This week, we’ve got more proof that capitalism needs to be overthrown. The mayor talks austerity, students win free ORCA cards, Trump’s Department of Labor comes for workers’ tips, and we notice that the city is always getting sued. Enter the Hellhole…
State of the City
Tuesday was Mayor Durkan’s first state of the city address. The mayor’s solution to everything? Grit and determination! How are we going to combat structural racism? Courage! Traffic? Creativity! How are we going to fix the city’s housing and houselessness crisis? Inspiring acts of individual generosity!
Said the mayor, “Solving our affordability and homelessness crisis will take more than just governments working together. It’s going to take business, philanthropists, neighborhoods, people of faith, and community organizations… it will take every one of us [editor’s note: except Jeff Bezos] stepping up and working together.” Here at the Hellhole, we have a simpler solution that doesn’t depend on the benevolence of “good” capitalists: tax the rich and build public housing. When our city’s housing needs could be met with just a fraction of one person’s wealth, the best solution isn’t to beg for scraps; it’s to take what’s ours – the profits of our labor.
During her first state of the city, Mayor Durkan devoted a surprising amount of time to preparing us for the logical consequence of the city’s failure to take back the ill-gotten gains of Seattle’s robber barons: budget cuts. That’s right, in a time of unprecedented prosperity for the few, Mayor Durkan wants the rest of us to prepare for austerity.
“We also know that our city departments will have to do more with less… a deficit is on the horizon. In preparing next year’s city budget I will be asking all departments to recognize that we have to live within our means.” Translation: “When the short-sighted profit seeking of my capitalist pals causes another recession, y’all will be left holding the bag… again!”
One department we’re sure won’t be facing cuts is SPD, which Mayor Durkan lauded for their “progress” towards reform. “Our improved use of force policies require training in de-escalation and helping people in mental health crises. We now have rigorous investigations when force is used and community accountability when things go wrong.” We’re not sure how rigorous the investigations are when they never seem to find serious fault in officers who kill, nor how accountable they are to the community when the same officers get off with a 2-day suspension.
Organizations that provide services to our houseless neighbors won’t be so lucky, though. While Mayor Durkan offered her thanks to those who work “long days for little pay at nonprofit organizations,” she didn’t offer to fairly compensate them for their labor. Instead, she warned that the city “would be requiring more accountability.” So when nonprofits fail to get the folks they serve into ever-more-expensive rental housing, the money they use to provide basic services like shelters and hygiene centers will be cut off. In a rental market so tight that only 44% of Seattle Housing Authority voucher holders (the lucky few not on the three-year waitlist) found housing in 2017, that’s not accountability, that’s just more austerity.
Steven Hsieh, writing in the Stranger, had the best summary (as captured by the Transit Riders’ Union):
And speaking about those Orca cards …
Orca for All
Students in Seattle have cause to celebrate after the announcement that the city will fund ORCA cards for all public high school students. This program was originally proposed by activists at Rainier Beach High School, and introduced into the 2017 mayoral race by Nikkita Oliver during an early televised debate.
Correction: This was actually birthed from grassroots efforts pre 2015. South end grassroots organizers connected with youth and public schools down in Rainier Beach have been pushing for this for a long time. Transit has historically been inequitable for communities of color. https://t.co/unTmmWX7l3
— Dae Shik Kim Hawkins (@daedaejr) February 20, 2018
While the traditional yellow bus might be what we usually think of when it comes to getting to and from school (and with a successful strike), many Seattle high school students rely on public transit as their main form of transportation (and Metro drivers are union too!).
The dismantling of the social safety net in the United States has meant that schools are picking up more and more of the slack – but it’s not always enough. Like the summer meal program, giving students ORCA cards means that they’re supported through the entire year, not just when school is in session. Removing the biggest barrier to access for public transit – cost – also drastically increases ridership. As Metro and Sound Transit make revisions to their byzantine fare systems, perhaps we should consider how to extend the same benefits that we now provide to our youth to the rest of our neighbors. If you’re not a high school student and would like to know more about reduced-fare options, check out ORCA LIFT.
Washington is a nice state. Servers here don’t have to worry about getting paid $2.13 per hour because we don’t have a tipped minimum wage. But under a new rule proposed by the Trump administration, servers might not be in control of their tips much longer. Under the change, employers would be in charge of all tips as long as servers make at least $7.25 per hour. While the industry says the goal is to spread tips around to the back of the house, the only beneficiaries will be bosses. Analysis from the Economic Policy Institute found the rule will cost workers, the majority of whom are women, upwards of $5.8 billion every year in lost wages. The Trump administration knows this and went to great lengths to bury an internal DOL report that showed how much workers would lose out.
There’s wage theft, and then there’s industrial robbery on a huge scale. Only organized workers will have the power to fight back if the rule goes through. Interested in organizing? Stop by the workplace organizing collective every Wednesday.
City of Lawsuits
The City of Seattle seems to get sued a lot. Sometimes we root for them (when they’re defending a progressive income tax), sometimes we root against them (when they’re defending killer cops and abusive former mayors). In a better world, a civil lawsuit wouldn’t be the only way to eke out justice from a deeply unjust system – though in a better world, perhaps the system wouldn’t be so unjust to begin with. How about a world where saying that the wealthiest among us should pay their fair share doesn’t bring down the wrath of a half-dozen high-priced law firms, or a world where our neighbors aren’t menaced, threatened, beaten and killed by armed thugs exercising a monopoly on legitimate violence?
If you’d like to help make that world a reality, come out to an event with your local Democratic Socialists of America. Maybe you’ll even decide to join…
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Hellhole is written by members of the Seattle DSA communications team. Unless expressly stated, Dispatches do not necessarily reflect the views of Seattle DSA as an organization or its leadership.