Highway Robbery in Northern Virginia as Tolls Rise

I-95-signCommuters in northern Virginia are expressing outrage over road tolls as high as $6.65 for the new 95 Express lanes.  Although their website mentions fares up to 80 cents per mile, operating company Transurban has confirmed that they have charged commuters over $6 just to drive for one mile on the new Express lanes.

“There’s no reason I should have to pay that when they advertise between 20 cents a mile and 80 cents a mile approximately,” commuter Daniel Seymour told CBS. Seymour travels from Spotsylvania to northern Virginia for work every day.

Traffic on I-95 has become unbearable. It isn’t uncommon for commuters to be stuck in traffic that takes a half hour just to get five miles up the road.

Transurban’s contract with Virginia states that they must keep traffic at a constant 55 miles per hour on their toll roads in order to relieve the congestion that has plagued the Washington DC metro area for a very long time. The company attempts to keep traffic moving at a steady speed by increasing or decreasing the toll depending on the volume of traffic. However, there is no cap on how high they can raise the toll.

Working-class people suffer the most from the privatization of roads and the tolls that come along with it. This is just another regressive tax that workers have to pay, another tithe they have no choice but to give to big business.

VDOT says it needs $12.1 billion to maintain I-95 over the next 25 years, but corporate tax loopholes cause Virginia to lose $12.5 billion in tax revenue every year. 60% of corporations don’t pay taxes in Virginia because of these loopholes, but they are more than happy to impose taxes and fees on regular people through road tolls.

JCPenney Employee Sent Home for ‘Revealing’ Shorts, Quits

Stoel’s outfit, taken from Twitter

The story of a JCPenney employee from Sioux Falls, S.D. has been making rounds in the media lately. Sylva Stoel, 17, was sent home from work for reportedly wearing shorts that were “too revealing.”

“Boss sent me home for wearing ‘too revealing’ shorts that I bought from the store I work at in the career section,” Stoel said on Twitter.

She was at work for all of ten minutes before her manager approached her and asked if nobody had discussed the dress code with her during orientation. She was given the option to go home and change, but she decided to quit instead.

“They never said ‘no shorts’ at orientation. I never even got a handbook or anything,” Stoel told People Magazine.

While writing this, I called one of the JCPenney locations here in Richmond and asked if new employees are generally given an employee handbook. The answer was no.

Stoel says male employees would constantly violate the dress code without any consequences, and is shedding light on this policy as part of a wider criticism of sexist dress code practices.

While highlighting and working to combat sexism in the workplace, school, and anywhere else is important, we often overlook other factors at play. Young workers often have targets placed on their back by older colleagues or managers, and have to deal with everything from bullying to lopsided enforcement of the rules. Ageism is just as common as sexism, yet we refuse to talk about it.

The fact that JCPenney doesn’t give its employees a handbook is itself telling. Often management will try to keep workers in the dark about company policy by not issuing handbooks to certain individuals. In this case, they’re trying to keep everyone unaware of the policies. This makes it easier to fire or discipline employees in order to keep their workers docile and submissive, and to ensure a high turnover rate so that their employees won’t start demanding better pay or promotions. That is how the corporate world works.

My advice to young workers, or anyone else wanting to save their skin, is to request a copy of the company policies when you start working.

Capital One to Layoff Thousands of Workers

Capital One recently announced their plans for massive layoffs throughout the country. Workers in Virginia, Oregon, and South Dakota will be losing their jobs within two to three months.

The company hasn’t said how many people would lose their jobs, only that they will be closing down their offices in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Tigard, Oregon. Local news stations are reporting that 750 people in Sioux Falls and 900 people in Tigard will lose their jobs as a result. Reports suggest that their Richmond, Virginia office will remain open for business, but with less employees.

It is important to note that Tigard is in the Portland metro area and Capital One is one of its biggest employers. It is also the largest private sector employer in Richmond.

“We are transforming our Tech organization with a focus on engineering and simplifying the way we work,” the company said in a statement explaining the layoffs. What, exactly, this business-speak means is unclear, but our experts believe it translates to, “Although it isn’t necessarily an easier way to run our operations, it is cheaper and means bigger profits for our executives, so we’ll be doing it.”

Company officials are citing the inability to fill their positions as one of the reasons they’re leaving Sioux Falls, as if we haven’t heard such lies before.

“We’re obviously very disappointed but in a healthy economy these things happen,” said Pat Costello of the South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development. He is right, in a healthy economy workers will lose their jobs and see their pay decrease because that is how capitalists make their profits. To the rich and powerful who run the businesses that is healthy.

Capital One workers would do well to realize that they don’t share any interests in common with their employer. Their idea of a “recovery” and a “healthy” economy is clearly one where regular people struggle to meet their basic needs while the rich get richer at our expense.

Capital One workers should form committees and engage in a prolonged wildcat strike until the bosses agree to end the layoffs. Workers in places where the offices have been closed permanently should occupy them and either demand collective ownership of the building and equipment so they can keep working, or obstruct the removal of company equipment and supplies from the office in order to win their jobs back. What do they have to lose?

Child Poverty Rate Higher than Height of Recession

The child poverty rate is higher now than it was during the height of the “Great Recession” according to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Around 22% of American children live below the poverty line as of 2013, an increase from 18% in 2008. One in four children, or 18.7 million kids, are a part of families that live below the poverty line.

“It’s a much bigger issue that’s happening relating to residential segregation, the cost of housing and other factors,” said a spokeswoman for the nonprofit.

Child poverty plagues the African-American and Native American communities the most, according to the report’s findings.

It’s important to remember that the rich people who run the country were claiming there was a recovery in 2013 as well, and yet more children lived in poverty in a “recovery” year. This is what their idea of a “recovery” looks like. The poorer the working-class is, the easier it will be to make us work for lower wages, make us fall victim to loan sharks, or put us in jail. The problem isn’t a recession or poverty, the problem is capitalism.

A Response to Boots Riley

Boots_Riley_in_a_leather_jacket

Boots Riley

The Creative Times Reports and The Guardian recently published an article by rapper Boots Riley of The Coup. In this short piece, Riley discusses the Fight for $15 living wage movement and what he feels are the best tactics.

Riley states that fighting for living wage legislation is not enough, and simply causing a headache for powerful people through protests is not enough. He instead believes that workers should form entirely new unions and engage in extended strikes that would completely shut down the corporate machinery until the workers’ demands are met.

In general, his position is right. If workers want a living wage, they need to inflict pain on the wallets of the ruling class. They need to shut down production until the corporate executives give in. Living wage legislation that takes effect at a snail’s pace won’t do you any good if the water bill is due at the end of the month.

However, something he said didn’t sit well with me.

The New Left did things differently: no more showing people that they could stop the machinery of industry, forcing the bosses to meet demands or lose profit. Instead, their goal was to cause enough of a scene on the street that the media would cover it and embarrass administrators or politicians into meeting demands. This approach may have had some success at the time, but it’s not the model that today’s workers should use.

Our power lies not in the streets but at the pivot point of capitalism : the workplace.

Unfortunately, this position seems common. I have to disagree. Firstly, there are many working-class issues that cannot be solved in the workplace alone. Better public transit, for instance, requires that workers mobilize in the streets. Even struggles for better public services for workers can and will raise class consciousness. The working-class isn’t stupid, they know who really controls their local government and its public services. And they know why the wealthy would bend over backwards to prevent them from having things like better medical care or a better bus system.

Secondly, to describe New Left tactics as simply shaming and embarrassing powerful people is inaccurate.  If one reads Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and Reveille for Radicals, you will see that he organized people to do more than just shame the rulers. He organized people to shut down business as usual in the community. His people did everything to obstruct or stop corporate and government machinery from running.

Thirdly, where would modern organizing be without the contributions of the Civil Rights Movement? Who can forget activists clogging up the jails to the point that the local police and courts couldn’t function? Do you think the civil rights marches were just for show? Do you think violating the rules of segregation was about embarrassment? No, it was intimidating to powerful white people. The idea that black people were no longer controllable scared them into making at least some concessions.

Finally, the workplace is indeed the turf of the workers, but so are the streets. Most people on the streets are workers. We don’t have fancy resorts or golf courses to spend our free time in. We hang out on the sidewalk, on the basketball courts in urban areas, in city parks kicking a soccer ball around, or even outside shops with our friends. That is why the ruling class has been militarizing the police in recent years. They need to control the streets in order to control the working-class. So many black people have been gunned down in cold blood by police on the street. Not in the workplace, in the street.  Eric Garner died on the street. Sean Bell died on the street. Even poor white people like Kelly Thomas and James Boyd were killed on the street. Why? Because the streets are ours and the capitalists know that if they don’t control the streets, they don’t control us.

And what about the unemployed? Despite my best efforts, I have never had steady work. There has to be a place for the unemployed to join the struggle. Considering that, in many cities, close to 20 percent of 18 to 24 year olds are out of work, it would be unfair to the youth to exclude the streets or give them a secondary role. After all, someone has to organize the streets to support the strikes in the workplaces. Where would so many of the great historical strikes be without popular support from the streets? The Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions of the Arab Spring were won by workers stopping business as usual in both the workplace and the streets.

To ignore the power of mobilizing workers in the streets would be to ignore one of our class’ most valuable weapons. Yes, occupy the workplaces. Shut down production at work. Just don’t forget that the workplace is only one of the fronts that the class war is being fought on.

“Positive Attitude” Bullshit: On the dangers of “radical self-love”

Originally posted on Posse.:

There is an endless supply of people who are ready and willing to inform us about what we are doing wrong, and how we can alter our behaviour so we can get ahead and inject magic and happiness into our lives. Between modern day guru Gala Darling who believes “positive thoughts generate positive realities,” and you can “manifest” your own destiny, to capitalist public thinkers such as Oprah Winfrey telling us positive thinking can help us obtain “the sweet life,” it is easy to get misled into a muddle of mistruths.

A recent blog by Gala is entitled “Happiness is simple: why too many choices make us miserable and 5 ways to improve your life!” Yeah? Nah. Too many choices are not the issue for a huge majority of the political underclass; a lack of choice is exactly the problem. Whether it be lack of choice when it…

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Richmond Sanitation Workers Stage Wildcat Strike

Sanitation workers in Richmond, Virginia staged a brief wildcat strike this morning. Some workers called out sick, while others walked out in protest outside of the trash transfer station near Hopkins Road.

Workers are demanding a raise, permanent status for current temp workers, and better health benefits. Sanitation workers have not seen a raise in at least 5 years, and were promised raises on July 1st. The city never delivered on its promises.

Around 20 garbage trucks remained idle this morning while service to 60,000 homes was delayed. Strike leaders have been meeting with human resources all morning, and they say they could go on strike again if a deal is not reached by Thursday.

Judging from current news reports, there is no union behind this. The workers, intelligent human beings that they are, don’t need someone to tell them when they are being cheated. They know what is in their best interests and they took it upon themselves to fight for what they deserve.

Wildcat strikes are a glimpse into a better society where workers themselves will democratically control their workplaces.