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Capital Blight - Grist's Ben Adler Throws the Working Class Under the Bus.

By x344543 - January 12, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Recently climate writer Ben Adler wrote an article, Hey, protester, leave those Google buses alone, excoriating anti-gentrification protesters for organizing a blockade of a private charter bus, contracted by Google, in protest of that company's contribution to the ongoing gentrification of the precious few remaining working class neighborhoods in San Francisco.

In the article, Adler made the rather glib argument that the protesters were ignoring the needs of the Earth, "because", he argued,

Driving in one’s own private car is far more elitist than sharing a bus with one’s coworkers. It is also vastly worse for the environment. The buses take cars off the road. Fewer cars mean less traffic, and less idling in traffic, which is especially polluting.

I'm sorry, but this has to be one of the most asinine articles Grist ever published, and it's wrong on so many levels.

First of all, to accuse those residents who are protesting very real economic threats to their ability to keep living in San Francisco with "class antagonism" is the height of accusing the victims with commuting the crimes. Capitalist economics, by nature, are institutionalized class antagonism of the working class by the employing class, and this is no different. If this were the mid 1850s, the author may very well have been accusing the abolitionists with stirring up "race hatred".

Secondly, it's highly ironic that Grist would be now defending Google, when they, themselves have rightfully called them out for organizing a fundraiser for climate change denying Senator Jim Inhofe (R, Oklahoma).

Thirdly, Adler makes a nonsensical argument that gentrification is "good for the environment", an argument which is contradicted by Adler's own previously published article, Pushing Poor People to the Suburbs is Bad for the Environment.

Indeed it is. Gentrification is a form of capitalist oppression which not only does not deliver on its own promises, it harms workers, people of color, and the environment. In fact, Gentrification is another form of colonialism.

Gentrification makes several promises:

  • removal of crime and blight;
  • raising of land & property values;
  • revitalized neighborhoods and economy;
  • like a rising tide, it raises all boats;
  • increased job opportunities;
  • tax revenue for city / community programs;
  • creates "cultured" neighborhoods and enhanced services.

In fact, Gentrification does not deliver on these promises and at best, perpetuates these problems in capitalist society.

That's not to say that Gentrification doesn't achieve at least some of these things in the targeted neighborhoods, but even where it does, it merely transfers the problems elsewhere, and the benefits in the targeted neighborhood overwhelmingly benefit the employing class.

Furthermore Gentrification creates new problems, including:

  • Displacement of existing residents and businesses;
  • Destruction of existing communities;
  • Shifting of costs from gentrifiers to the public;

In discussing the issue of gentrification, it's crucial to ask cui bono?

Historically Gentrification has existed for over a century, but it has been called different names, including "city beautification" and "urban renewal". Often it is discussed innocuously, as if it was proposed with good intentions which went awry in practice. Usually, at least in Western Capitalist societies, when Gentrification is criticized, it's held up as an example of the inherently flawed concept of "socialist" planning having "unintended" consequences.

It is, in fact, the capitalists (i.e. private and corporate business interests and their compliant agents of state and municipal governments) who plan these things, and far from going awry, their schemes usually accomplish exactly what they intend. It's those intentions that don't square with what's promised.

Gentrification serves the capitalist class in the following ways:

  • It displaces lower income residents (often renters) and even entire communities with higher income residents (many of whom have mortgages) and communities, thus resulting in higher profits (including bank loans, rents, and sale of real estate);
  • Property values in other, adjacent and nearby neighborhoods also increase, thus contributing to the rise in capitalist profits;
  • Petty crimes (as opposed to organized capitalist criminal activity, which generally benefits the capitalist class)--which mostly result from the poverty among the working class created by capitalist conditions --are "reduced" (read: driven elsewhere);
  • Higher income residents bring higher income commercial activity (such as fancy boutique shops, luxury cars, etc.);
  • Removal of low income communities also disrupts any organized countervailing political resistance to the capitalist class that might exist there;

In addition to the economic motivations, Gentrification often also has and continues to have a racial component as well.

Many of these so-called "blighted" communities are actually vibrant ethnic enclaves, each with distinct (even if troubled) cultures that exist legitimately in their own right.

Historically "blight" is code for "non- white" (Blacks and Whites alike often ruefully (or approvingly) quipped that "urban renewal" was code for "n----- removal".

Lastly, privatized buses do not necessarily benefit the environment either, because only certain people can take them, and their existence enables the continued erosion of public transportation systems (because politicians looking to further their careers dance to the tune called by the capitalist lobbyists who are demanding increasing austerity measures, which translates to cuts to public services, including public transit.

The core problem with this article is that the author is ignoring the fundamental truth that the destruction of the environment simply cannot be addressed independent of the ongoing, systemic class war perpetrated by the 1% against the 99%. The two are inextricably linked, and until that is accepted, the destruction of the environment will not cease.

Adler's ignorance on this issue only helps the employers continue to throw the Earth, not to mention the working class, under the capitalist bus.

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