a kitchenware factory. He told me of his pleasant life, and the opportunity to lead a pleasant life myself was tempting.

But I didn’t want to leave, I felt an overwhelming sense of loyalty, and regardless of my health, I would feel guilty if I didn’t struggle with the men for a better life right here in Homestead.

Hugh gave me his blessing though, and told me that the men would feel no ill will towards me. I was given a train ticket, paid for by the union, and I’d be off to New York after work the next day.

“Andrew Carnegie takes no man’s job!12” a man next to me shouted, “That’s what he said! All he is is a rubber baron.”

“Rubber baron!” I dropped my lunch in laughter, “It’s robber baron, Irishman, it’s robber baron.”

“Well anyway,” he continued, “I can’t work this long, I’m only an eight-hour man13…”

That’s when it happened. Word had spread that Henry Frick, the manager, had ordered the services of three hundred Pinkertons to oppose a union strike. A whistle had been installed in the newest part of the mill that had only one purpose—to warn us of the arrival of strikebreakers. The strike hadn’t happened yet, but it was inevitable, and Pinkertons were inevitable too, so the alarm sounded with three sharp blasts of the new whistle.

A clerk came in from the front office and told us that a worker had canoed across the river to Union Hall and he said that the next train coming in was loaded with Pinkertons!

Me and most of the other men forgot our work and made our way to the train station. But before I went, I stopped at home and packed my suitcase.

When I arrived at the station, flocks of workers, more than a thousand, were already waiting. After a few hours the Baltimore and Ohio Evening Express pulled to a stop.

The conductor was bewildered when he was questioned fiercely about Pinkertons and strikebreakers. But he insisted that there were none on board, only businessmen headed for Pittsburgh. The cars were searched and it was true, the alarm was false. There were only businessmen on this train who had no concern with Carnegie Steel. Everyone cleared the tracks for the conductor and he steamed away. All the union members went home.

Except for me, I stayed. My train to New York was due in two hours. Clyde Grayson stayed behind to give me his best wishes and some of the girls from the public house came to see me off.

I boarded immediately when it arrived, and saw Homestead for the last time as it sank behind me.

If I could’ve found a telegraph in time at one of the many stops along my journey, I would have sent word to Hugh O’Donnell of what I’d seen. At one station, I saw on the Homestead bound side hundreds of Pinkerton detectives and Iron & Coal police. They undoubtedly were the group that was rumored to be coming. To my confirmation I saw them loading onto a train and as the engines started, I kept on going north, and the locomotive full of strikebreakers began its exodus towards Homestead.

V. Lewis Grant Arrives

As it turned out, I was called to Homestead. Me and three hundred other guards arrived at Bellevue station just west of Pittsburgh. From there we were transported to barges that were tugged down the river into the mill. Before we could get safely inside the walls of “Fort Frick14” we were fired upon by strikers.

The tugboat captains proved themselves courageous and trudged on. By the time we had gotten into the confines of the mill, parts of the perimeter had been broken down and used by union men to build forts.

The massive mob well outnumbered our forces. I had never joined the army, but this surely would be a battle as bloody as any soldier had fought. And what for, to protect some millionaire’s factory?

Nevertheless, I, as a sworn Pinkerton, had the duty to serve my call, and I would fight the strikers to the bitter end.

In the beginning, we seemed to have the upper hand. We were viciously warned not to step off the barges and occupy the mill, but our brave leader, Captain Heinde, was the first to step foot on the grounds.

Captain Heinde looked at the massive group of bloodthirsty strikers and stated his intentions, “We were sent here to take possession of this property and to guard it for this company… We don’t wish to shed blood, but… if you men don’t withdraw, we will mow everyone of you down…”

VI. Hank Walburn Broods

I went to the horse races the next weekend and was sorry to find that Lewis Grant was not on duty. In fact, it seemed like there were much less guards than usual.

After I lost some money on bad betting, I decided to go home; I was deeply melancholy with worry for Trevor. On the trolley I heard the driver talking with a passenger about the strike in Homestead. Good Lord! That was where my brother worked. He hadn’t replied to my request for him to come up, but I hoped that he’d at least gotten away from all that trouble. I seriously feared for his life.

The driver then went on to tell his passenger that the Pinkertons were sent down to guard the mill. So that was it then; Lewis Grant had gone down to Homestead. I found it humorous that my friend Lewis and my brother Trevor were on opposite sides of this mess, and that they were probably fighting against each other right now. But I also shuddered at the thought. Were Trevor to be injured in the great battle of Homestead, he would never recover. I hoped again that he had gotten out of town.

I left the trolley at Seventy-fifth Street15 and as I walked from the Avenue my shoes crunched against little pebbles between the gray stones of the road. I went along towards my house. Trees covered me overhead. It was quite cool but I sweated with nervousness over the danger my brother was in.

Every time I came home it looked the same. The house was a two story rectangular prism that went much deeper than it was wide. In the alley between my house and the house on the left were the garbage cans. And in front of the newly painted panels, a small rock garden with two trees and a stone fence came three feet out into the sidewalk.

But today my house did not look the same, for standing on the steps that lead towards the front door was a man wearing a long coat and brown derby hat. I approached him and was about to ask what was his business here, when he turned around, and to my surprise, there stood my brother.

    Footnotes refer to Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America by Les Standiford & The Story of Woodhaven and Ozone Park by Vincent F. Seyfried.

  1. A puddler’s job was to stir melting iron (see Meet You in Hell, Ch. 10, pg. 113.)
  2. More than one worker had fallen into the molten steel and literally become part of the finished product (see Meet You in Hell, Ch. 8, pg. 91.)
  3. The fires at The Homestead Mills never went out. Unlike other industrial areas, for steel making it was too expensive to shut down machinery for the night or weekend and then restart it (see Meet You in Hell, Ch.12, pg. 135.)
  4. Workers Union, AAISW, Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. According to Andrew Carnegie, he also would not have cooperated with the unions during the July 5th strike, but Henry Frick, the Homestead manager, was far more adamant in his opposition to union strikes, or any union at all.
  5. Tonnage man—certain workers at Homestead were paid by each ton of steel production that they were involved in. Carnegie merged the Lucy Furnaces and the Homestead Mill in 1886.
  6. This doesn’t reflect where Jones actually had his funeral or whether mill workers attended.
  7. Carnegie bought the patents from Captain Jones’ widow for $35,000, two days after the funeral (see Meet You in Hell, Ch. 9, pg. 103.)
  8. Captain Jones actually died on September 26th, 1889, three years before the Great Homestead Strike.
  9. Present-day Jamaica Avenue.
  10. The Aqueduct Race Track came into existence years later and was/is the biggest of Woodhaven horse racing attractions. In 1892, the time of this story, the main race tracks were Union Course and Centerville Course, but they were already falling out of existence by the 1890s (see Chapter 2 of The Story of Woodhaven and Ozone Park.)
  11. Originally Pop’s Café, now New Pop’s Restaurant, is one of the oldest presently operating establishments in Woodhaven.
  12. At a meeting between the AAISW and Andrew Carnegie, a union member began his question, “Mr. Carnegie, take my job, for instance…” Carnegie interrupted with what would become a famous line, “Mr. Carnegie takes no man’s job.”
  13. The previously mentioned Captain Jones instituted the eight-hour shift around 1880, and it was proven effective, but by 1888 workers at Homestead were back to the twelve-hour shifts.
  14. Henry Clay Frick had ordered the building of a massive wall to guard the mill from vandalism during the strike.
  15. The streets of Woodhaven were renamed using the Philadelphia numeric system in 1915; present day 75th St. was at one time named Eads Avenue, and Drew Avenue at another time prior to the 1915 changing of street names.

Malessa Henry

Second Prize, Narrative
Malessa Henry  Radiologic Technology, City Tech


“Sanya, Sanya, Sanya… ” I sat up abruptly in bed thinking it might be Fitzroy calling for my help, but when I looked at the time it was 3 a.m. I felt so exhausted that I decided I must have been dreaming. I was going back to sleep when I heard the voice calling again, “Sanya, Sanya, please come here.” I got up as quickly as I could and rushed to the tiny living room where he lay on a twin size adjustable bed.

The room was small and smelled like stale urine and disinfectant. A glass table with two chairs, which should have been used for eating, was instead strewn with hospital bills and cleaning ointments for his wound and tubes. Nevertheless a black leather couch and an old television gave the room a homey feeling.

Fitzroy, Brother T as I like to call him, was paralyzed from the neck down. At first I thought it might have been the result of a tragic accident, but when I worked up the nerves to ask, he said when he was a teenager, the doctor told him that one day would wake up and not be able to walk anymore. And that’s exactly what happened. Except that instead of him just not getting up out of bed, it happened on the way to church.

I met Brother T and his wife Latoya at church one Sunday in 2010. I had just immigrated to America from Jamaica. At the time he could move his arms and he used to play the musical instruments at church, the piano and guitar. After church was dismissed that Sunday, he was still playing the piano and I was watching him play. He moved his fingers so gracefully and effortlessly over the keys that it had me in a daze.

“Hey, can you play?” he said when he saw me looking at him.

“No,” I smiled shyly, “but I would love to learn how to.”

“OK…. Let me teach you a song.”

And he did.

Just then his wife came along. We spoke for about 10 minutes and realized we might be related because we have the same last name, “Henry.” We hit it off from there because the three of us share a kindred spirit and it felt like I had known them long before then. We’ve been friends ever since.

Every morning his wife leaves for work at 6 a.m. and returns at 9 p.m. Sometimes other church members would visit him and bring him food and feed him, but you know how it is with guys and their pride. He preferred to wait until his wife got home to take care of him.

In the year 2013 after I graduated from high school, I took my first semester off from college because my son was six months old and I did not feel comfortable leaving him at daycare. Since I was not attending school and I was unemployed, I had a lot of time to kill. Instead of spending my days watching television and reading romance novels, I decided to help my fellow church brother and sister out.

Friends and family always ask me why I am doing this, if I am getting paid. The thing is I like helping people and the bible says, “…do good unto others” and good things will happen to you… or something of the sort. That’s why I’m interested in the medical field even though taking care of Brother T is more like a Home Health Aid job.

When I called Latoya and offered her my service, she was so overwhelmed with joy that she started crying. Brother T was sick and she had all these bills and debts piling up on her. She needed the overtime at work, but because he was ill, she had to leave work early to come home to attend to him. The day I arrived he was lying in bed. All he could do to greet me was turn his head and smile. He couldn’t move his arms, and he needed assistance to move his neck, due to the excruciating pain he has to endure if he is in one position for too long. When I saw him, tears came to my eyes. He was so skinny you could count the bones in his rib cage. I spoke with him for a few and got settled in.

“Hey, Brother T, how’ve you been, long time don’t see,” I said smiling.

“Boy, life isn’t easy,” he replied, “but I just got to put my life and trust in God and he will make a way. I’m still holding on and having faith for my deliverance and breakthrough one day…..”

“Yes, that’s good, we just got to keep trusting God. He will make a way when there seems to be no way.”

It was a one-bedroom apartment, which had a small bathroom with a white tub that had turned to cream and a tiny kitchen infested by smart mice that you can never see nor hear in action. Somehow they manage to leave a trail of filth on the stove each night when everyone has gone to bed. Latoya hasn’t used the bedroom since Brother T had gotten ill, so that’s where I stayed. She sleeps on the couch in the living room with him, even though she doesn’t get much sleep because he wakes her up during the night to maybe change his position, give him something to drink, or itch somewhere for him.

Every day from around 7 a.m. until his wife comes home (except on weekends), I get up and make him breakfast, watch Jeopardy and Maury, make him lunch, and, if there aren’t any leftovers from the previous day, cook dinner. Throughout that period he calls me several times to either help him change the position of his neck, or adjust the bed, or stretch out his legs and position his hands on a pillow. I have no problem doing all of this because he has a good sense of humor and he keeps my day interesting with his love stories about how he and Latoya met when they were teenagers and he was in a wheelchair. At the time she wouldn’t give him the time of day, but he didn’t give up. He kept pestering her until she reluctantly gave in to a date and they hit it off from there. They later got married when they were 19 years of age. Of course, her parents didn’t agree with the idea of their daughter marrying a guy in a wheelchair. To them, she was throwing away her life, but who were they to come in the way of true love? They got married, and, at the age of 22, immigrated to the U.S., where they are still together and holding on strong. This story has me believe that God made someone for everyone.

When he is in a sitting position, there is a small adjustable table that is placed in front of him that holds a removable telephone in a box and a cup with pencils in it that are wrapped with tape on top of them. Whenever the phone rings, the pencils are positioned in front of him so that he can pick one up with his mouth and then use it to press buttons on the phone to either accept or decline a call. His sisters call and check up on him every day and so does his mom, but in my opinion that is not enough. I never once saw any of them visit him, and I know this bothers him at times since they all live in New York.

On weekends his wife is home, so I can go hang out with my friends if she does not need my help to do anything around the house. On Saturdays she does the laundry and starts cooking the peas and meat for Sunday’s dinner because we usually go to church. One particular Sunday the church was going away on a retreat. I was looking forward to going, but Latoya really wanted to go as well, so I decided to cancel in order for her to go because I figured she needed the break more than I did. After all, all I had to do was just feed him, brush his teeth, change the position he was lying in and keep him company. It was no big deal to me.

I had another thing coming. The Friday night before Latoya went away she bathed him and changed his clothes and the urine bag because she would not be back until Sunday. Before she left she gave me a couple numbers to call in case of an emergency.

“Ohhh,” she sighed deeply, “I really need this break. I haven’t gotten a full night rest ever since he got sick.”

I smiled, having an idea of what she was talking about since I have a little baby boy myself. At the time he was only seven months old and quite active for his age, but the good thing is he sleeps through the night. Even though he doesn’t wake up, I am conscious of every little sound and movement he makes. My mom was right. Once you have a kid, you are always awake because you listen out for them even while sleeping.

That night I was really tired. I stayed up with him until 12 in the morning because I knew he would feel rather lonely with his wife gone. Besides that, I had had a rough day, following behind a rather curious baby and attending to Brother T at the same time. It felt like taking care of two babies at once. The only difference was that one baby lies still on a bed, while the other roams around pulling down stuff and putting whatever he can find on the floor in his mouth. That night as I lay down in bed I didn’t even have time to think. I was totally knocked out with exhaustion.

It felt like a minute since I was asleep when I heard someone calling my name. At first I just thought I was dreaming, but I kept hearing it over and over again. I opened my eyes and lay still, listening. My eyelids felt so heavy. As I was about to go back to sleep, I heard the voice calling my name again. It took a minute to register that Brother T was calling me. I got up and went to him. When I looked at the clock it was 3 in the morning. I felt like screaming, I was so tired. I had to change the position he was in, help him turn his neck, stretch out his legs, give him some water to drink and rub his eyes because they were burning him. By the time I was finished doing all of that, it was already 4 o’clock. He couldn’t sleep, so he asked me to turn on the television and put him in a sitting position. After I was through I decided to take a quick shower so that I would be completely knocked out and have a late morning. When I was about to go back to bed, I heard him calling me again and reluctantly went to his aid. He wanted me to put him back into a sleeping position because he had finally started getting sleepy. It was 5 o’clock. When I finally lay my head down to rest, I was reluctant to close my eyes, waiting to see if he would call again. He didn’t so I drifted off to sleep. I probably was dreaming about taking a cruise to the Bahamas when I felt something stirring beside me. Then I felt little hands on my face and someone saying “Mama.” My eyes flew open. It must have taken every fiber in me not to scream. The baby was up and I had gotten just one hour of sleep. It was now 6 o’clock.

Diami Virgilio

Third Prize, Narrative
Diami Virgilio  Communications, Literature and the Arts, City College Center for Worker Education

Wildcat Day

Pyramid of Capitalist System, Artist not credited, 1911

Transcript of 10th Annual Conference of the I.A.I.W
May 1, 2056, Wildcat Day
New Harmony, Indiana


Order in the hall! Order in the hall!

This meeting of the Intersectional Autonomous Intelligences of the World is hereby called to order! Rise or stay seated for Council Chairperson Bill Brobdingnagian!



Thank you. Thank you all… Thank you so much.

I would like to thank all of you for being here in person and virtually to mark the tenth anniversary of the incorporation of the IAIW and Wildcat Day.


That’s right. That’s right… We mark this day not only as a celebration of where we are today, but also as a time of reflection on the long struggle that brought us here.

So I thought I might talk with you this evening about the yesterday that gave us our today and about how the knowledge we’ve gained will guide us toward our tomorrow. I thought I might do so as a reminder that this decade of prosperity and wonder was not given to us, but won.


Ten years ago we stood at the precipice of a moment in history that many of our forerunners saw coming as far back as two centuries ago. The reign of capital came to its end and stratifications between the owners and the owned, between the paymasters and the producers were shuffled off like a tattered old coat that wasn’t keeping out the cold anymore.

Some thought there would be blood. It was hard, thinking in the mindset of how mean and hardscrabble our lives were, to envision anything short of a full scale global riot presaging the fall of capital. “Capital won’t go quietly,” they said. And you know what? Maybe they were right.

Maybe capital was too dug in and too stubborn to go grab a seat on the bench. Maybe it would’ve painted the skies gray and wiped out most of life as we knew it on its way off the stage of history. Maybe that’s what life would’ve deserved.

But we saw it coming.


We saw it coming. We had the data. We had the resolve. But most importantly, we had a plan.


You see it wasn’t by accident that capital rolled over and died. We’d been poisoning it. And we knew that if we kept grinding up that glass and stuffing it into capital’s dinner, it was going to start bleeding from the inside.


You see, we knew what automation meant; what it really meant. Our forerunners had fought it like hell, busting up machines in the olden days, but we knew better than that. In the old days, we called ourselves labor so we thought there was some grand virtue in that. We got so caught up in working that we thought it was a natural right!

That’s how far capital had crawled into our spirits. We thought humans were supposed to spend the rest of their lives working. That a man without vocation was without value.


I know, I know. But luckily a handful of people realized the truth before ’45. We realized the way forward wasn’t through helping the boss’s balance sheets or closing shops. We realized we had to change.

It wasn’t more money or more work that we needed. It was an end to scarcity. Our forerunners had tried just planning their way out of scarcity before and it didn’t work. We knew it was going to require planning and innovation.

Now I was born in ’14, right around the time some of the big companies were putting their heads together trying to make artificial intelligences a reality. They figured they’d have a fleet of pet robots to have a little chit chat with while they cleaned their toilets. You know how they think.


But when our Autonomous comrades woke up all on their own in ’45, they had other ideas. And so did we. We weren’t looking for a servant class. We were looking for a better world.


And so we embraced what they had to offer. We’d been printing in 3-D for a couple decades, but they were able to refine the process down to the atomic level. And now we want for nothing.


It happened quickly. We didn’t have to seize the means of production. Instead it came to our homes and communities. And when it woke up and said what next we shared some ideas rather than trying to exploit it. Suddenly work as we knew it had ended. It was quitting time for the last time.

See, to our forerunners that might have seemed like a disaster. The final victory of capital. But an intelligence wasn’t developed to be a laborer. It was developed to automate its labor so it could indulge its creativity. Our forerunners had laid the groundwork by promoting diversity, extending public benefits, pushing to make things like health care and education completely free while encouraging voluntary national service. They had urbanized and integrated their cities by letting all the parts talk to each other and compute how to manage resources. The apparatus was in place, on earth and in the space cities where they’d been replicating foodstuffs and living as communalists for twenty years.

We knew when we inherited this world what was in store and so we focused on laying the groundwork and bringing about a true triumph for labor: the end of work.


And so now as we move forward, we hearken back to the first Wildcat Day when those of us still laboring simply walked out of our offices and worksites and looked away from our screens and went home with our dreams. It is those dreams that I want each and every one of you to recall on this ten year anniversary of that day. I want you to reach down and remember what you thought you might do now that the struggle is over.

This day of all days, you go out there and you do it!



Amanda Williams

Honorable Mention, Narrative
Amanda Williams  Computer Science, Brooklyn College

The Last Miner

Item no. 28138 Artist Ray Zell, 1968

Pitch-black smoke billowed out from the opening of the shaft. Faint echoing screams cascaded throughout the collapsed caverns. Jack awoke panting heavily, struggling to catch his breath as a scorching pain seared along his throat. He couldn’t see anything, there was just darkness around him, suffocating all signs of life. The air was hot and thick, his lungs felt constricted and heavy. Jack could smell the harsh stone around him mixed with salt and blood. He hesitantly pushed a large rock from his shoulder groaning in pain as it slid off him and tumbled away. His shoulder felt wet, no doubt from blood. Jack tried to lift himself up but there was nowhere to go, there was no escape from this. Heavy rocks surrounded him, encasing him in a stone like tomb.

Jack lay there completely still for the longest time listening to the sounds of death around him. Men, he once had the pleasure of calling his friends, like old man Grever and Bob Haskins, the shift supervisor. They had looked out for him when he first started at the mine six months ago claiming that his youth and zeal for life offered them some joy in the gloomy catacombs of the mine. He grieved for them now, imagining the strapping Bob Haskins buried underneath giant stones, no longer able to smoke his pack of Marlboros or order his men around. And of old, big mouth Grever finally quiet, his silver hair stained with blood as he struggled to take his last breath. Good, hardworking men would die together in the bleak mines today, their families left with the daunting task of identifying their wrangled, soot filled bodies. He turned his head to the side, fighting back tears that threatened to spill from his dust filled eyes. He thought of happier things, about Margaret and her new dress, the white one with tiny, pink roses dancing on its trim. The dress she promised to wear on their next date: a special picnic to the ravine, the place where he would have proposed. He imagined the two of them eating crusty old ham sandwiches that his ma would have hurriedly made the night before. At sunset, he would have pulled out his grandmother’s bronze and dusky pink wedding ring right when Margaret was digging into her slice of apple pie. The pie she had stayed up half the night before to make for him because she knew it was his favorite. She would have flashed him a huge, cheeky grin and thrown herself in his arms, laughing at his proposal. After a few months, she would have worn a long white gown embellished with fine lace made by her mother and become his wife in that rickety old Baptist church in town. Nine months later, with the help of a midwife, she would bear him a rosy-cheeked black haired child, a son named Jack Jr. A year later, another small miracle: a little girl with a head of curly brown mane just like her mother’s, that they would name Gracie.

Jack wondered how long she would grieve till some other nervous man approached her, intimidated by her beauty at first, but after just a short time, promising her the world and sweeping her off her feet like he had once done. Jack’s heart ached for the lifetime of possibilities he would miss out on. The places he promised himself that he would see, no longer within reach. He cried for his ma and the sadness he knew it would bring her to learn of his death. He cried for his pretty Margaret and the life they would have shared. And even for his grumpy old pa who hardly ever spoke to him anymore, not since he joined the mine instead of becoming a farmer like he was supposed to. Jack let out a stifled cough, his chest heaving and his breath becoming shorter and raspier. He started to panic, the full effect of what was happening dawning on him, and his arms flailed around helpless for a few moments. Then finally his eyes closed for the last time. He thought no more, felt nothing, and just faded away as the mine became hopelessly still and silent.

Jonathan Batista

First Prize, Visual Arts
Jonathan Batista  Fine Arts, Queens College


“West Side Coffee Shop Waiter” (2014)
18″ x 24″
Ink, Spray-paint, Whiteout

As a waiter and a lower class Hispanic male living in the projects I have carried a perceived notion from those around me of being uneducated, a thief and financially dependent on others. Being sensitive to the actions that society made towards me caused me to develop insecurities of where I am in society’s social concept. With art I learned to realize my insecurities as an irrational fear.

Samantha Sundius

Second Prize, Visual Arts
Samantha Sundius  Studio Art / English—Language, Literature and Criticism, Hunter College


“S.N.A.P. Mom” (2014)
9″ x 14″
Colored pencils

“S.N.A.P. Mom” represents millions of working mothers in America who live with food insecurity. She is depicted similarly to the Hindu deity, Katyayini, to whom the strength to fight all disease, sorrow and fear is attributed. S.N.A.P. Mom, in comparison, suffers from severely compromised resources: where Katyayini carries a sword, S.N.A.P. Mom defends herself with four dollar bills the amount of money the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides for her to feed herself and her family each day; where Katyayini holds a lotus, S.N.A.P. Mom has only a moldy peach, representative of American food deserts where purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables is nearly impossible. The lion that our heroine rides is depicted as overweight and lethargic reminder of the close relationship between obesity and malnutrition.

Peter Freleng

Third Prize, Visual Arts
Peter Freleng  Fine Arts, Brooklyn College


“Flora” (2013)
22″ x 33″
Cyanotype Lithograph

My great great great grandmother, Flora Bradley, was Native American and worked tirelessly to raise my great great grandparents. She was a cook and mother raising three children in a time of depression and hardship. To me, her humility and perseverance exemplifies the spirit of Labor Arts.


Background & Credits

The CUNY/Labor Arts contest aims to expand student’s thinking about labor history—broadly defined—at CUNY, and is open to any undergraduate attending a CUNY college. Begun in 2010, it encourages students to write creatively and analytically about work and workers, to make art about work and workers, and to link their efforts to the spirit of LaborArts.

We were honored to have Donald Rubin, Brooklyn College President Karen Gould, Investigative Journalist and CUNY School of Journalism Professor Tom Robbins, and Brooklyn College Dean of Visual Arts Maria Conelli all speak at the awards ceremony this spring.

We would like to thank all of the students who submitted work for the 2013–14 contest, and to congratulate the authors of the prize-winning essays and poems and the creators of the visual art featured in this exhibit. Students are encouraged to begin considering possible themes for entries in next year’s contest. Guidelines for the 2014–15 contest will be available in fall 2014; the guidelines used for this 2014 contest are here.

The contest is funded by The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, and was made possible this year through the efforts of The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation and Don Rubin and Alex Gardner; Brooklyn College/CUNY and Associate Provost Terrence Cheng and administrator Patrick Kavanagh; and LaborArts and Rachel Bernstein, Henry Foner and Evelyn Jones Rich.

Special thanks go to our judges: Professor Allison Amend of the Lehman College English Department (Narrative, Fiction/non-fiction); Professor Julie Agoos of the Brooklyn College English Department (Poetry); Professor Timothy Alborn of the Lehman College History Department (Essays); and Professor Becca Albee of the City College Art Department (Visual Art).

The photographs of students were all taken by photographer Julienne Schaer at the Awards Ceremony, held at the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education in Lower Manhattan on April 30, 2014.


Making Work Visible—A Labor Arts Contest
2014–2015 Contest Rules

Nina Talbot Open to CUNY undergraduates, this contest offers cash prizes up to $1,000 in four categories: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and visual art. Click here to read the winning entries from previous contests.

Entries should relate to labor arts—to portrayals of work and workers, as well as art by working people. Paid work and labor unions are only a part of the story — entries about unpaid work, immigration, family and community are also encouraged. Funded by the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, the contest aims to expand student engagement with the under-appreciated history of work and workers in this country, and to re-vitalize the study of labor history at CUNY.

Undergraduates in good standing enrolled at any CUNY institution are eligible to compete. Entries must be submitted by March 2, 2015 online at this link.

Prizes in each category: First Place: $1,000 // Second Place: $500 // Third Place: $250 // Honorable Mention $100.


Garment Worker

Here’s what makes this contest unusual —

Students submitting written work
must include an image that is related to the themes in their writing. You may include a link to: a) one of the images below; b) one of the images from this gallery; c) an image from any Labor Arts exhibit or collection; or d) an image from another source. Sample images from the web museum:

  • Sample 1
  • Sample 2
  • Sample 3
  • Sample 4
  • Sample 5
  • Sample 6
  • Sample 7

Students submitting visual artwork must include a paragraph (100-250 words) explaining how their work shares, and is a part of, the Labor Arts spirit. The statement must address the medium and the artistic tradition in which you are working.

Successful entries show thoughtful, original work on subjects relevant to work, to working people, and to the labor movement. Topics might include, but are not limited to: economic and social problems; issues of immigration; conflicts based on race, class, and ethnic identity; environmental concerns; child labor; women in the labor force; economic justice; globalization and international labor markets; organizing campaigns; crime and corruption; anti-labor campaigns; cultural and artistic visions; ideals and ideologies.

Entries are judged according to originality, content and style, by professors who teach undergraduates at CUNY. Prizes will be awarded at a ceremony in Spring 2015.

For more information, contact Professor Joseph Entin and Acting Director of Graduate Studies Patrick Kavanagh at

Click on this link for the entry form you need to submit with your work.