For having a hegemony, capitalists sure like to complain something anything doesn’t go their way. This week we have a story that pulls together the many strands of reporting on housing in Seattle, a recap of the victory of the EHT, another large corporation that doesn’t want to be left out of the bad-take circus, and a labor struggle at the heart of our flagship university. Welcome to the Hellhole …
Our Many Homes
This week’s news included a few stirring (and infuriating) sketches of home life under capitalism’s big ol’ thumb. Although we’re often paying top dollar for whatever apartment we can afford, it doesn’t always mean our landlords hold up their end of the bargain. In particular, they can sometimes neglect to keep our living spaces actually livable – and government inspectors & regulators aren’t necessarily champing at the bit to enforce their rules. Continuing a long (and sadly, ongoing) series on the topic, the Stranger’s Heidi Groover illustrated how stomach-turning conditions in a South Park apartment failed to prevent a series of rent increases that have driven its tenants out onto the streets.
How much is the City dedicating to ensure that rental housing meets its admittedly low standards? Not all that much. With a 2018 budget of just over $2 million, the rental housing code compliance budget is only a fifth of what was spent smashing up the shelters that people had managed to scrape together for themselves. The breakdown of that $10 million dollar “homeless sweep” expenditure is similarly stunning, as Dae Shik Kim Hawkins and Guy Oron report for the South Seattle Emerald. Social workers, the crux of the “Navigation Team” meant to shift people from encampments to shelters or services, receive only a small fraction of its funding. Nearly double that amount is spent on police, including over a quarter million on their supplies and equipment alone. Perhaps a portion of that cost went to sewing the Blue Lives Matter flags prominently visible during the Ravenna Woods sweep onto their uniforms, then removing them after journalists noticed. When homeowners complain that they don’t know what the city is doing with tax money spent on “homeless services” – here it is.
Will Sweger, also in the Emerald (via Cascadia Magazine) profiled a number of folks in what he termed an “untouchable underclass,” stereotyped and often feared by owners and renters alike: those who live in their vehicles. Treading a dangerous tightrope between worlds, these folks are forced to dodge police and tow trucks to avoid losing not only the roof over their heads, but often all of their worldly possessions as well. The impound industry doesn’t make things any easier, with fees that rival payday lenders for the sheer level of avarice imposed on those without any other options. Our city’s ongoing failure to expand public restroom access only compounds the indignity facing those trying to get through life without access to a house, apartment, or even stable shelter of their own.
When every essential element of our survival is commodified and sold back to us, it takes precious few stumbles before you end up flat on your face. Housing, healthcare, food, transportation, all these can be the surprise that breaks a budget. Like a lot of things under capitalism, it takes some reminding that it’s these costs are not a force of nature. People decided to make the world work this way, and people can make a better world: whether through public housing, universal healthcare, universal public transit, or perhaps a new system altogether.
Employee Hours, Taxed
Despite the best efforts of Bezos’ Finest, Seattle now has a head tax on big businesses to fund affordable housing and homelessness services. While it might not be exactly what we want, or even what we fought for, one thing is for sure: it has set a precedent. As local businesses fume about the tax, cities across the country are looking to Seattle and hopefully thinking twice about whether they really want to be the home for HQ2 – and how they can put checks on Amazon’s largely-unregulated capital. The Hellhole’s official editorial position is that a better world is possible, so on the road to a better world we ought to celebrate the victories since we currently face a right-wing government working overtime to undo the gains made by the Left over the last 50 years. This is why it’s important to be very clear about we achieved here: this tax was a victory that would not have been possible without the grassroots movement that demanded accountability from Amazon and our city’s largest businesses.
This hard work of the Housing For All Coalition (of which Seattle DSA is but one small part) would not have been possible without our comrades in the Transit Riders Union, SHARE/WHEEL, Nickelsville, Real Change, Socialist Alternative, Councilmember Sawant and her office staff, the Neighborhood Action Coalition, and all other groups and individuals that came together around the simple demand that housing is a human right. Through this group, comrades and fellow travelers from many walks of life came together to demand and win material gains for our neighbors suffering most. In November, we fought for a $22 million/year head tax, and in May we have won a $48/million year head tax. Let’s also be clear that this victory is not because of those in City Hall, but despite them (CM Sawant excluded of course). Over the weekend, between the tax leaving committee and reaching the full council for a vote, Mayor Jenny Durkan worked incredibly hard to do the bidding of Jeff Bezos to further water down the measure.
Although 8 of our esteemed councilmembers may have caved, the ultimate product was still a (small) check on the city’s biggest company and the world’s richest man. It won’t make a noticeable dent in their bottom line, but they still spent political capital into opposing it. Even in the most regressively-taxed city in the nation, we will not stand by and allow the ultra-wealthy to exploit us as a tax haven. It is on the socialist movement to continue the fight, through ever more militant demands and continuing to build our base and our strength. It is clear we cannot rely on the legislative process or City Hall to save us, but our city and our future belong to no one but ourselves.
Other Giant Corporations Also Bad
Even with the compromised EHT, some of our largest corporate neighbors still continue to fight any modest progress. While many large companies have a vested interest in agitating against any tax increase, local wi-fi purveyor Starbucks had perhaps some of the most acerbic reactions to the modest tax increase. John Kelly, Vice President of Global Public Affairs and Social Impact (yuck), decided it would be a good time to highlight the Orwellian nature of his title. “If they [the city] cannot provide a warm meal and a safe bed to a 5-year-old child, no one believes they will be able to make housing affordable or address opiate addiction,” he told local Fox affiliate Q13.
We may hear and rightfully dismiss these sorts of arguments from capital’s spokespeople all the time, but perhaps we ought to point out: there absolutely is government waste in this city. It’s wasted on a new youth jail, on a colossal new police precinct, on smashing up tents and on defending killer cops. Where’s the corporate outrage over that?
Rally on Red Square
As previously reported in your favorite local news roundup, academic student employees at the University of Washington’s three campuses went on a one-day strike on Tuesday, May 15 to demand better terms in their ongoing contract negotiations. While President Cruce hasn’t caved yet, the strike itself was a tremendous show of force and solidarity. A few highlights: Teamster-driven deliveries turning around rather than crossing picket lines, $3,000 raised for a pizza fund for strikers by Social Equity Educators, building trades shutting down construction in support, and this sign:
— Brittany Bishop (@its_britbish) May 16, 2018
Whether you’re beaten down by capitalism and barely trudging into the weekend or bursting out the doors at five with a grin on your face (or, most tragically, still working), there’s plenty to do coming up. Check out Seattle DSA’s calendar and Red May’s calendar for some ideas – there’s even a bit of overlap, like From Allies to Comrades, coming up tomorrow with Jodi Dean.
If you’re in North Seattle, or if you just like crossing the ship canal for some reason, join Seattle DSA’s District 6 Neighborhood Branch for a picnic this Saturday. If you’re on the other side of the Lake, the Eastside Branch will be meeting up on Sunday as well!
? Get involved with Seattle Democratic Socialists of America ?
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.