By MARTY GOODMAN
On Nov. 13, after long secret negotiations, two New York “progressive” Democrats, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, jointly announced that Amazon will place one of two new corporate “headquarters” in New York City and the other in Arlington, Va.
Virtually kissing the feet of Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, whose personal wealth is $166 billion, both Democrats have bestowed upon Amazon about $3 billion in tax breaks and construction grants, which include even a nifty helipad for its owner.
Amazon is said to be worth a mind-boggling $1 trillion. Bezos, the richest man in the United States, also owns the Washington Post newspaper, worth $250 million and Whole Foods, purchased by Amazon for $13.7 billion in 2017.
New York State offered $1.525 billion and the city is giving $1.28 billion to locate in Long Island City, in rapidly gentrifying Queens, a short train ride from Manhattan. The Wall Street Journal reports a “condo gold rush” in Queens.
Capitalist politicians of more than 238 cities had competed to secure the Amazon deal, offering an orgy of tax write-offs and concessions—to be paid for mostly by working people—totaling some $200 billion. In a bait-and-switch operation, Amazon sought detailed demographics of those cities only for later use in target marketing, after pitting each city against the other. Negotiating blind, cities were made to sign non-disclosure agreements, thus seeking to suck out as much taxpayer cash and concessions as possible from billionaire-loving Republican and Democratic Party politicians.
For its part, Amazon promises 25,000 new jobs in New York City, with an average salary of $150,000, far above the average salary of the nearby Queensbridge Houses, the largest housing project in the U.S., where the poverty rate is near 50% and the average income is below $20,000. Amazon says it will spend $5 million in training. Another 25, 000 jobs are promised to Arlington.
Billions in bribes
The secretive deal circumvents New York’s city council and New York State legislative oversight, with land usage powers at the state level seen as the only, although unlikely, obstacle. Governor Cuomo claims, to the outraged disbelief of many observers, that the rewards from Amazon’s investment will cost New Yorkers “nothing,” despite billions in bribes. State Senator Michael Gianaris, who represents Western Queens, said, “The state and city should be embarrassed. They got taken, plain and simple.”
Amazon will circumvent the usual land review process overseen by the city council. The secretive deal makes use of a state General Project Plan, an approach used in other developments like the colossal giveaway to the Atlantic Yards developers in Brooklyn (see below).
Raymond Normandeau, a resident of Queensbridge Houses since 1973, told the on-line Gothamist, “It’s pure bullshit. They’re never going to hire us for these jobs. Only a country bumpkin like de Blasio or Cuomo would believe this shit.”
Enrique Peña, a Queens College student, told an Amazon protest that Cuomo’s refusal to fund state public universities says, “We’re denying education funding to hardworking New Yorkers.” “So why,” he said, “are we giving a huge tax break to the wealthiest man on Earth?”
Taking on the corporate onslaught is a coalition of community groups and unions. Cathy Rojas, an organizer of a Dec. 16 rally against the Amazon deal, told the crowd, “Amazon’s presence will further drive up rents in Queens, which is already experiencing the country’s largest rent hike. It will lead to more racist harassment of local public housing residents and it will strengthen the power of anti-union corporations. Despite de Blasio’s campaign rhetoric, he’s helping New York City become a playground for the rich-and it’s time to stand up!”
Extensive investigation by The New York Times and others, reveals Amazon’s work culture as one that encourages employees to tear each other down, rat each other out to the boss—working long hours and being held to standards that Bezos brags are “unreasonably high.” Model workers are often described as “athletes.” Its “purposeful Darwinism,” said one former Amazon human resources director.
The mindset of Amazon has also attracted the attention of immigrant rights activists for the sale of its facial recognition software, “Rekognition,” to ICE and police departments nationwide to aid in detention and deportation and to build a facial recognition database.
Amazon, in its never-ending drive for loot, is believed to be seeking to take advantage of a section of the $1.5 trillion tax giveaway to the rich sponsored by Trump. The provision rewards investment in “Opportunity Zones” in the form of massive tax write-offs. The neighborhood in Long Island City is viewed as depressed and likely subject to write-offs for Amazon and other real-estate sharks, driving out working class residents and small businesses.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: “Progressive Democrat”
So craven was the role of Mayor de Blasio, a politician who has described himself as a “democratic socialist,” actually had orange lights turned on in October at the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, the Bloomberg Tower and other midtown locations, in what his office called “Amazon Orange,” sparing no expense—or embarrassment—in luring Amazon.
Indeed, many observers have noted that New York City, also home to Google and Facebook, was the obvious favorite all along, the bribes being corporate gravy.
Running on a populist theme of a “Tale of Two Cities,” de Blasio took office in 2014, after taking in most of the local left. Immediately, de Blasio appointed as NYPD chief William Bratton, an architect of the widely condemned racist “stop and frisk” policy. De Blasio pushed five re-zoning schemes, mostly in non-white neighborhoods, most recently in the mostly Hispanic low-income Inwood section of northern Manhattan.
Enraged Hispanic activists and others blockaded streets and occupied a local politician’s office, branding de Blasio’s thinly veiled gentrification as “ethnic cleansing.” Even so, the re-zoning passed in a City Council vote with overwhelming Democratic Party support (see Socialist Action, September 2018).
Mirroring Governor Cuomo’s deep indebtedness to big real-estate interests is De Blasio’s love affair with developers who have destroyed much of the city’s available working-class housing. In the early 2000s, elected “public advocate” Bill de Blasio backed the Atlantic Yards giveaway in Brooklyn to powerful real-estate developer Bruce Ratner, a donor to de Blasio’s election campaign.
Ratner went on to build Brooklyn’s $1 billion Barclays sport center, employing the state’s “eminent domain” powers despite sustained neighborhood protest. The cynical deal included promises of an over-priced “affordable housing” project of 2250 units, with “only” 450 going to the better-off middle class. The “affordable housing” project, announced in 2003 and said to take 10 years to complete, is now to be finished in the 2030s.
On Nov. 30, Mayor de Blasio was in Burlington, Vt., to latch up with Senator Bernie Sander’s launching of a so-called “Progressive International.” The concluding panel, which included Bernie Sanders and Greek social democrat Yanis Varoufakis (but not de Blasio), made no mention of capitalism as the root cause of war, inequality, and climate change—injustices they claimed to challenge.
Socialist Action stands with the working people of Queens in their fight against Amazon. We join them in seeking to build mass opposition to the corporate raiders and their billionaire-loving buddies in the Republican and Democratic Party.