In Philadelphia, Unregulated Capitalism Claims The Lives of 6 More Innocent Victims.
Last week the weapon of mass destruction known as unregulated capitalism tragically and senselessly claimed more innocent American lives. On Wednesday, June 5th, a demolition crew was working on taking down a building in Philadelphia when suddenly the whole building collapsed, taking out the building next door with it. The adjacent building housed a Salvation Army Thrift Store. This is where most of the victims were innocently going about their days when, Without warning, the wrath of unregulated capitalism literally came crashing down upon their heads, needlessly ending 6 lives and forever altering 14 others.
The contractor, Griffin Campbell Construction Co., was first licensed for demolition work in January of this year 2013, and had filed for bankruptcy in March. Prior to the collapse, the city and OSHA had been notified that the contractor was repeatedly ignoring the established safety guidelines for building demolitions of this kind. Philadelphia city Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams candidly admitted the day after the tragedy that the city never even inquired about the contractor’s qualifications for the job prior to granting the company the permit for demolition. Griffin Campbell, the owner of the company, could face criminal charges. He already has a checkered criminal past that includes multiple drug arrests, assault, and insurance fraud.
On Saturday, the worker who was directly responsible for the collapse turned himself in to Philadelphia police after he was charged with manslaughter in connection to the tragedy. Blood tests showed that Sean Benschop, who was operating an excavator at the time, had painkillers and marijuana in his system at the time of the accident. Benschop, like his boss, has a long criminal history.
According to a spokesman for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, the city relies on the Federal OSHA agency to inspect ongoing demolition sites, but OSHA has only 11 inspectors tasked with inspecting every job site in the entire Philadelphia area, which has a population of over 6 million. This shocking revelation recalls shades of April’s tragic fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, which killed 14 and flattened scores of homes. In the wake of that tragedy, it was reported that OSHA had not inspected the plant in over 33 years. In this most recent tragedy, we find a familiar story of a politically crippled regulatory agency that is incapable of performing its most basic function. We also find an eerily familiar story of local and federal government agencies pointing the finger at one other. As well as the familiar patchwork mishmash of regulations which many contractors can easily slip through the cracks of, resulting in death and destruction on a mass scale.
Reports have indicated that the prior to the collapse, the city received multiple complaints from concerned citizens regarding the demolition at the site going back as far as May 6th. A complaint filed with the city on May 6th stated the building was:
“being demolished in a manner that appears to be clearly unsafe, workers weren’t wearing safety equipment, were demolishing brick facades with crowbars, the sidewalk was not being adequately protected and, most chillingly, “there appears to be no adequate plan to prevent the collapse of walls or facing materials onto pedestrians and those exiting the subway.”
The May 6th complaint would be just one of a series of chilling premonitions and complaints levied against the contractor regarding the Market Street demolition site.
It should come as a surprise to no one that the work was being performed by a non-union contractor. In the days and weeks leading up to the collapse, numerous people reported “red flags” and grave concerns regarding the demolition job on Market Street, Including union carpenters working at a nearby job site, who filed complaints with the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections regarding a total disregard for proper safety procedures at the demolition site. According to witnesses, in the weeks leading up to the accident workers were observed not wearing hard hats or using safety lines, which are mandatory for such jobs.
That contractor being non-union is relevant to this story because you can be virtually sure that if this job was a union job, those 6 innocent Philadelphians would still be alive today. Unions often come under fire from business owners and right wing pundits for driving up costs, for creating too much red tape, for making jobs unworkable etc…. Non-union contractors underbid unions for jobs by cutting costs in every way that they can. All too often, this means increasing the risk of injury to workers and bystanders alike. A 2003 study of OSHA records found that non union contractors were 360% more unsafe than their union counter parts. Following OSHA guidelines and paying union wages hit contractors in their bottom line, which is why businesses attack unions and lobby against regulatory agencies like OSHA. Safety be damned, we need to increase profit margins! According to the head of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council, a coalition of area labor unions, two union brick workers reported to Licenses and Inspections and OSHA that the site was dangerous just one day before it collapsed. The complaints fell on deaf ears.
A union workforce would have been drug tested, would have known the safety guidelines, would have worn a hard hat, and would have done the job safely and appropriately. It would have cost a lot more money for the contractor and the property owner. According to an industry expert, a job such as this one would normally cost in the range of $250,000. When filing for the permit for demolition, Griffin Campbell indicated that he was doing the demolition job for a mere $10,000.
The owner of the property is 87 year old Richard Basciano, once known as the “undisputed king of times square porn” and otherwise known as a serial slumlord. Basciano’s personal fortune was recently estimated to be around $150 million. Obviously, this extremely wealthy man could have afforded to pay a legitimate contractor to do the demolition at this property. Instead, he put the lives of innocent Philadelphians in jeopardy by hiring a shady contractor for a fraction of the price. Despite the fact that Basciano is 87 years old and already wealthy beyond belief, he chose to hire a shady and unscrupulous contractor for the sake of pocketing a few thousand dollars. His greed directly lead to the death of 6 innocent bystanders. Just 6 more victims in the endless pursuit of a widened profit margin for the ultra wealthy. A shady property owner hiring a shady contractor who hired a shady worker. Every bit of this, from top to bottom, stinks to high heaven. Ultimately, Basciano could be held personally liable for the chain of destruction he put in to place by hiring Campbell Griffin to handle the demolition as his property. That much remains to be seen, but clearly Basciano has blood on his hands over this incident.
Events like last week’s building collapse in Philadelphia and the Texas refinery explosion are what happens when the lethal mix of unscrupulous contractors and asleep at the wheel regulators mix. The victims are merely collateral damage in the pursuit of greed. Sadly, these events are not isolated tragedies. This is a systematic assault on the American way of life. This is yet another symptom of what happens when the supremely wealthy squeeze every cent out of the bottom classes. No matter what happens to the Basciano and Campbell, they will have gotten off easy compared to their innocent victims. A refusal to abide by regulations, as well as a refusal to pay qualified and trained union workers to do the job properly caused this disaster. Conscious decisions made by unscrupulous business men took the lives of 6 people, and a government which is either inept, complicit, or both, facilitated this tragedy.
This most recent catastrophe in Philadelphia, like most other disasters of unregulated capitalism, was a senseless and completely avoidable tragedy. This most recent story is just the latest in a long running theme of unregulated capitalism claiming poor innocent lives around the globe. In April, a factory collapse in Bangladesh killed over a thousand workers. Last week, a fire at a Chinese factory claimed the lives of over 100 workers. All of these type of stories tie together as symptoms of the systematic worldwide effort to make the rich richer at the expense of the rest of humanity. The poor innocent peasants in China and Bangladesh, like the 6 in Philadelphia, are all victims of unregulated capitalism run amok; Proving itself yet again to be one of the biggest threats to mankind in the 21st century. Unregulated Capitalism: A weapon of mass destruction like no other known to man.