Working people are facing a crisis more severe than seen by most of us in our lifetimes. Over 25,000 Americans are now dead from COVID-19, and more than 125,000 globally. The scale of human devastation is no accident but is directly due to the negligence of Trump, the corporate elite, and the capitalist system itself, which puts profits ahead of all else even in a pandemic.
The recession now underway is increasingly being compared to the Great Depression. Several weeks ago, 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment, breaking all prior records. The next week, the record doubled with another 6.6 million filings, and now the total is over 17 million.
According to the Seattle Times Editorial Board’s op-ed last week, “only the most out-of-touch politician would think it’s now time” to tax big business. On the contrary, I think it has never been more timely for our city’s wealthiest corporations to pay their fair share than during this crisis.
Working people have watched Trump and the political establishment pass trillions in bailouts and loans for big business while working people face massive unemployment, lack of access to testing and healthcare, and inadequate personal protective equipment for frontline workers. While some federal relief is underway for working families, it will not be enough, and many will not receive it.
Seattle’s wealthiest businesses can certainly afford to pay the modest proposed tax. Our city’s biggest employer, Amazon, is making huge profits off the crisis and this week saw its stock price hit a record high.
There is no time to waste in providing COVID-19 relief, and further burdens cannot be put on ordinary working people, many of whom increasingly can’t afford basic expenses. Almost a third of renters in the U.S. couldn’t pay April rent. Long before this crisis, Washington state has had the nation’s most regressive tax system, where ordinary people carry the overwhelming burden, while big business enjoys a virtual tax haven.
All of this is why I’ve worked with the Tax Amazon movement and Councilmember Tammy Morales to put forward this legislation to fund COVID-19 relief and build social housing.
We can’t rely on the political establishment. We saw how 7 out of 9 Seattle’s City Councilmembers betrayed working people with their shameful repeal of our 2018 big business tax. That’s why Tax Amazon has filed a grassroots initiative and is collecting signatures on its ballot petition online, while also preparing a major mail-in campaign to collect print signatures.
The Seattle Times Editorial Board calls our fight for housing and jobs “divisive” and “spiteful.” What is really “divisive” is forcing workers to pay for this crisis while big business gets one of the biggest bailouts in American History. What is “spiteful” is firing workers for standing up for safe working conditions and smearing them as “not smart, or articulate,” as Amazon executives have done.
A business-as-usual approach by the political establishment will mean bankruptcy, evictions, and budget cuts to essential services for ordinary people while they face this historic threat to their health and lives.
Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat also opened fire on Tax Amazon this last week. Westneat appears to have never met a tax on the rich that he liked, from Initiative 1098 to the 2018 Amazon Tax to the present proposed legislation. He highlights assisted-living provider, Aegis Living, as supposedly being unfairly targeted. But our tax is only on the top 2% of Seattle’s wealthiest businesses and Aegis is no struggling local mom-and-pop. It’s a private, for-profit company with 39 west coast properties, $2.5 billion in assets, and $300 million in annual revenues, according to CEO Dwayne J. Clark. Aegis, which boasts about underpaying its hardworking and dedicated staff, can easily afford this 1.3% tax. Our movement has in fact made a conscious choice to exclude non-profits, cooperatives, and grocery stores from the list of businesses that would pay. But of course, it’s no surprise to see such attempts to distract from the fact that our tax is only on the wealthiest corporations.
The corporate media is now spinning doomsday scenarios about job losses, which sound suspiciously like those we heard when our movement fought to successfully make Seattle the first major city to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage. Whenever working people dare to expect more than toil and misery, we are told it’s bad for the economy or impossible. Well, the sky didn’t fall when Seattle passed $15 an hour, and it won’t with the Amazon tax either. In reality, our legislation will be a major jobs program—creating good-paying union jobs during this recession and after by building up to 8,000 new affordable homes for working people while upgrading existing housing to Green New Deal standards.
We’re seeing renters across the country getting organized for a rent strike on May 1 due to the longstanding crisis of sky-high rents that is now being greatly exacerbated by the pandemic. The for-profit market has utterly failed to meet the needs of working people. That’s why we’re fighting for a public alternative.
The time is now. Let’s Tax Amazon for emergency COVID-19 relief and to fund a major public program of high quality, green, permanently affordable homes for ordinary people. I hope you will join us.