Indict the capitalist system

Seattle

The amount of houselessness in advanced capitalist society shocks everyone, especially the great masses living without a home. The specter of living on the street is terrorizing millions more who are facing exorbitant rents.

A group in solidarity with houseless people, Women in Black, held one of its many vigils in January for the 415 people who died houseless in Seattle and King County in 2023. The numbers come from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. Of the 415, 275 of them died in Seattle — in greenbelts, alleyways, doorways, vehicles and roadside encampments. This is 34% higher than the previous record of 309 in 2022.

On top of this, nearly 1,300 people died of drug overdoses or alcohol poisoning in 2023, mainly from fentanyl overdoses. These numbers and the number of houseless deaths often overlap, as houseless people sometimes turn to drugs to cope with the pain of living outside and of being injured, sick or disabled. For the working class, drugs are used to ease the pain of injury or mental illness suffered after long hours of working for the capitalists.

Hundreds of immigrant families seeking asylum and jobs have spent the winter living outside in a camp on the grounds of a small church just outside of Seattle.

Seattle protest against houseless sweeps of encampments in 2016.
Credit: mynorthwest.com/

Rent increases and evictions have greatly reduced the Black, Brown and Indigenous communities of Seattle, who are part of an exodus of the working class, generally from Seattle to the South End suburbs, changing the character of the city. But the city always needs workers to function.

Racist, ableist and classist propaganda blaming houseless people for their own suffering and the problems of society in general is part of the picture. It comes out of the mouths of thousands of capitalist politicians and the corporate media outlets. 

Houselessness is treated as a local problem and seldom is addressed as a huge countrywide issue demanding shelter and resources. There are people living houseless in every city and town in the country, regardless of whether the city as a whole is rich or poor.

Capitalism makes people houseless

The root cause of houselessness — which the media won’t admit — is capitalism. Monopoly corporations and hedge funds, including Amazon and Blackstone, a dominant real estate corporation, are putting their money into luxury housing and commercial real estate. It’s a highly profitable investment when they can charge rents starting at $2,000 a month. 

The average working-class person is completely left out of this market. Big owners of real estate control the media, politicians, the government and the police who, along with housing courts and judges, carry out evictions and foreclosures.

Amazon’s corporate headquarters in downtown Seattle employs 55,000 workers, mostly software engineers, with another 20,000 in the suburb of Bellevue. These highly skilled engineers work long hours and make well over $100,000 a year. They’re not the gentrifiers, but by paying high rents they are being used by the gentrifiers of capital to jack up the cost of housing.

This has all led to an enormous and totally unplanned crisis of the capitalist system — with an army of 40,000 unhoused people in the Seattle area alone. The crisis developed quickly due to the out of control advances in the means of production under high-tech capitalism. It was exacerbated by the government shutting residential mental health facilities across the country since the late 1960s and deliberately defunding mental health.

While the rich get richer

Take a look at the ruling-class rich who have profited greatly from real estate and high-tech capitalism. Here are the top 10 billionaires in the Seattle area and their wealth as of March 2023: Jeff Bezos (Amazon), $114 billion; Bill Gates (Microsoft), $104 billion; Steve Ballmer (Microsoft), $80.7 billion and MacKenzie Scott (Amazon), $24.4 billion. Also, Melinda French Gates (Microsoft), $6.5 billion; Charles Simonyi (Intentional Software), $5.2 billion; Gabe Newell (Valve Corporation), $3.9 billion; Howard Schultz (Starbucks), $3.7 billion; James Jannard (Oakley, Inc.), $2.2 billion; and Craig McCaw (McCaw Cellular), $2 billion.

The real estate industry financed the election this past November of a majority of anti-houseless representatives to the Seattle City Council, with the progressive Kshama Sawant choosing not to seek reelection. The views of the new Council members are totally out of sync with the sentiments of most workers. Platitudes of sympathy for the poor and false promises and politicians operating under false pretenses have allowed the city to get away with murder.

Using cops, contractors and bulldozers, the city has conducted thousands of unannounced sweeps of outdoor houseless camps — 900 in 2022 alone in Seattle. A whopping $38 million is currently being spent on sweeps while housing and shelter for the houseless are being shut down. Sweeps lead to ongoing displacement, raiding and destruction of all personal property, which is coupled with a lack of support systems. Meanwhile, a huge amount of residential and commercial real estate lies vacant.

But there is growing resistance to the war on the houseless. A Stop the Sweeps organization has disrupted some sweeps. The group has picketed City Hall and other public events. Unions are demanding and winning wage increases to keep up with the cost of housing.

Also, a grassroots-led ballot initiative was just passed in nearby Tacoma with protections against rent increases and evictions.

Jim McMahan

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Jim McMahan

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