The Hellhole – week of 2/26

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Soda Tax Hellhole

Capitalism is an infection that seeks to atomize and destroy us piece by piece, thankfully, solidarity is the cure. This week we have stories about the predictable impact of the soda tax, the biggest corporate attack on unions in a generation, a wildcat strike in West Virginia, the Mayor’s housing agenda, and whiny landlords. Enter the Hellhole…

Late-Breaking Update

This morning, activists with No New Youth Jail successfully blocked off a major road through downtown Seattle to protest King County’s continuing construction of a new, cruel, and unnecessary jail for children in defiance of recent court rulings against them.

The Hellhole team expresses solidarity with those willing to very literally put their bodies on the line to stand against the inhumane treatment of our fellow humans by the carceral state.

Capitalist Cryptid Watch: the Small Business Owner and the Soda Tax

The small business owner is diverse and plentiful species, and is often described in starkly contrasting terms. While many taxonomies describe them as benevolent, job-creating economic drivers, others refer to these unique specimens as worker-mistreating petty tyrants. In a strange turn of events, small business owners found themselves on the same side as labor and socialists in decrying our disgraced former mayor’s sweetened beverage tax. And as you may have seen from the signs posted in the windows of supermarkets, gas stations, and bodegas across town, they haven’t stopped decrying it since.

The tax, which impacts distributors of beverages with added sugar, was intended to fund programs targeting racial disparities. Opponents of the beverage surcharge noted, at the time, that the tax itself would cause class disparities (that would play out across racial lines) by targeting items primarily purchased by poor folks and excluding items primarily purchased by the well to do.

While taxing corporations and the wealthy among us is good, sales and other forms of regressive tax are decidedly not. Washington has a serious regressive tax problem, and couching it the rhetoric of public health doesn’t change the fact that the burden is being placed on those least able to pay. There are plenty of people in the city that can afford that tax and who deserve to pay – they’re the rich – so let’s make them.

JANUS: God of Transitions

This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on what could be one of the biggest cases involving unions in the 21st century. The case, Janus v. AFSCME, has to do with fair share fees. Currently, public employees that opt out of being in a union do not have to pay union dues, but they do have to pay fees for the cost of bargaining and maintaining their contract. Janus is arguing that paying these maintenance fees amounts to a violation of his freedom of speech. Most other folks see him as a wannabe freeloader.

Like most issues before the court, the merits of the case don’t really matter, because the 5-4 majority ensured by the dark money groups that hoisted corporate toady Neil Gorsuch onto the bench have pretty much guaranteed that unions will lose. The press has predictably begun sounding the death knell of what remained of the union movement, and unions themselves are bracing for the impact. What’s left for workers to do? Well, organize.

The week saw mass mobilizations across the country, walkouts, and actions from sea to sea. Make no mistake, the case will cause serious financial losses to unions, intense institutional damage to the Democratic party, and leave Republicans with little powerful opposition outside of the more benevolent billionaires they fight against — but, hey, things were already like that!

The only power that we’ve ever had as workers comes from each other. Solidarity is more than a word. It’s an action. And that’s never been made more plain than by observing …

The Wild and Wonderful Strikes of West Virginia

A statewide strike by teachers and educators in West Virginia this week reached a resolution on Tuesday when the governor announced across-the-board pay raises for teachers and other state employees. The only problem was that the strike was about healthcare, not just pay. Though the union leadership and governor called for the strikers to return to work on Thursday, all 55 counties’ schools remained closed as teachers stood strong to continue the strike and fight for decent benefits.

The strike, which was characterized by the teachers’ careful planning and compassion for their students, was illegal from the beginning. Public employees such as teachers are often forbidden from striking by their contracts, state law, or both. But, like the many of the labor battles that color West Virginia’s history, workers’ solidarity holds more power than any law could ever give or take away.

Having stood against their union leadership’s recommendation, it’s now gone from a run-of-the-mill illegal strike to an illegal wildcat strike, which I believe we can all agree is an appropriately awesome term for this expression of labor solidarity. To aid the teachers in their struggle, you can check out their strike fund here.

Mayor Signs Plan to Sell-Off Public Property

Last Friday, Mayor Durkan signed her first big piece of policy. The plan, named “Building a Bridge to Housing for All,” lays out the framework of the Mayor’s housing policy agenda and was co-sponored by the City Council’s pro-business quadrumvirate of Harrell, Johnson, Juarez, and Bagshaw.

What’s in it?

  • Raise $11 million by selling off city property (specifically 1933 Minor Avenue) to developers who plan to build two towers with 39 floors each of residential units.
  • Allocate $5,320,000 to be used by an “Innovative Housing Strategy Subcabinet,” which will be tasked with identifying bridge housing for individuals experiencing homelessness — things like “mass shelter tents, hard sided tents, wood-frame sheds, portable modular bunkhouses or cabins, backyard cottages and the master leasing of existing apartments”
  • Spend $1,000,000 funding hygiene services in areas of high need such as Pioneer Square, University District, and Downtown
  • Give $2 million to landlords in the form of a “Seattle Rental Housing Assistance Pilot Program”
  • Plus other administrative things, like moving the city’s IT comms shop from the building they’re selling and “siting” a new fire station and marine emergency response facility (maybe together ?‍??‍?).

While the Mayor acknowledges that the number of residents living without shelter is a huge crisis, and the need to get people quickly sheltered is pivotal, we can’t help but wonder if selling of public property and giving money to landlords for temporary housing is the best way to solve the problem. Certainly there are better ways to raise revenue (* cough * head tax), and create long-term solutions (* cough * public housing) that would work better without giveaways to developers and the landlords pricing people out in the first place.

Meanwhile, sweeps continue unabated.

To the Mayor’s credit, she chose and excellent campaign name to appropriate. If you’re interested in joining the real Housing for All coalition, dedicated to bringing true housing justice to Seattle, their next action is March 14.

Landlords Sue for Right to Discriminate

In the midst of our constant fight to get housing acknowledged as a human right, it seems we may have forgotten someone: the landlords. Most folks think landlords are property owners profiting off of our need for shelter, but in reality, they’re the real victims. Recently we’ve been hearing from the landlords who are courageously standing up and speaking out for their right to discriminate … er, we mean, follow a “gut check” about potential tenants.

It’s true that Seattle has several laws in place which bring some semblance of parity between the individuals who own rental units and those who would rent from them. Payment plans on security deposits, for example, or limits on how high the deposit can be in the first place, make paying for a new apartment more accessible for low-income Seattleites. The city also has a “first in time” law, which requires landlords to rent to the first qualified applicant for a unit rather than hold out until they find someone who passes their “gut check.” Property owners aren’t super happy about this state of affairs, and last week a King County Superior Court judge began hearing arguments on a lawsuit on behalf of a group of Seattle landlords challenging the law. Their claim is that the “first in time” law infringes on their personal property rights, while assistant city attorney Roger Wynne calls it like he (and the city) sees it: the right to choose is often the right to discriminate.

In a city with a history of racist housing policies, allowing landlords to continue their biased screening will get us more of the same: segregation, stratification, and a city where only the rich (and mostly white) are allowed to exist. The case could go either way, but it’s worth noting that the judge is herself a landlord.

The underlying problem is that landlords treat their rental properties as a monetary investment. Anything that complicates their ability to profit off of people’s need to have a roof over their heads is viewed as a threat. So affordability, anti-discrimination laws, rent control are all anathema to the landlord. Imagine a world where housing was instead recognized as a human right and not a commodity to be traded; where no one prioritizes profit over the well being of their neighbors. Even better, join us and fight to make that world a reality.

 

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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.

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