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December 4, 1969, Vol. XIV, No. 60
Bias at the Trade Center
by Ron Rosenbaum
The Port Authority’s World Trade Center towers, now hunching their way up into the Lower West Side smog, have long been the despair of architects and other people with eyes who thought Manhattan could do without twin 110-story towers of steely boredom obliterating the graceful jumble of the present skyline.
But the WTC is also a source of despair to blacks and Puerto Ricans: the largest construction project the city will see for a long time has become the best example the city has of the continuing collusion between contractors, unions, and state agencies to maintain racist employment practices in the construction industry.
Right now the Trade Center employs 1700 men, and four times that many will be working there during the peak period to come. The size of the project gives it the potential to make a breakthrough as a job and training source. But despite a slick public relations operation, there is no covering up the fact that the WTC has failed to make any significant change in the kinds of policies which keep ghetto unemployment high and which have led to violent confrontations in Chicago and Pittsburgh so far this year.
The Port Authority is very proud of its two 110-story towers. On the sixth floor of the P.A. headquarters is a large, dim, thick-carpeted, and dark-paneled conference room which serves as reverent setting for a gleaming six-foot-high model of the Trade Center. The two model towers rest on a polished table. The table revolves.
Before Port Authority officials would consent to talk to me about their hiring policies, they sat me down on a couch facing the model, handed me a Reader’s Digest reprint (“The Greatest Skyscraper of Them All”), and called in an executive whose job it was to make the model revolve and to point out with a pencil beam flashlight which was the north and which was the south tower, and which was the top and which the bottom of each. The explanation of the P.A.’s equal opportunity program which followed was only slightly more detailed and useful…
Obviously, the Port Authority is not responsible for the history of racism in the construction industry which has produced seven per cent or less minority representation in most skilled crafts. But the Port Authority is responsible for setting up an elaborate public relations facade of activity, for claiming that the job picture at the Trade Center is good and getting better, and for failing to put enough pressure on contractors to get real results. And by covering up the actual situation and claiming progress through persuasion, the Port Authority is shielding the racist practices from attack with stronger weapons…
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