To: Detroit/Seattle Workers' Voice mailing list
March 16, 2019
RE:  In memory of the victims of white supremacist Islamophobia; behind Amazon fleeing New York.

  1. Honor the victims of the New Zealand mosque massacres by building the anti-racist movement everywhere
  2. “Your thoughts and prayers will not save our lives.”
  3. Amazon billionaires run when NY masses fight

Honor the victims of the New Zealand mosque massacres
by building the anti-racist movement everywhere

By Frank Arango, Seattle Workers’ Voice, in FB

Another white-supremacist genocidal attack on Muslims, this time in Christchurch, New Zealand. At least 49 people are dead. The mass murderer—who is from Australia—praised Trump (of course!) as a “symbol of renewed white identity.” And now, while Australian Prime Minister Morrison expresses indignation about the mass slaughter, he leaves aside his own fascist incitements against Muslims over the years, Also, another “innocent”—Australian senator Fraser Anning—has published a statement blaming the victims of the terrorist attack for their own massacre:

“The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place …

“The truth is that Islam is not like any other faith. It is the religious equivalent of fascism. And just because the followers of this savage belief were not the killers in this instance, does not make them blameless.”

No, that is not the mass shooter talking, but a right-wing Australian senator who wears a suit and tie. But the problem is not just the right-wing politicians. One report has the following to say about the so-called left (Labor) in New Zealand:

“In recent years, Labour has a particularly atrocious record in relation to demonising immigrants, thereby contributing to the anti-immigrant poison which people like the white racists behind this attack draw from ideologically. Labour in opposition kept banging the anti-immigration drum. Andrew Little in 2017 claimed that migrants were clogging up the roads, filling the houses and taking jobs. It’s time for a breather on immigration he said. …

“The people who administer the NZ imperialist state can wring their hands and issue their moral condemnations, but a good deal of responsibility for this bloodshed lies with them.”

So while the New Zealand police and other representatives of the state act surprised by the outrageous atrocity in Christchurch, this really is an act by them. Additionally, they very well know about the atrocities of New Zealand and Australian troops during the U.S.-led “war on terrorism” in Afghanistan and Iraq, and while they shout that what happened yesterday is “unprecedented” in New Zealand’s history, Maori comrades there are pointing out that it is not unprecedented by pointing to the mass slaughters of the Maori people.

Let us use the Christchurch atrocity against Muslims as a spur to further build the anti-racist movement everywhere.
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“Your thoughts and prayers will not save our lives.”

An excerpt from Masuma Rahim, a London-based clinical psychologist who is a mainstream Muslim writer, writing in the British newspaper, The Guardian:

“The responses from many people, both politicians and those known personally to me, have been welcome. They have been kind and they have been compassionate and they have been well-intentioned. It is clear that there are many who are hurt and outraged by this atrocity. Promises of ‘thoughts and prayers’ abound. Your thoughts and prayers will not save our lives, while the actions of politicians and the media undoubtedly destroy them.

“Every single day, people like me are subject to a media onslaught. Every single day, we are demonised, both by the people who make our laws and by the people who have significant influence over public opinion. And when I say ‘we’, I don’t just mean Muslims. Because it’s not just Muslims who are losing their lives at the hands of far-right nationalism. It’s Jews and Sikhs and black people. Because when fascism comes to call, it usually doesn’t care what shade of ‘different’ you are…

”Politicians and the press can keep their platitudes. They’re meaningless unless they’re borne out by action.”

One could, of course, add to the list of the victimized, as Masuma herself does further on. <>

Amazon billionaires run when NY masses fight

By Mark Williams, Detroit Workers’ Voice

The billionaire capitalist Amazon had a path to further fortune laid at their feet. They could squeeze $3 billion in tax breaks from the public; they could avoid talking about unions; they could put forward plans to further gentrify the communities around Long Island City in Queens. Never mind that their deal would drive up rents and escalate the gap between rich and poor in the local area. The plan was to “assure” the public that over ten years they might be able to provide 25,000 jobs. This swindle was quietly worked out with New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic Mayor of NY City, Bill de Blasio. Later, Cuomo, de Blasio, and other establishment politicians vigorously defended the deal against any critics. Yet, on February 14, without warning, Amazon turned tail and ran away!

Amazon fled in the main because the working people in Queens and New York City as a whole saw through their story and bitterly opposed the measures that would serve the demands of super-rich Amazon at the expense of the masses. Well over a dozen grass-roots organizations in the communities got busy going door-to-door and holding meetings. Long Island City was covered with anti-Amazon graffiti. Street rallies were held as well. United marches were held. Activists voiced their concerns at town halls and city council meetings. One went into an Amazon bookstore with activists chanting and wielding placards condemning Amazon’s attempts to take over the city. Protesters denounced Amazon’s $3 billion handout as a diversion of funds needed to fix ailing infrastructure, and didn’t accept Amazon’s jobs propaganda. One placard stated “120K/job and the train still won’t work”. Yes, no matter what the exact figures would turn out to be, the plan is colossal welfare for the rich.

If one did not pay close attention, you might think that Mayor de Blasio was an opponent of Amazon because he gave a scathing speech against the company after it left. What sort of opponent is that? He didn’t fool the activists though. At one city council meeting the audience laughed when it was said that de Blasio was for the unions. They knew he never raised the issue with anti-union Amazon during closed negotiations. Only after being exposed did he say he might raise it.

However there are state and city Democrats tied to local capitalists who denounced the Amazon deal and were roundly denounced by the establishment politicians of both parties as alleged job killers. This included, among others, NY State Senator Michael Gianaris, Queens City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and State assemblyman Ron Kim. Also there was U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Some of these oppositional figures recognized that the mobilization of the masses was what led to the victory over Amazon. Indeed this was self-evident. The deal could have been vetoed by Gianaris in his position on a state board which was selected by Senate Democrats. But evidently there was no need to once Amazon scurried away.

Amazon and its defenders hurled abuse at its critics that they opposed the creation of 25,000 jobs. The first question is, why does Amazon need $3 billion dollars in handouts to create these jobs when it is among the richest companies in the world with $11.2 billion in profits in 2018 and no federal income tax the last two years, and actually a rebate of $129 million in 2018. Its CEO, Jeff Bezos, made over $100 million per day in 2017 and up to Sept. 2, 2018, raising his net worth to an astounding $166 billion. Later Bezos "cooled off", and his net worth was estimated by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index at $147 billion. But the darling needs to steal public tax money without which he cannot provide jobs! If your trains and housing suffer, too bad.

Secondly, contrary to Amazon’s claims, there is no guarantee that there would have been 25,000 jobs. Such grand figures are commonly thrown around by corporations to sucker people into believing there will be some great benefit to the working masses. Let’s look more closely. The 25,000 jobs is over 10 years. 700 jobs will be in the first year. For the other nine years there are promises only, supposedly guaranteed in writing, but history makes one skeptical.

One example is Tesla operations near Buffalo, NY. The State forked over a whopping $750 million to the company to get it going, and in return Tesla promised to provide 5,000 jobs over 10 years. Tesla signed a written guarantee that each year they did not reach a specific hiring goal they would be penalized $41.2 million. That sounds fair, but isn’t. The first problem is that Tesla made it a mystery how many people were actually being employed for a time. But that aside, even if Tesla missed hiring goals every year they would only be penalized a total of $412 million. If you subtract that from the gift of $750 million they got from the State of NY, they would be still be left with $338 million, a handsome shakedown of the ordinary taxpayers. One day Tesla may employ 5,000. Or it may shut down, for that matter. But this will be because of whims of the capitalist market. Not a phony guarantee. And the same forces would have operated with Amazon.

New York State has lavished corporations with riches, but fed promises to the ordinary folk. New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim and Zephyr Teachout, law professor at Fordham University, wrote in the NY Times Opinion Section on Nov. 9, 2018 “Our state already ranks last in the nation in returns on billions of dollars in corporate giveaways. Its economic development programs are the most expensive in the country, amounting to 76 percent of the state’s gross tax revenue. In 2015, Mr. Cuomo gave away $8.25 billion to corporations – as much as the next three states combined….For every job Amazon may create today, hundreds of jobs at small businesses could be lost.” These authors tend to be overenthusiastic about small business, but they are right to pillory big capitalists.

A number of activists pointed out that many of the jobs would not likely be offered to working class people in the communities. As “Justice for all Coalition: united we all stand, LIC-Astoria”, put it in their “No to Amazon Profiticians” comments: “There are no legally binding conditions in the deal that require local hiring – not in local public housing campuses, nor across Western Queens.” So what were these new jobs? Would they be of use to the chronically unemployed who lived in the Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses near the Amazon project? As has been pointed out, the likely influx of higher-paid employees by Amazon would likely only sharpen the contradictions between neighborhoods gaining jobs and those losing them. Amazon promised certain training and recruitment programs for NYC for three years, but again, these are more fine words, not actual jobs. They largely mimicked what already exists and didn’t adequately target the local community.

What sort of jobs did Amazon demand? In their West Coast operations, Amazon had to be dragged recently into supporting the $15 minimum wage. That would hardly hold up in New York, but that’s the least of their concerns. Of course, a great deal of the employees that would be at the HQ2 facility would be technical/financial/professional types, and the average salary they claim at the facility would be around $150 thousand, they say. Still, there would be many thousands of blue- and white-collar workers. For the Amazon workers, as well as various sorts of technical people (software engineers, e.g.) who are looking to organize, Amazon’s deep ideological distrust of unions is notable. Here is what Amazon VP Brian Huseman said at a hearing of the NY City Council: “We do firmly believe that the connection we have to our employees, an open door policy, is the most effective way to respond to the concerns of the workforce.”

No one can miss that Amazon believes that only if it has control over each employee can the “concerns of the workforce” be satisfied. No room for any union interference here! What union leader could possibly bear such anti-union rhetoric? It turned out there were two. The leader of the SEIU 32BJ, Hector Figueroa, and the head of the Building and Trades Council President, Gary LaBarbera. They made disgraceful backroom deals with Amazon, technically their contractors, getting their unions in while freezing out thousands of other union members (Teamster and Retail, Whole and Department Store Union, e.g.) and in general disowning those workers fighting the bosses, whether in rank-and-file forms, with or without unions, or striving to get unions, etc.

Figueroa and LaBarbera were full of double talk trying to present Amazon as pro-union even as Amazon cursed unions. LaBarbera volunteered: “I’m very close with RWSDU and the Teamsters. They’re not opposing this. They want an opportunity to sit down with Amazon. I believe that Amazon recognizes where they are. Amazon has shown good faith to the unions – Building Trades and 32BJ – and obviously we support our brothers in labor. However make no mistake that we are here in full support of this project.” This statement has all the subtlety of a typical Amazon command. Now listen, the other unions are with us. You are isolated and we are with Amazon! Any questions?

Not to be outdone as an apologist for Amazon was Hector Figueroa of SEIU 32BJ. Leaving aside his abiding faith in Amazon and that the deal meant it would do holy work among the oppressed, Figueroa could not help but attack the workers and activists who upset Amazon and, in his mind, made Amazon leave. Figueroa could not even take the more liberal stand that Amazon acted too hastily, and perhaps shouldn’t have been so child-like facing criticism. But what can one expect from a mega-giant bully used to always having its own way? Moreover, he lectured workers and activists how they had blown such a great opportunity. He mouths off how they were: “Cutting off our nose to spite our face: Amazon’s pullout will be bad for the very workers that opponents of the deal claim to care about.” (2/15/18) Shame on Figueroa! Shame for being such a shill for Amazon and selling out other trade unionists and all workers.

What’s interesting about this is the basic logic of his argument he makes in his tirade. You shouldn’t fight to defend your rights in a better off union area because Amazon will go to a poorer non-union area. And in the end this will make Amazon more money. See how stupid you activists are? This is what SEIU and other union misleaders often do. They say, don’t fight for too much of a wage increase because if you do that, then your employer will go to a lower wage state and will make more money. So fighting for higher wages at your place is really helping your company.

This pervasive way of arguing among many present union leaders is what is really stupid. If Amazon goes from NY with 25% unions to Virginia with 4% it will have an advantage. Does that mean NY workers should not fight to maintain unions? That’s Figueroa’s logic. But when Amazon gets to Virginia, the workers there are not stagnant. They, too, will want higher wages, better conditions, and unions. They will want what NY or Seattle workers were getting for the same work. They will want solidarity with Amazon workers in NY and across the country. They won’t think like Figueroa. They don’t want to be the lowest-compensated employees. So the opponents of the Amazon deal have not “cut their nose” in vain as Figueroa scoffs they have stood by their class brothers and sisters for the betterment of all. Meanwhile Figueroa blows his nose and snivels in the corner.

For the record, not all the local unions looked on the Amazon deal favorably. Naturally, this might have changed had they been recognized by Amazon. Governor Cuomo attempted to bring in the Teamsters and the RWDSU to late negotiations, but by then Amazon had left.

One of the other issues that rankled the working people was Amazon’s effect on the communities in Long Island City, Astoria, and Western Queens, including public housing in Queensbridge, Ravenswood, Astoria, and Woodside. Only a couple will be mentioned here. The Amazon complex would have led to skyrocketing rents in these neighborhoods. In some neighborhoods there was already a process of gentrification, and this would have accelerated it. Rents would have tended to rise across the board, driving out small business but especially hurting renters and individual homeowners. The reason for this is that Amazon would need to house thousands of employees with incomes over $100,000 in new and older dwellings, and landlords would demand their rents rise in accord. Another feature of the effect on the community is that certain transit needs are being bypassed to meet the needs of Amazon. Because of the Amazon deal de Blasio wanted to go ahead with a revival of a trolley system that was pretty useless for the communities, while continuing to neglect the needed transit system. Tax revenue could have been taken from Amazon for such purposes as part of the deal, not given away, if Amazon had really cared.

Amazon and the other monopolies continue to hunt for cities where they can drive the workers as they see fit, where they can control all before them, where they are virtually the law. Many big-time politicians of both parties are lined up offering to please them, shoveling money in front of them. A few Democrats voice concerns. Many cowardly trade union leaders won’t stand up. The present-day union leadership is overwhelmingly capitalist in its outlook, and its worst features were on display in the Amazon deal. But the working people are not having it. They are the chief victims, and they are mobilizing. They found ways to organize themselves, and that was a step forward for further struggle at the workplaces and the working class communities. That’s what Amazon fleeing NYC really showed. <>

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Posted on March  27, 2019
Some typos have been corrected, and the figure for Bezos's income..