The Hellhole – Week of 5/7

12.8 minute read

It’s all government this week as we show down with state universities exploiting their workers, the spreading rebellion against austerity, and the Mayor’s Big Idea. Whether its equal pay, healthcare, … Read more

It’s all government this week as we show down with state universities exploiting their workers, the spreading rebellion against austerity, and the Mayor’s Big Idea. Whether its equal pay, healthcare, or affordable housing, the people have to fight to pry it back from the maw of the capitalist state. Welcome to the Hellhole…

We’re gonna have to start a second weekly roundup just for union news, huh

As organized labor begins to reassert itself after decades of retreat, those who are new to the struggle can often find themselves bewildered by the legacy of the past. From small head-scratchers (“Why are the graduate student employees at the University of Washington represented by the United Auto Workers?”) to larger questions of ideology (“Craft unionism, business unionism, industrial unionism, I thought this was just about pay raises and pensions!”), it can be a confusing landscape. The Hellhole will not be answering any of these questions this week, but thought that they’d make a good lede.

The last week has provided an excellent case study of an old division, as unions were pitted against unions in the fight over the proposed Employee Hours Tax on big businesses. Amazon’s threatened capital strikeslowing or stopping development of its Seattle properties if the City dares to tax it – raised fears of slowed construction and lost jobs among the building and shipping trades. A wide range of unions under the umbrella of the MLKCLC turned out to support the tax, citing their members’ need for the affordable housing that would be built with the funds from the proposed tax. More on the fight over this tax in a moment!

In California, workers throughout the University of California system struck for three days this week, with nurses joining therapists, technicians, custodians, and groundskeepers (among others) on the picket line. AFSCME Local 3299, the largest employee union in the UC system, demanded action to counter rising inequity, a stop to the hiring of underpaid non-union contractors, and affordable healthcare benefits. The University of California system is currently run by the same Janet Napolitano who helped kickstart ICE’s deportation explosion under Obama, so perhaps it’s not too surprising that workers of color are getting a raw deal under her leadership.

Returning to our United Auto Worker friends, student workers at the University of Washington are still fighting to squeeze a fair contract out of the university administration. A rally held on Thursday presented their demands to the Board of Regents, with union members continuing to prepare for a strike in case these were not met. The one-day strike currently scheduled for Tuesday, May 15 was authorized even before members rejected the administration’s last offer, both by tremendous margins. Even better, the union received an infusion of support this morning as post-doctoral student workers also voted to join. Perhaps the University was hoping for a windfall from its security costs for the Patriot Prayer rally earlier this year – perhaps Steve Sarkisian lost the endowment betting on the Maaco Bowl back in 2012. It’s hard to say! What’s not hard is agreeing that workers deserve decent wages and decent benefits – and that being a student worker is a tough racket. If you’d like to keep tabs on the potential strike, follow UAW Local 4121 on Twitter

Like a vampire trying to bite its own neck

Whatever gripes we share about how the University of Washington administration treats and mistreats its students, workers, and student workers, it’s worth remembering that there are larger and even more malevolent forces at work. Cuts to higher education funding at the state level have been brutal, a consequence of our state’s awful tax system. As consumers panicked after the 2008 crisis, sales tax revenue dropped and the state coffers ran dry. Somehow, the state (and city, for that matter) still manages to constantly find room in their budget to offer tax cuts to businesses –  and without either an income or capital gains tax to soak up some of the filthy lucre flowing from the region’s economic boon (and with apologies for the somewhat upsetting imagery), funding still hasn’t caught up to where it ought to be. Of course, the Hellhole will never recommend viewing the market as an independent force of nature – there’s ideology at play as well. Public services and the commons are neoliberalism’s new New World, a bounty waiting to be colonized and privatized. Just like in imperial exploitation, though, they need to gin-up a reason – a casus belli against the social safety net.

Funding cuts, obstructive bureaucracy masquerading as “accountability”, and a healthy dose of anti-government rhetoric (in the Gadsden Flag sense) combine to drain the life from schools, hospitals, utilities, even the National Park System. It’s no coincidence that we’re seeing student worker strikes, public employee strikes, nurses’ strikes, and teacher strikes at the same time – they’ve all been on the receiving end of the same campaign.

Investments really do pay off

There’s been lots of noise and excruciatingly little progress on the proposed tax on big business this week, as backroom dealing and election payoffs finally come to fruition. The City Council’s usual suspects of business capitulation were joined by a powerful new ally as Amazon’s $350,000 check must have finally posted to Mayor Durkan’s bank account. Her history as a federal prosecutor who targeted small-timers and activists while granting carte blanche to banks after the 2008 crisis should explain why that this comes as no surprise. The Mayor’s proposal is a fraction of the size of the Progressive Revenue Task Force’s recommendation – and even more strikingly, provides only twenty percent of its revenue to affordable housing (the task force’s version provided 75%).

The vast majority of the Mayor’s new revenue source would go to “emergency services” – expanding the smash-and-sweep services called for by the baying mobs of relatively fascist homeowners. Durkan’s proposal also ends after five years, which suggests that she is either a secret doomsday cultist who doesn’t think that the world will last that long, or that she believes that she’ll be able to solve homelessness by then. Or, we suppose, it could just mean that she cares more about appeasing her donors than saving lives amongst the residents of her city, but that’s such a harsh judgment to make.

It’s not too late to make your voice heard to your City Councilmembers! The EHT has passed out of committee with Bagshaw (D7), Harrell (D2), Juarez (D5), and Johnson (D4) voting against. The bill will be headed for a full vote on Monday, and the mayor has promised a veto unless they can get more votes in favor of the measure. Call and email councilmembers’ offices and let them know that they shouldn’t let Amazon shake down our city to save its own pocket change, or cave to Durkan’s veto on Bezos’ behalf. Come out to Cal Anderson Park Saturday morning at 11am to join the March on Amazon – and why not grab the #62 bus up to our Socialism 101 with some of your new comrades after the march?