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Tag: NYC

The Velvet Glove and the Iron Fist

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New York City public-sector workers marching in the 1950s. District Council 37

In the late nineteenth century New York City was covered in trash, ash, and horse shit. In addition to the dirt, garbage, and snow bedeviling New Yorkers today, the streets were strewn with mountains of cinders from innumerable coal-burning furnaces, and the excrescence of over two hundred thousand horses depositing sixty thousand gallons of urine and 2,500,000 pounds of manure onto the streets each day.

The dominant scientific theory of “miasma” attributed diseases like smallpox to airborne odors, and while the scholarly consensus was shifting toward the modern theory of germs, enthusiastic consensus remained that bad odors ought to be eliminated regardless.

Keeping the streets clean and unobstructed was paramount to public health, optimal circulation and consumption of commodities, and quality of life in a city where the rich and poor share many of the same streets. Street cleaning was therefore source of social power for the workers who could strike their tools and let the garbage pile up.

Beginning in 1888, New York sanitation workers did just that, embarking on a spate of successful strikes opposing speedup and late wages, and demanding a regular work schedule. Their struggle came to foreshadow the whole trajectory of public-sector unionism in New York City.

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Anti-Banality

Police Mortality from anti banality on Vimeo.

POLICE MORTALITY Trailer from anti banality on Vimeo.

Lovely May: A Scene From POLICE MORTALITY from anti banality on Vimeo.

STATE OF EMERGENCE Trailer from anti banality on Vimeo.

UNCLEAR HOLOCAUST Trailer from anti banality on Vimeo.

Unclear Holocaust from anti banality on Vimeo.

This Is New York City: A Scene From UNCLEAR HOLOCAUST from anti banality on Vimeo.

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Why Your Rent Is So High and Your Pay Is So Low

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IN THE 1950s, the average New York City apartment rented for $60 a month — around $530 in today’s money. With the US median wage at $5,000 a year, New Yorkers spent 1/10 of their salaries on rent. After World War II, apartments were so cheap and available that Manhattanites would regularly move every September just to get the landlord to repaint their new home. In those days, an apartment was a place to live. Now it is as much an investment as shelter.

Imagine trying to find an apartment in Manhattan for $530 now. It is almost inconceivable. These days a depressing number of young New Yorkers spend over half their income on housing. Rent hikes have transformed a once-democratic city into a playground for the privileged. Hardly anyone can afford to move to New York on an entry-level wage. It sometimes seems that the only twentysomethings that come to New York today have parents who help pay the rent.

During the boom years after World War II, Americans’ real wages more than doubled. A 30-year-old earned twice as much by the time he or she hit 50. This broad-based prosperity transformed the nation. In 1939, 25 percent of Americans didn’t have running water, only 65 percent had indoor toilets, none had television. By 1970, almost all had cars and dishwashers. The luxuries of an earlier age had become necessities. Between 1945 and 1973, the United States and the world experienced the greatest economic growth in history, not replicated before or since. Economic historians call those postwar years the Golden Age.

This explosion of affluence did not extend to New York City landlords. Rent control kept rent increases lower than inflation. Apartment prices remained stagnant. In 1976, you could buy a classic four-bedroom Park Avenue apartment in a doorman building for $36,000. Owning a building back then didn’t make you rich. Instead it was a drain on capital. The fires that devastated huge swaths of New York in the 1970s were generally set by landlords who saw insurance fraud as the only way to profit from their properties. The average rent that decade was just $335. You could rent a two-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village for $250 a month.

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Anthropocenes

Notes from the Anthropocene #1:

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On September 21, 2014, nearly 400,000 people took part in the People’s Climate March and Mobilization, winding their way from Central Park through Midtown Manhattan and ending with a block party celebration on the city’s mostly empty West Side (flooded during Sandy). Cleanly subdivided into six categories of political subjects—indigenous and environmental justice groups up front, a medieval combination of scientists and priests in the fifth, and finally “Here comes everybody! L.G.B.T.Q., N.Y.C. Boroughs, Community Groups, Neighborhoods, Cities, States, and more” in the sixth—the march called on the United Nations Climate Summit and governments around the world to steer a course towards appropriate “climate action” and “climate justice” on behalf of the groups neatly represented like meats and cheeses on a Hormel party tray. The following day, former anti-globalization and Occupy Wall Street activists, many on the payroll of this or that N.G.O., attempted a mass civil disobedience action on the blocks leading to the New York Stock Exchange. When the orchestrated non-violence of Flood Wall Street met the orchestrated non-brutality of the NYPD, ne’er an arrest occurred and the organizers called it all off, going home and turning the streets over to a few hundred unofficial protesters who were determined to be peacefully taken into custody.

As the United Nations met later that week to talk about talking about limiting global temperature rise to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) through a reduction in carbon emissions while simultaneously making economies, cities, and networks resilient, the People’s Climate Summit website released its own numbers: 400,000 people, 1,574 organizations, 50,000 college students, 5,200 articles, and 7 celebrity selfies. Homemade and mass-produced signs, puppets and inflatables, polar bear costumes and globes, thousands of buses whose bills were footed by non-profits and Gofundme.com, a pony-tailed Leo DiCaprio parading around as the U.N.’s Messenger for Peace, with a special focus on climate change issues. A success, they say, in launching the climate justice movement, a success as quantifiable as the parts per million of the upper safety limit for the atmosphere. As the march quickly faded into most New Yorkers’ memories, as when a million of us marched against the war that happened anyway, a variety of non-questions circulated to try to cement the march’s legacy. Was it too radical? Not radical enough? Too little too late? A photo-op? A corporate greenwash with the help of the “non-profit industrial complex”? 1 Non-questions for a non-world. Simply put, the Climate March was a blast from the past, mobilizing a set of political techniques and priorities that have literally been left behind by reality, by the new common in which we find ourselves.

A new epoch is certainly at hand; one need only trace the fault lines from the glacial barricades of Kiev’s Maidan across the radioactive swamp left by Fukushima’s failing ice wall to the “Winter is Coming” graffiti of Istanbul’s Gezi commune. Everywhere this age speaks its exhaustion, in the massive human efforts to break through and in the falling of idols. The once coherent subject around which the world was ordered stands in ruin as a neurotic information node whose closest relationship is with a cellphone or iPad. The claims to mastery over the world are being literally washed away by rising seas, while terminal diagnoses of our civilization proliferate as quickly as fantasies of the end (see the Walking Dead’s Terminus). As Brad Evans and Julien Reid describe it in their book Resilient Life, “We are living out the final scenes of the liberal nightmare in all its catastrophic permutations,” an epoch that is sensed just as much in the collapse of the Western Antarctic ice sheet2 and the bamboo barricades of Hong Kong as in the desertification of the Amazon rainforest and the death vows of the Lakota in the face of the KeystoneXL pipeline.3 Some people say the world is ending, but we say it is just a way of life, a certain order of things.

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Pussy Riot on America

New Pussy Riot song & music video on police brutality and the death of Eric Garner who was killed by NYC Police.

All Leberwürste unite!

To All Those Who Can’t Breathe