Philly Socialist Alternative to Kenney and Council: #MakeAmazonPay

As soon as Amazon announced its intention to build a second corporate headquarters outside Seattle, elected officials from across the nation predictably responded to its ‘request for proposals’ by tripping over each other in a race to offer massive public subsidies and tax incentives to woo Amazon. Philadelphia’s elected officials from both the Democratic and Republican Parties have behaved no differently.

Last week, Mayor Jim Kenney slavishly tweeted, “We think Philadelphia would be a PRIME location for Amazon that would make people SMILE! Look forward to submitting a proposal!”

This week, the Kenney administration had taxpayers buy a plane ticket for a city envoy to visit Seattle and “help understand Amazon culture” and demonstrate our city is “serious about competing for the headquarters.”

 At-Large Republican Councilman David Oh introduced a bill to City Council on Thursday that “reduces the business net income tax to zero” of relocating “mega-businesses” like Amazon that employ over 50,000 workers.

Amazon is worth $460 billion, and its CEO Jeff Bezos will soon be the wealthiest man in the world. Bezos’ personal net worth is $84.4 billion dollars. He is one of 8 men who control half of the world’s wealth. Bezos and Amazon have accrued this massive wealth by ruthlessly exploiting workers in the US and abroad, crushing attempts to unionize, using its monopoly power to gobble up real estate and push up land value and housing costs in Seattle, and pushing small business owners out of markets.

In any city it expands to, Bezos and Amazon can afford to pay business taxes, income taxes, and property taxes. They can also afford to pay decent wages, and provide healthcare benefits and pensions for all of their workers. Instead of ‘wooing’ Amazon here with the promise of low wages, subsidies and tax breaks, Philadelphia’s political establishment should be taking the fight for a $15hour minimum wage, statewide single payer healthcare, and full funding for our schools to Harrisburg and DC. As badly as we need to address structural unemployment and poverty in Philly, spending millions of public dollars in exchange for a ‘promise’ to bring thousands of low wage, part time, dead end jobs will only result in increased corporate profits at our expense.

We need to stop to the nationwide corporate tax rate race-to-the-bottom. When cities compete against each other to offer corporations like Comcast and Amazon tax incentives, the big losers are our own residents. One third of Philadelphians live in poverty and our schools face enormous budget deficits. SEPTA is unreliable and one of the most expensive public transit system in the country. Public housing is being cut while gentrification and a shortage of affordable housing is pushing us out of our neighborhoods and threatening low-income residents all over the city. Should we really be competing with Chicago, Denver and Baltimore over who can give Amazon the most public money?

When establishment politicians like Mayor Kenney and Councilman David Oh offer public money that should be going to schools, housing, and city services to wealthy corporations for private profit, it is clear they stand with corporations and not with working class people.

Building power and organization outside the Democratic Party. 

In Seattle, Socialist Alternative City Council member Kshama Sawant,  led the fights that passed a $15 minimum wage and a tax on the wealthy. Sawant and SA are now building a coalition to campaign for affordable housing and supporting the independent Seattle City Council campaign of DSA member John Grant.

In Minneapolis coming off of the recent win for $15 minimum wage, Socialist Alternative member Ginger Jentzen is running for city council as an independent on a platform of tenants rights, affordable housing, taxing the rich to fund city services, and resisting the Trump agenda.

In Philly, we are working to build real alternatives to the establishment political machines. We need independent organizations of our own to fight back against corporate hegemony and poverty in our city. We need a political party of the 99% that can run independent candidates for local offices, and not just any candidates but fighting, accountable, independent candidates that take no corporate cash.

Yo Kenney! Say NO to Amazon’s economic coercion and demand better for our workers for the right to do business in our city:

  • A moratorium on state and local public tax subsides to corporate profits
  • A $15 minimum wage
  • For permanent full-time jobs with a future
  • Free higher education and job training
  • Free on site childcare options for employees
  • Full union rights for all employees  
  • for a tax on the wealthy to fund public schools, public transit and affordable housing.

 

“The solution is in no way to turn away from technological innovation, the logic of economies of scale, or ease of access to goods and services. Instead, we need to unionize, and to take these behemoths into democratic public ownership, so that they are run not for profit for a few, but in the interests of the majority of working people and of society. However, this can be achieved only by building powerful movements that are independent of the politicians and parties that have aided and abetted corporations like Amazon. In Seattle, our movements need to continue to build the fight to end homelessness, make housing affordable for all, and fully fund social services.” – Kshama Sawant Seattle City Council

#MakeAmazonPay

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And Just Over the River….

Chris Christie’s  Savage Assault on Workers

Governor, Chris Christie,  renewed his attacks on public employees in New Jersey this week. Citing the so-called “Cadillac Tax” on health benefits under Obamacare, which he claims will further raise the tax burden on the state’s citizens, he called for more cuts in public worker health care and pension benefits. Calling public employees greedy, he claimed that workers’ “excessive” benefits will further damage the fiscal health of the state.

In his February, 2014 budget address,  Christie unveiled his plan for a further assault on the public employee pension fund. His call for more “reforms” translates into more pain for public employees. While he promised to make the scheduled state contribution of $2.25 billion, the pension fund will remain underfunded due to the long-term withholding of the state contribution by past administrations, both Democrat and Republican, going back for years. Christie has promised “extreme measures” to force Legislative Democrats to a compromise. The Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) which serves 770,000 current and retired workers is underfunded by $40 billion.

When Christie took office, he unleashed a stunning attack on public employees, with the cooperation of a wing of the Democratic Party led by Senate President Steve Sweeney.  Sweeney, an Ironworkers’ International Union Vice-President, is a tool of the powerful South Jersey Democratic machine that is controlled by political heavyweight and health care industry executive, George Norcross.  Norcross was, until recently,  one of the co-owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer. This time around, Sweeney has expressed his unwillingness to reopen the pension debate.

The savage political attack against New Jersey public workers mirrored similar attacks of public employees in Wisconsin and elsewhere.  State workers were forced to pay higher pension contributions and increased health insurance premiums, as well as higher co-pays for medical and dental care.  State worker pay was frozen and the retirement age was raised to 65. Education funding, school lunch programs and community legal programs also suffered massive cuts.

In 2015, a four year suspension of collective bargaining over health benefits will end.  The Christie administration will begin negotiating new contracts with the state worker unions and the expectation is that he will push for further cuts in benefits and pensions.

This latest “reform” effort comes as Christie remains embattled over the “Bridgegate” scandal and accusations of misallocation of Hurricane Sandy Relief funds. Getting tough on public employees is a way for him to divert attention from his woes and allows him to look tough as he contends for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Despite his austerity measures,  New Jersey still has high unemployment and has not benefited from the so-called recovery.

On May 14, 2014, Christie vowed to withhold the full pension contribution despite his legal obligation to fund state pensions. He has threatened to take back as much as $2.43 billion over the next two years in order to balance the state budget. Once again, public servants are the victims of the inability of the Governor and legislature to come up with enough money to fund state government programs. On June 30th, he used the line-item veto to slash the State pension contribution by $681 million.  This cut was upheld in court on June 25.  Public employee unions are preparing to renew their court challenge in the coming weeks.

The attack on pensions, in both the private and public sectors, is part of the neoliberal assault on the living standards of working people. The ruling class is seeking to make the working class in the United States, and internationally, pay the price for recovery from the current economic crisis.

The ruling class is intent on cutting the social wage to the bone. This means slashing and, if possible, privatizing social services and public education. Part of this has meant the demonization of public employees, especially teachers.

Over the past 30 years, the number of US workers covered under defined benefit pension plans has slipped from about 38% to below 20%. Pensions are often replaced with 401K, or some other defined contribution plan. These plans take the burden of retirement income off of employers and place them on the workers themselves. This shift from defined benefit pensions to defined contribution plans has been a feature of many two-tier union contracts, where new hires get fewer benefits than workers already in the workplace.  This sort of two-tier set up undermines the strength, solidarity, and cohesiveness of unions.

The two-party duopoly is fraying at the edges. This does not mean that an alternative to the two capitalist parties will appear overnight or will be built easily. Illusions in the “progressive” character of the Democratic Party persist. The Democrats are skilled at diverting the energy of mass movements into safe channels of electoralism.

What is necessary, both in New Jersey and nationally, is a fight back by working people against the one-sided class war being waged against us. In part, this will require building a working class political party that fights for the interests of the 99% and not Wall Street. Such a party would fight for jobs for all, for a $15/hour minimum wage, a national health care system and the right to organize and strike to name a few. The election of Kshama Sawant in Seattle, and the success of local independent labor candidates in Ohio  and the State Representative campaign of  Socialist Alternative’s Jess Spear   point  to the possibility that a new working class political party could take shape.