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Monday, 14 May 2018 07:30

Amazon vs. Seattle Affordable Housing Activists

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Seattle 0514wrp optSeattle skyline. (Photo: Cris Pierry / Flickr)Seattle's socialist city council member Kshama Sawant is leading a local campaign to impose a tax on large corporations that do business in the city. The Employee Hours Tax would be levied against all businesses with an annual revenue of $20 million or more and would be based on the number of hours worked by their employees. This effort is designed to raise $150 million for the construction of affordable housing.

The Seattle City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposal May 14.

Recently, both King County and the city of Seattle have declared states of civil emergency due to a massive increase in homelessness. At least 11,643 residents of the county currently have no access to permanent housing. According to the latest one night count, 4,000 people were found sleeping outdoors in Seattle.

The region's homeless population is the third-largest in the US. Only New York City and Los Angeles have more residents without permanent shelter.  

Supporters of the Employee Hours Tax have been organizing their campaign on social networking sites. Kshama Sawant has spoken in favor of the tax at rallies and has encouraged Seattle residents to attend city council meetings.

Sawant claims that Amazon's halt of a new building project ahead of the city council vote amounts to "extortion."    

Amazon is now considered one of the richest corporations on the planet, worth $700 billion.

Representatives from big business are opposed to the new proposed Employee Hours Tax. Amazon's Web Services CEO Andy Jassy called the plan "super dangerous."

After the city's task force on homelessness proposed the tax plan, major public relations campaigns were launched by businesses who do not want to see the new tax law implemented.

The schism in the community has resulted in a heated political battle which is being waged in the media and on the streets, where affordable housing activists have organized a march on Amazon headquarters.

A wealthy business establishment has squared off against progressives and socialists who are dedicated to creating affordable housing. The housing advocates blame gentrification and corporate developments for the increase in homelessness.

It's difficult to see how big business can spin this one in their favor. Either you oppose homelessness and want to end it, or you believe in business as usual with no social conscience or accountability for corporations; the choice is very clear.

If businesses are opposed to compensation for dislocations and social disruptions caused by their influence on the local community, then what does that say about their commitment to ethics and accountability?

Over the last two years, Seattle residents have witnessed some of the fastest and most expansive real estate developments in the history of any city. Billions of dollars have been invested in building corporate towers. Construction cranes now dominate the quickly changing skyline. It's the IT Gold Rush!

Meanwhile, Seattle's progressive reputation as a "livable city" -- with a high standard of living is being challenged nationally. Rents have skyrocketed, leading to the displacement of entire communities of people and large homeless encampments have developed across the region.

Somebody has finally got to demand corporate responsibility from the businesses that have transformed our city into a place reserved only for folks with a lot of money. People simply can't afford to live here anymore.

Corporations that do business in Seattle must be held accountable and accept responsibility for the displacement and economic hardship they have brought to most of Seattle's residents. It's not enough just to make a huge profit for the stockholders and offer jobs to qualified applicants. Amazon and other billion-dollar companies have got to become good community partners who show that they care about the best interests of the cities where they operate.

If levying a tax on these large corporate entities can help balance the scales of economic justice, then it is a worthy cause. People are merely asking for accountability, responsibility and transparency from businesses operating in their community. If that's too much to ask, then the corporate interests who have transformed our city are not acting as good community partners.