Celebrating independence, embracing wage slavery

Pub date July 3, 2013
SectionPolitics Blog

On the eve of Independence Day, too many San Franciscans seem eager to give up on the very idea of independence, instead willingly buying into the divide and conquer strategies of those who seek to control and exploit us. Just consider the big news of the day.

On Day Three of the BART strike, mainstream and social media are once again awash with angry anti-union diatribes by people who are resentful of the fact that some workers in this society still manage to earn the pensions and decent salaries that most of us wage slaves are being denied.

Pensions are the one thing that allows the working class some degree of independence during its twilight years. And the average BART salary of $72,000 annually shouldn’t be considered excessive in an expensive city that will chew up at least a third of that in housing costs.

But they are each more than most of us are getting, so it’s easy to turn many people against their fellow workers, even though the real targets of our ire should be the bosses and economic system that are denying us our independence and the means to pursue our happiness.

It’s a similar story with the breaking news of the day: City College of San Francisco losing its accreditation and being turned over to state control. While there are some reasons to criticize how this important institution has been managed over the years, it was still being managed by locally elected trustees who made the best decisions they could under bad circumstances.

They made decisions to maintain a broad-based curriculum that this community wanted and needed, and to avoid exploiting the faculty like so many other educational institutions are doing, in the process taking a gamble with lower reserves than may be needed. And the voters of San Francisco stepped up to support CCSF with a parcel tax that was helping to ease it away from the brink, acting as a proud and independent community does during troubled times.

But a commission of unelected bureaucrats on a ideological mission to transform educational institutions into something less than the broad-based community resources that CCSF has strived to be decided to make an example of San Francisco. And they did so with the full support of Mayor Ed Lee, who issued a statement today criticizing local officials for not embracing even harsher austerity measures than they did, and saying “I fully support” the state takeover.

Lee’s hand-picked panel recommending reforms of the Housing Authority is also proposing to sacrifice the independence of poor San Franciscans in favor of ever-more subsidies to real estate developers, according to a story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.

Among the “reforms” is a proposal to divert federal money from the Section 8 program that offers rent-subsidies to the poor, as Chron reporter John Cote described like this: “A terribly run program that provides low-income residents with vouchers for private housing would be administered by the city, rather than the federally funded public housing agency. The vouchers would be prioritized for certain affordable housing projects, creating dedicated revenue to help secure loans to build them.”

So the vouchers that allow low-income people some independence — rather than living in squalid, chronically mismanaged public housing projects in San Francisco — will instead subsidize development projects. Yes, we do need to subsidize affordable housing development, which this city is underfunding, but we shouldn’t be taking the meager resources of society’s least fortunate families to do so.  

I have no doubts that Lee will jump at this suggestion (although its unlikely to be so eagerly embraced by federal regulators at HUD) given his penchant for shady real estate schemes that line the pockets of the powerful, like the one that the Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered this week.

CIR reported that the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Center — a for-profit company connected to Willie Brown that is arranging immigration visas for Chinese nationals who invest in Lennar’s Hunters Point housing development — is getting key help from Lee and members of his staff.

This project was already looking like a bait-and-switch scam, as we also reported this week, with Lennar being guaranteed profits without even putting up its own money, thanks to Lee’s willingness to use the power of his office to solicit funds on behalf of the country’s biggest residential developer.

If Lennar wasn’t going to build the affordable housing we need on the front end, or put up the money itself, why didn’t the city just administer this project and give the work to local contractors? What exactly is this Florida-based corporation doing in exchange for being handed some of the most valuable real estate in the city, except for helping its powerful local friends who pulled strings on its behalf?

What’s motivating Lee these days? Well, considering that Brown and other power brokers placed him in the Mayor’s Office after a career at City Hall doing their bidding — a role he seems to be still playing today in his powerful new role — I’d say it was a lack of independence.

It’s all pretty depressing, but at least we have a holiday tomorrow to celebrate our independence. Happy Fourth of July, comrades.