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YOUR MOVE, BOSTON

Boston Women's March 2017. Photo by Ryan Dorsey, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Generic.
Boston Women’s March 2017. Photo by Ryan Dorsey, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Generic.

 

Only a massive protest movement can stop government giveaways to megacorps

 

March, 2018

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

 

Boston politics—in both its state and local variants—seems to consist largely of backroom deals between government officials and major corporations punctuated by rituals of representative democracy that are increasingly put on just for show. Perhaps it has ever been thus. But that doesn’t mean that Bostonians have to like it.

 

One would be tempted to call this politics incipient fascism were it not all such a desultory affair—unsullied by any ideology other than a very primitive capitalist greed. And in that way, it is reminiscent of current federal politics. The fact that most of the damage is being done by people calling themselves “Democrats” rather than people calling themselves “Republicans” making almost no discernible difference.

 

Which is why it becomes tiresome to write about. One disgusting display of government servility to corporate power replaces another week by week, month by month. The storyline is always the same. Only the brand names change.

 

On the ground—physically close to the halls of actual power in the Financial District, Back Bay, and now the Seaport District, but a million miles away in terms of elite awareness—the situation is dire. People don’t have good jobs. Or affordable housing. Or adequate public schools. Or cheap, safe, frequent, and environmentally friendly public transportation. Or a proper healthcare system. Or pensions. Or sufficient leisure time. Or freedom from several kinds of debt peonage.

 

But city and state political leadership have no plans to fix these problems. Because they can’t do so without discomfiting the ascendant rich and powerful. So they squirrel around the edges. They juggle budget lines, and change program names, and reorganize departments, and send out obfuscatory press releases, and do whatever they can do to cover up the fact that they aren’t taxing giant companies and their owners nearly as much as they should be. And in failing to collect sufficient tax revenue, they lack the needed funds to fix the worst damage done by those companies.

 

Yet they never fail to find millions in ready cash for vast conglomerates like General Electric. And now Amazon. A multibillion dollar trust that did not pay a cent in US income taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—and is expecting a one-time $789 million break from thanks to Pres. Donald Trump’s kinder, more corporate-friendly tax plan.

 

So, sure, I could write another column this week inveighing against Mayor Marty Walsh’s new scheme to dump $5 million in local tax breaks on Amazon in exchange for bringing another 2,000 jobs to the city. Well, not to the actual city, but to job sites within 25 miles of the city, according to the Boston Globe. And not right away, but by 2025. Maybe. And dumping another $5 million if Amazon brings yet another 2,000 jobs to (Greater) Boston. Not the decent working class jobs that most Bostonians need, of course. Jobs that highly educated people from around the world will come to the area to fill. Exacerbating our housing, transportation, and environmental crises in the process.

 

And, yes, the proposed $5-10 million is not as much as Walsh arranged to throw at GE—in a deal swiftly running off the rails as that corporate behemoth crashes and burns thanks to the gentle ministrations of its own “activist” investors. But once Gov. Charlie Baker adds state money to the kitty, the new Amazon deal will start to look very similar to the earlier deal. Which he will almost certainly do. Given that he’s so excited for Boston to “win” the far larger “HQ2” boondoggle that he wants to pass a new law that will allow the Commonwealth to shovel truly epic wads of public lucre at the rapacious anti-worker multinational, according to State House News Service.

 

Yet with such deals becoming so frequent, it really strikes me that writing is never enough to change the politics that allows this kind of backroom deal making by itself—regardless of how boring or exciting it is for me to crank out. After all, providing information to the population at large only goes so far.

 

Political action is inevitably required. And not just by one journalist. Because stopping the public gravy train for corporations that are also among the biggest donors to state and local politicians’ war chests is going to take truly massive and sustained protest on the part of the people of Boston (and the rest of Massachusetts).

 

How massive? Well, remember last year’s Women’s March of over 175,000? Or last year’s 40,000-strong march against a few ultra-right weasels? That’s the scale of the street actions that would be required on a regular basis—in tandem with concerted and well-coordinated lobbying efforts—to not only stop particular giveaways to corporations like GE and Amazon, but to outlaw them. And, for good measure, start criminal proceedings against politicians and corporate leaders that collude to loot the public till.

 

Who will lead such efforts? Hard to say. But at the end of the day, I think it will be new entrants that will step into the political vacuum I’ve outlined, and directly challenge state and local government deals with major corporations. People like most of my regular audience. Working people, many without college degrees, that will finally decide that enough is enough. I think that the existing oppositional forces—ranging from the left wing of the Democratic Party through formations like Our Revolution to grassroots activist coalitions like Poor People’s Campaign to rising socialist organizations like Democratic Socialists of America to some of the more enlightened elements of organized labor—will play a role in the necessary popular movement that will emerge. But I suspect that the main energy will not come from those forces, but from new ones. As has been the case with the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements in recent years. The trick will be sustaining early momentum long enough to bring some big corporations down to earth. And then moving on to tackling the truly terrifying federal corruption.

 

Until that happens, it’s going to be one sad government giveaway to huge companies after another in Boston. And I’ll do my best to keep you all up to speed on at least the worst of them. But I look forward to the day that I can help chronicle the victory of a powerful movement for social justice. Rather than merely track democracy’s looming demise.

 

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

LIMITED DEBATE: BOSTON CONFERENCE TO DISCUSS SOCIALISM AS CORPORATE MEDIA BLOCKS NEEDED DIALOGUE

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Image by Tak Toyoshima

April 13, 2016

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

There was an interesting exchange last week between Sen. Bernie Sanders and General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt. In an interview with the editors of the Daily News, when asked for “a sense of corporate America, as the agent of American destruction,” Sanders said, “General Electric, good example. General Electric was created in this country by American workers and American consumers. What we have seen over the many years is shutting down of many major plants in this country. Sending jobs to low-wage countries. And General Electric, doing a very good job avoiding the taxes. In fact, in a given year, they pay nothing in taxes. That’s greed. That is greed and that’s selfishness. That is lack of respect for the people of this country.”

Immelt fired back a couple of days later in the Washington Post, “GE has been in business for 124 years, and we’ve never been a big hit with socialists. We create wealth and jobs, instead of just calling for them in speeches.”

Now the reason that Immelt can get away with that kind of nonsensical reply is that socialists like me haven’t been allowed to regularly participate in political debates in the mainstream news media for many decades. Perhaps that isn’t a shock given that the news outlets in question are ideologically capitalist. But American journalists—including the editors that run the outlets—pride themselves on being fair and accurate. Sadly, they are rarely fair or accurate when it comes to talking about socialism.

Hence, Immelt can say “we create wealth and jobs.” And there might be some opposition in the big press about his trying to paper over GE’s terrible track record with PR platitudes. But no one will challenge his core idea that GE leadership creates wealth and jobs. Because it is a capitalist position to say that managers and investors create wealth and the jobs that flow from it. Socialists, for our part, argue that labor creates wealth. Regular people working day in and day out build the wealth of a society. And they have every right to expect a fair share of that wealth. And more to the point, every right to expect democratic control over their workplace. As well as democratic control of the political system.

Immelt at the GE press conference in Boston this month | Photo by Derek Kouyoumjian

Immelt at the GE press conference in Boston this month | Photo by Derek Kouyoumjian

That democratic control of political and economic life, in a nutshell, is socialism.

The Sanders campaign has created a big opening for publicly discussing the merits of socialism in the US. But the major American press—owned, like the Boston Globe, by the very billionaires who control GE and other multinational corporations, and run by editors who believe that capitalism is the best possible economic system—is refusing to facilitate that very necessary discussion. In a country where nearly half of our children now live near the poverty line.

Last fall, I issued a challenge to the Globe to sponsor a discussion of Sanders’ statement on his definition of democratic socialism. I encouraged them to include area socialist thinkers—and there are many—in any such discussion. Unsurprisingly, Globe editors failed to do so. Other major news outlets aren’t exactly lining up to host such discussions either. Even as more and more Americans are calling themselves socialists, while the Sanders campaign shows every sign of powering through to the convention.

So, for the moment, Boston area readers who would like to find out what actual socialists have to say about socialism before the presidential election drama concludes should register for the Boston Socialist Unity Project (BSUP) conference on April 30 at Old South Church in Copley Square. The event is being organized by a coalition of socialist organizations. The best known speaker is Vijay Prashad, prolific author and international studies professor at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn, who will address the opening plenary on “Socialism in the 21st Century.”  Workshops will range across a number of timely topics—including the “ABCs of Socialism.” With registration at $10 per person (in advance or at the door), it’s a great educational opportunity for the price of a typical lunch.

Check it out. Engage with socialist ideas directly than relying on the straw man version of them set up by the capitalist news media. Then join me in thinking about how we can build a more democratic news media.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.