Capitalism corrupts by its nature. When the only goal is gaining profit, there is no ethical constraint in doing so, and we’re all living with the repercussions of that avarice. Thankfully, the cure for corruption is fairness, and fairness is at the heart of this here Hellhole. This week we have stories about tax shakedowns, money in politics, workers victories, lessons from victory, and a film recommendation from your friends. Enter the Hellhole …
A Brief History of Washington State Giving Away the Farm
Washington is the single most regressive state when it comes to state taxes, and it also seems that corporations have a deathgrip on our state leaders, and have since at least 2013.
In November of 2013, Boeing demanded $8.7 billion in tax breaks from the Legislature in exchange for jobs and economic growth. The House State Finance Committee Chair at the time, Reuven Carlyle, who is still serving the 36th District as a State Senator, promised that this would be smart for the region and good for low-income Seattlites. Most importantly of all, Reuven was clear that this was not “blackmail” from Boeing. However, the company that was “not blackmailing” Washington taxpayers threatened to leave the state if they didn’t get the $8.7 billion subsidy that they were demanding. Ultimately, Boeing moved their production line to South Carolina anyway, because why not take the money and run?
In more recent history we remember the debate over the Employee Head Tax, in which Amazon took on the lead role as hostage taker. The hostages? Just every city resident.
In response to Bezos’ displeasure, Seattle not only lowered the proposed amount at the demand of our corporate overlords, 7 of 9 city councilmembers voted to repeal it just weeks after it was voted through unanimously.
Not wanting to be left out, here come the Mariners! The team is now demanding $180M in taxpayer money to renovate Safeco Field or they will “refuse” to renew their lease with the city. This is against a backdrop of grotesque complaints against Mariners executives, including President Kevin Mather. Accusations include watching pornography at work, sexual harassment, and being generally belligerent and inappropriate jerks.
A city is not a commodity to be traded and exploited. It is a community. Under capitalism, our notion of society is constantly under threat. We refuse to be isolated. We refuse to be separated and weakened. We will not be sold out – can Seattle’s city leaders say the same for themselves?
Electoral Politics is a Good Investment, for Corporations
As alluded to above, Amazon’s PAC spent over $350k on “harasser of the unhoused” Jenny Durkan’s candidacy. This is actually more than the $347,000 that Vladamir Putin himself spent on poorly targeted Facebook and Twitter ads across the country. Russia may or may not have kompromat on the mayor, but it wasn’t neccessary. She was looking out for the little guy — the boss in Medina who makes $13,860,000 per hour. Put another way, for a mere $350k, Bezos’ company cheated his way out of $9 million in taxes (which amounts to just under one hour’s worth of his compensation this year).
Ultimately, our elections are up for sale. They’re commodities to the highest bidder. If that angers you, good. If you only think things will change by only turning out a Tuesday in November because truth, justice, and the American way prevail, please stop.
Even if elections weren’t bought, the changes people need would be years away, even after winning. “Electoral politics is the easy way out,” as filmmaker, rapper, poet, and
activist communist Boots Riley noted on Democracy Now, “It’s going to get us sucked into a game of inches.” It’s not hopeless, just a much harder, slower fight.
True power lies below. There is no mystical secret: just realizing that the exploited outnumber our exploiters.
Find someone who shares a need and agree to have each other’s back. We can fight by joining others with shared material needs in our communities, be it in radical unions that stand up to power or in tenant organizing to stick it to slumlords and other rent-seekers. It may be difficult. It may be tiring. You may find yourself on the ropes, one swing away from losing — but don’t give up. We can shut it down.
Seatac workers win a new contract
Seatac was the first city in the nation to pass the $15 minimum wage. It was a tough fight. Companies like Alaska Airlines took it all the way to the state supreme court where workers ended up winning. This week, SeaTac airport workers won again with a new union contract.
In a first for airport workers, including baggage handlers, porters, and the other folks at the airport that don’t work directly for airlines, a master service contract brought all the different vendors into one agreement with workers in SEIU Local 6. Workers won more paid time off, more flexible schedules, and for a workforce that has a strong immigrant contingent, they won a provision to take extended periods away to see family abroad.
While winning the $15 minimum wage was important, it wasn’t a cure-all for workers. Ballot initiatives are just one tool in the toolbox, and what politicians give, politicians can take away. There is no stronger power than getting organized and no better protection than solidarity.
West Virginia Striker Comes to Town
This week Seattle DSA had the pleasure of hosting Nicole McCormick: a West Virginia teacher, a union leader, a striker, and a Facebook group moderator. In a series of events, Nicole shared the story of how her and her coworkers across the state of West Virginia, starting with teachers, but expanding to all public employees, worked within and outside of their unions to organize the first wildcat teachers strike of 2018.
While there were many things to take away from Nicole’s visit (it turns out even huge and influential Facebook groups with thousands of teacher need good moderators) the main thing this attendee took away was the importance of perseverance and communication.
Timeline of the strike – their page started with just 30 members pic.twitter.com/Y8FfiSWIBj
— Seattle DSA? (@SeattleDSA) July 25, 2018
The teachers strikes didn’t happen overnight, they were part of a campaign of escalation that took over 4 months starting with teachers wearing red shirts, escalating to picket lines, and eventually to walkouts and a state-wide strike. Through the ups and downs of the campaign, strikers across the state were able to stay motivated by keeping in constant communication with each other via Facebook, texting, and other means. By constantly sharing updates and through transparency, they felt solidarity even though they weren’t physically close.
For a recap of Nicole’s first discussion, see our live tweet thread here:
Here with Nicole McCormick, a West Virginia teacher and leader in the recent successful (and illegal) state strike, learning about what worked for them and what we all can do going forward to organize and win as workers and a community. pic.twitter.com/GiMnXMeVUr
— Seattle DSA? (@SeattleDSA) July 25, 2018
Sorry to Bother You is a Good Movie
There has already been a lot of ink spilled about the sleeper hit Sorry to Bother You. Director Boots Riley (quoted above), most known for his work with The Coup (“The Guillotine,” a crowd favorite), grew up with parents who were organizers in CPUSA and has been active in and around Oakland left politics his entire life.
His film is a reflection of his values (and ours) most prominently in a subplot focused on organizing call center workers, fighting against exploitation and low wages, while satirically calling out the the Bezos of the world, prison labor, and popular culture in television and meme form.
We won’t waste any more digital ink on this except to say, go see it. It rules.
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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.