About the header photo: Fox News’ Kennedy called Seattle a “socialist hellhole” in a July 12 broadcast. We wish!
Hope you had a good Labor Day! We briefly flirted with the idea of a “Class Enemy of the Week” feature in this week’s Hellhole. Then, we took a second look at the stories we had for you, and boy– it was just too hard to choose! We’ve laid out this week’s rogues’ gallery of profit-hungry landlords, corporations, and candidates; you can choose your own personal favorite class enemy. Or, like us, you can choose them all. Welcome to the Hellhole.
Early this week, the Seattle Times treated readers to an excerpt from its 1937 Labor Day reportage. That year’s 25,000-strong union member parade is placed in contrast to 2016’s King County Labor Council cookout that brought out 500 attendees. UW division dean of social sciences Roger Lovell says of today’s precariat workers: “[They’re] more often in temporary positions and spread out. It’s very challenging to organize them. It was easier when there were hiring halls and you could get in touch with workers.” There’s no app for that.
When workplace unions are decimated under capitalism, a region’s wealth is easier to hoard. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development declared that King & Snohomish County individuals making $50,400/yr and below (families of four, $72,000) are now considered “low-income” in the eyes of the federal government.
Recall, then, that last week we learned 51% of Seattleites reported incomes of $50,000 or less on their 2014 taxes and that more than half of that majority reported less than $25,000. As Charles Mudede writes on the Slog: “…we live in a city of broke people. [Mayor Ed] Murray failed to do anything meaningful about this crisis, which is political rather than economic. Luxury apartments are still going up. People with middle-class incomes are being reduced to poverty by high rent and rising home values that increase tax burdens. This year’s mayoral race is about housing. And if you want to see Murray’s approach to the crisis (which is to do as little as politically possible) continued, vote for Jenny Durkan.”
What do we mean when we talk about hoarded wealth? One such example comes in the guise of corporations extorting massive tax breaks from local governments via threats of massive layoffs. Boeing successfully extorted $8.7 billion in subsidies – the public’s wealth – from Washington state, even as our public schools are so underfunded that teachers buy classroom supplies themselves. The WTO upheld a challenge to those cuts on Monday; it’s not their kids’ education, after all.
Housing is one of capital’s preferred vectors for snatching wealth from workers. An example: Washington’s landlord-tenant laws mandate that if tenants move out before the lease is up, they’ll usually have to pay the rent that would have been due during the time it takes to re-rent the property, plus any costs incurred by the landlord during this time. In Seattle, where the market is hot and most landlords advertise on free services like Craigslist, this amount should be one or two months’ rent.
However, the Kendall Ridge Apartments use a lease-breaking as an opportunity to gouge tenants one last time, charging tenants thousands of dollars for “inconvenience, paperwork, advertising, showing apartments…” which sounds an awful lot like the normal business of managing an apartment. You could lawyer up, but odds are good the company has better lawyers than you, and unless you’re able to find a lawyer who works cheap, you’ll likely spend more money fighting the charges than just paying them. Capitalism!
It should be no surprise to anyone that where you live determines how long you live, but local do-gooders at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent about $300,000 to commission a study telling everyone what they already knew— people who live in lower-income places like Auburn die up to 18 years earlier than people who live in higher-income places like Clyde Hill, the most affluent town in Washington.
Clyde Hill’s Wikipedia page states that the city is “ranked 10th in the United States for most landscapers hired per square mile”. It seems if you can afford to pay someone else to do all the back-breaking work around your estate, you’re less likely to die an early death.
It quickly became a big week for Amazon when the company announced Thursday morning that it was searching for a location for a second North American headquarters. Geekwire reports the company is planning a $5 billion (!!!) campus that could employ up to 50,000 people in “high-paying” jobs. What the company doesn’t mention in their shiny press release is those “high-paying jobs” can quickly transform cities into sterile, unrecognizable urban spaces that quickly price out and alienate lower-wage residents. Amazon currently occupies 33 buildings and 8 million square feet of space across South Lake Union and Denny Triangle, and it plans to expand to 12 million square feet by 2022, according to Geekwire. And as cities across the North American continent scramble to make themselves attractive to the corporate behemoth, it’s important to keep in mind what this really means: more people can expect to work in Amazon’s dystopian warehouses in the near future.
With that in mind, Splinter’s Hamilton Nolan argues passionately that there is nothing more important right now than unionizing Amazon warehouse employees. “The only realistic way for the future of work not to suck is through the power of organized labor,” he writes. “Either Amazon warehouse workers will organize and unionize and assert their (considerable, latent) collective power to raise their own wages and improve their working conditions, or the future of work will continue to be just as bleak as the present.” Hamilton Nolan: Join DSA (or at least Seattle DSA’s labor working group)! And speaking of those forthcoming warehouse jobs, Amazon has extorted $7.8 million in public funds from Ohio, promising as many as 2,000 notoriously awful warehouse jobs for the trouble. This comes on the heels of infamous Chinese corporation Foxconn swindling $3 billion from Wisconsin to establish a fiefdom of low-paying jobs there. Amazon already pays a shamefully low tax rate at an average of 13 percent.
Last Friday, the Spokane-based Spokesman-Review reported that the city spent $150,000 on tons of basalt boulders to keep people experiencing homelessness from camping in downtown Spokane. When the plan was first introduced, the Spokane City Council didn’t even bother to couch the barbaric tactic in polite words, saying the boulders are there to “dislodge homeless people camping under the interstate” and to keep people from “disrupting private business.” But now, due to much-warranted backlash from the public, the City Council is changing its tune and is now calling for a tent city instead. As it turns out, Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart’s “idea” was actually the conscience of the people of Spokane. On Facebook, he wrote he regretted choosing “an expedient and strong-armed solution instead of the collaborative and holistic approach.” He added that “the homeless citizens relocated from their community deserved an outstretched hand from their elected officials instead of a hammer and a bunch of rocks.” Um, yes, Ben. It turns out people experiencing homelessness are just that: People. Don’t throw rocks at people.