East Village Community Coalition

There is an organization in the “East Village” called the East Village Community Coalition. I don’t know how long they’ve been around, but a whois search shows their web site was created on 08-Jun-2004, so it’s probably safe to assume they came into being some time around then.

They’re pretty secretive, too. Their registrant, admin, and tech contacts are masked. But that’s not why I’m writing about them. I want to discuss their
Guide to East Village Local Shops.

This is from their web site:

evcc-shopping-guide

Point by point:

Choose creativity and personality over uniformity – If you shop in one place because you like the color of the paint, or don’t shop in another because you don’t like the awning, it’s all the same. Besides, many local shops show neither creativity nor personality, and uniformity, in itself, is not a bad thing. And there are plenty of chain stores that vary their appearance. I suspect there will be more of this in the future, as they try to meet the demand for this type of “creativity and personality”.

Provide economic diversity and stability – It makes no sense to speak of “economic diversity” within such a small area. A country might have economic diversity, even a city, but when you break it down to ever-smaller localities, like neighborhoods, you can’t maintain this. It makes no sense, under any mode of production, to have manufacturing, distribution, retail, finance, agriculture, etc., all in one square block.

I doubt that the EVCC really expects manufacturing or agriculture to exist here. They understand the division of labor. They’re talking about retail only, which means that they want to take the level of productive forces as they’re given, and freeze them there.

Keep more of your money in your community – Does shopping locally keep money within the community? Leaving aside for now what “the community” really is, let’s set the boundaries as Houston Street on the South, 14th Street on the North, the East River on the East, and Third Avenue on the West. Imagine this is a closed system, with no money coming in and no money going out. (If the “East Village” were actually isolated from the rest of the global economy, it would die off in no time. Still, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine this.)

All value, in the capitalist sense, is created within this closed system. No money/resources/people come in or go out, and everything functions under the capitalist mode of production. People go to work and make commodities that are sold only inside these boundaries – wages to the workers, profits to the owners. Right away you can see, in a very short time, there would be a crisis of overproduction. Assuming everyone can buy one of everything produced on their wages, once they have what they need they won’t need more. The producers would have to look outside these boundaries to sell their wares, and the local paradigm is demolished. This is essentially the national economy, reduced to the area described above.

And what about the surplus population? There are not enough jobs provided by the local businesses in the “East Village” for everyone who lives here. People will have to emigrate to other neighborhoods and send money back home. Which is, of course, what actually happens. Almost no one who lives in this geographical area works here. While the EVCC tells us to keep the money in the neighborhood, they couldn’t survive without its coming from outside the neighborhood.

Which is a good thing, because it’s the retailers themselves who are sending the money out! Since there is no manufacturing or agriculture here, local retailers sell commodities manufactured somewhere else, or with raw materials originating somewhere else, whether it’s tchotchkes at Alphabets or coffee at Mud.

The first section of EVCC’s Guide is Cafes. Cafe types, and some of their non-local ingredients, are:

Cafe Type Imports
Bakeries Butter, Flour, Sugar
Cafes Coffee
Candy & Chocolate Chocolate, Sugar
Ice Cream Eggs, Milk, Sugar, Vanilla
Juice Bar Fruits, Vegetables
Tea Shop Honey, Sugar, Tea

 
The next section is Fashion. Most of the retailers don’t make what they sell: Dinosaur Hill, Jane’s Exchange, Village Kids Footwear, etc. It’s possible that some others do, but they don’t make the sewing machines or material or thread. The other categories are: Galleries; Gifts; Florist; Health and Beauty; Culture, Music, Entertainment; and Specialty Services. It’s the same with all of them.

Create local jobs with fair living wages – The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows little variation in pay for professionals and managers by establishment size, but differentials widen as you move down the status hierarchy. Data entry clerks in small establishments earned 7% below the national average, while those in large firms earned 20% above. Gaps for janitors were wider, and those for laborers were wider still.

This fact persists regardless of occupation, industrial sector, education, experience, geographical location, union status. Workers in larger firms are more likely to be covered by company-paid health insurance and have some type of retirement plan. Also, worker safety is worse in small businesses — “Size and risk are inversely correlated at all levels of scale,” according to an International Labour Organization report.1

Sustain small business owners who strengthen the local economy – Redundant.

People who make the claims made by EVCC like to point to studies that show how much money stays in the community with small business than with larger businesses. One study conducted in Chicago found that for every $100 spent by customers, $43 stayed in the area for chains, while $68 stayed in the area for non-chains. One problem with this is that the geographical boundaries were the entire city of Chicago, so money that moved from a poor neighborhood to a richer neighborhood was still considered to be “local”. Likewise with the “East Village”. Many of the owners/workers do not live here. The money they make leaves the neighborhood daily.

A bigger problem is that this is only a measure of profits. For the chain, some part of the profits, or even gross revenue, is sent to the corporate office, leaving the manager with less to spend than the owner, but this assumes that the owners spend all their profits. Owners reinvest profits, or they use them to pay their more-expensive mortgages or vacations or restaurant bills. The argument ultimately centers on filling the capitalist class’s luxury-goods market, something that doesn’t even exist in the “East Village”.

Defend our neighborhood’s identity – Is the neighborhood’s identity really defined by its retail shops? This is definitely a petite-bourgeois perspective! Anyway, this neighborhood’s identity was defined by the real estate industry, not the retail industry. The term “East Village” was coined by real estate developers in the 1960s as a way to attract renters, by linking the area above Houston Street with Greenwich Village, and disassociating it from the Lower East Side’s immigrant, working-class roots.

Fight the lie that “low prices” at chain stores makes up for the loss of local business ownership – Low prices benefit workers, local business ownership benefits owners. Welcome to the class struggle.

***

A few things about small businesses that I’ve written about before, but which bear repeating:

Unemployment Insurance – If employees are paid in cash, there is no record of their employment, making it impossible for them to collect unemployment when they lose their job.

OSHA Requirements – If a company has fewer than 25 employees, their penalty is cut by 60 percent. If the business has fewer than 10 employees, they’re exempt from many requirements that obligate them to report workplace injuries.

Discrimination Laws – Federal laws against discrimination in the workplace do not always apply to small businesses. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act apply to employers with 15 or more employees. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies only to employers of 20 or more people.

Employee Health Insurance – Beginning in 2014, employers will be expected to pay a “shared responsibility fee” for health insurance coverage under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. Small businesses are exempt from this rule. If the company has fewer than 50 employees, they have no healthcare responsibilities.2

=-=-=-=-=

1The Small Business Myth
2Small Business Exemptions

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Fallout

I posted Class Struggle on Avenue A on November 11 at 15:29. Twenty minutes later, a founding member of No 7-Eleven NYC wrote on his blog:

    NO711 is headed towards a racially divided face-off […]
    At a meeting with the NO711 group in June, I let the group
    know that I didn’t want to be involved…

I commend him for this action. Not so much leaving the group, which happened back in June, in any case, but for making it public. I had a feeling that my post would bring us back into contact, and when it did, I already had my reply ready: to preserve your self-respect, publicly divorce yourself from the group. I did not expect him to beat me to the punch.

Meanwhile, no other blog has picked up on this. The N7E blog says nothing about it, not even a fare-thee-well. And EV Grieve, who’s written about them 38 times this year (maybe more, if any of the posts are missing the “No 7-Eleven” tag), is also silent about it. Likewise with The Villager, another of their cheerleaders.

Am I the only one who thinks this is newsworthy?

***

As regular readers of Quilas know, N7E has been gathering outside the 7-Eleven on Avenue A every Sunday afternoon since the store opened, calling for a boycott. While researching “Class Struggle…”, I came across a comment of his, that I used in another context elsewhere:

fallout-boycott-useless

I’m starting to wonder to what degree he was pushed out?

***

Speaking of The Villager, they ran a story last week called “Small shops already feeling the crunch from 7-Eleven”.

    Although 7-Eleven is a cheaper alternative to traditional mom-and-pop stores, the majority of local residents The Villager recently polled about the new store agreed with No 7-Eleven. They said they would rather preserve the small businesses in the area than save money.

“[T]he majority of local residents The Villager recently polled” were the twelve people standing outside the store holding signs!

If you’re going to argue against large corporations like 7-Eleven, or Wal*Mart, you can’t use the argument that their prices are lower, unless of course your audience has a higher discretionary income. When has The Villager ever run an article titled: “Small stores gouge customers with higher prices”?

Their article ran with a chart bearing the title “Can a bodega compete with 7‑Eleven?” (What do they think competition is?!) I revised it, below:

price-chart''

For the record, I checked these prices today, as I did my Thanksgiving shopping. Carnation Evaporated Milk, 12 oz can, 10 for $10! Do bodegas even have evaporated milk?

Workers Need Not Apply

There are a number of web sites that report on news of the Lower East Side: The Villager; The East Villager; The Lo-Down; NoHo News; to name a few. There are also more personal-type blogs that cover local events. Of all of these, only one reported on the recent walkout by fast-food workers that occurred on August 29, even though there are twenty fast-food restaurants in the Houston-to-14th, Avenue D-to-Broadway quadrangle. That site was Quilas.

The Villager is owned by NYC Community Media LLC, which owns the following papers: Chelsea Now, Downtown Express; The East Villager; Gay City News; and The Villager. Not one of these papers mentioned the day of walkouts, neither announcing that it would occur, nor reporting on it afterwards, despite the number of fast-food restaurants that exist in this area:

local-newspaper-map

Although these papers position themselves as neighborhood newspapers (with the exception of Gay City News), they are relatively uniform in their reporting (many of the same stories, written by the same people), and absolutely uniform in their endorsements of political candidates for the primary election:

endorsements

NYC Community News is itself owned by Jennifer Goodstein. Through each of these newspapers, they demonstrate their hostility to workers’ interests. In their endorsement of Christine Quinn for Mayor, they write:

    She would be a tough negotiator with the unions, which will be critically important for the next mayor.
    The East Villager, The Villager.

    …the city wrestles with fundamental questions about how policing is carried out as well as critical challenges regarding affordable housing, schools, healthcare access and public employee union contracts [Emphasis mine –Q]
    Chelsea Now, Gay City News.

    She also understands the city’s budget process, and is an experienced hand who can run the difficult labor negotiations to come. [Emphasis mine –Q]
    Downtown Express

Both of these papers (The Villager and The East Villager) also recently ran an article titled “Will a Democrat for mayor stand up for small stores?” followed-up a month later with “Who has the guts to fight for our small businesses?” Advocating for small business is a coded way of attacking workers’ rights. Small businesses don’t want the minimum wage to increase, nor do they want paid sick days. Neither do large businesses, but they can’t very well advance their agenda by writing: “Who has the guts to fight for our large businesses?”, or “Who has the guts to fight the increase in the minimum wage?” They know that if fast-food workers are successful in achieving their goal of $15/hour, it will have an upward push on their own workers’ wages.

Interestingly enough, through The Villager and The East Villager, NYC Community News endorsed a Republican candidate. They describe him as “a self-made man,” which is true only if “self-made” means on the backs of his workers.

***

The “personal-type” blogs didn’t write anything about the walkouts either. In their effort to oppose chain stores, they cannot bring themselves to support the people who work in fast-food restaurants (unless they can use it as a cudgel against the chains themselves). For that matter, they don’t support the workers who work in the small businesses they favor. It’s as I wrote before, workers are not a part of the “community”. Community members are shopkeepers and their customers, only. But even that’s tenuous, as I will discuss in a future piece.

When I first started writing Quilas, I wrote that some day the banner of “East Village” activism would be raised to fight the increase in the minimum wage. I think that day is drawing near.

Keep The “East Village” Weird?

Back in April, Reverend Billy came to preach in Tompkins Square Park.


 
Anyone who’s seen the show Portlandia is no doubt familiar with the unofficial slogan of the town that’s shown in the opening credits: Keep Portland Weird. It’s the slogan on over 18,000 bumper stickers1 in the Portland area, and many more t-shirts, no doubt. What people probably do not know is that Keep Portland Weird is a marketing campaign:

    Keep Portland Weird is about supporting local business in the Portland Oregon area. We want to support local business because they make Portland stand out from other cites and make it a more unique place to live. They do this by providing consumers a wide range of products that represent the different cultures that make up Portland.2

Culture is expressed through one’s purchases. The web site itself is an online shop, where KPW tchotchkes can be bought.

kpw-whats-weird

Weird umbrellas! Weird soy candles! Weird keychains! Weird stickers!
Weird refrigerator magnets!

Weird.

This campaign is modeled on a similar one in Austin Texas, with a surprisingly similar name: Keep Austin Weird. The campaign was launched by the Austin Independent Business Alliance, with the same goal of promoting shopping at small businesses in Austin.

But this isn’t about Portland, it’s about the “East Village,” and what could be the development of a similar strategy here. Reverend Billy says “We’re not the product of a corporate marketing campaign,” but to what degree is the “East Village” the product of a small-business marketing campaign? To what degree does someone “make themselves up” when all of the accessories are already on the shelves, ready to buy?

It may not be a concerted effort yet, but it’s just a matter of time. The sensibility is there, and so is the language. Key words are: sustainable, responsible, local, community. You almost never see one of these words without the others. Once you see the word “weird” in this mix, you’ll know it’s started.

***

Probably the most insidious thing about the Weird movement is its racism. A resident of Portland, Linda Ueki Absher, wrote a piece for Counterpunch called Keep Portland White!

    But as I wander pass the organic coffee houses chock-full of thirtyish men with full-on lumberjack beards and defiant beer bellies, or boutiques filled with mock Goodwill cardigans selling for prices once considered exorbitant monthly rent, the message is unmistakable: I am not a member of the Keeping-it-Weird club.

After retiring from the Univesity of Pennsylvania – Johnstown, former Economics professor Michael Yates spent some time travelling around the country, and wrote about his adventure in a book called “Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate: An Economist’s Travelogue.” About Portland, he wrote:

    The most distressing thing about Portland, and the fact that most belied its liberal image, was its racism. A writer once called Portland the “last bastion of Caucasian culture.” It is certainly a white town; less than 7 percent of the population is African-American. Even the city’s homeless are nearly all white, as are all the young people asking for money. Blacks who gravitated to Portland to work in the wartime shipyards were housed in a flood plain of the Columbia River and were soon enough driven out by high waters. The ghettoes where they were next allowed to live were destroyed by highway construction. Today the tiny black community is scattered over several mostly poor neighborhoods. Despite the small number of black residents, whites were inordinately hostile to them.

    There is a growing Hispanic community in both Portland and the rest of Oregon. … Not surprisingly, anti-immigrant sentiment resonated in Portland. A history of racism – Oregon had anti-miscegenation laws until the Supreme Court overturned these in the late 1960s – and high unemployment made workers susceptible to immigrant-bashing.

Maybe this is a Portland thing, but the group that showed up to see Reverend Billy this day was entirely white. The neighborhood is changing. According to the always-helpful city‑data.com:

Races: White Alone
white-alone-recent

Races: Black Alone
black-alone

Hispanic
hispanic

Races: Two or More
two-or-more

If you click on the maps it will take you to the site, where you can get a better sense of things.

***

While I’m on the subject, I never cared for Reverend Billy. The whole evangelist schtick was played out a long time ago. I remember when he first went into the Disney Store in Times Square. It may have been the first time but maybe not. I have a friend who was very excited about it and went. I was curious, but for some reason I couldn’t make it. I’ve seen him all too many times since then, but I’ve never been won over.

His whole spiel is to stop shopping, but here he is exhorting people to do exactly the opposite: Go to “these small shops you can’t find anywhere else” and buy crap. What exactly can you not find anywhere else? Let’s not forget that the stuff sold here is manufactured first. It’s only then that the small shops you can’t find anywhere else stock it. There’s no factory churning out commodities that are sold in only one location, or that can’t be bought online. And Alphabets isn’t any different than Spencer’s Gifts, found in every mall.

***

Finally, while researching this piece, I discovered that KPW’s web site is a do-it-yourself mess! From “What’s Weird About Portland?”:

kpw-about

From the Soy Candles page:

kpw-soy-candles-lorem-ipsum

Is this supposed to be part of their appeal?

=-=-=-=-=

1Keep Portland … quaint?
2Keep Portland Weird

Localist Moralism: The Locavore

When localists aren’t listened to, consumers change from being the solution to being the problem. Barbara Kingsolver is scathing about the food decisions of poor people: “we complain about the high price of organic meats and vegetables that might send back more than three nickels per buck to the farmers.” Meanwhile, “if many of us would view this style of eating (local food) as deprivation, that’s only because we’ve grown accustomed to the botanically outrageous condition of having everything, always.” She recognizes that consumption rises to deal with stress of working lives, but “much of it simply buys the services that make it possible for us to work those long hours.” The capitalist imperative to increase productivity turns into its opposite, a personal choice of workers themselves.

A concrete example of localist moralism is food politics. The petite bourgeoisie’s judgments on food stem directly from its habitus.

Food choices are a consequence and not a determinant of class. Thus it is possible to deduce popular tastes for the foods that are simultaneously most ‘filling’ and most economical from the necessity of reproducing labor power at the lowest cost which is forced on the proletariat as its very definition.

Ignorance of this relationship confounds the locavores. The compulsion of wage-labor makes taste “a forced choice, produced by conditions of existence which rule out all alternatives as mere daydreams and leave no choice but the taste for the necessary.” Failure to grasp this forced choice allows localists to pose a moral one.

Commodity fetishism, the basis for habitus and its choices, gets erased in favor of a nebulous and ever-present culture, morality and laziness. Food localism becomes the latest sign of “class racism” against the ‘sheeple’ who are too brainwashed to know what’s good for them. There is no difference between criticizing an unhealthy diet and criticizing one that doesn’t come from the proper, local place. In fact, local food is even further from the taste of necessity, since it’s a moral obligation to taste and the environment, not just to one’s own health.

Pierre Bourdieu suggests that the petite bourgeois get disillusioned as “they grow older and as the future which made sense of their sacrifice turns sour.” There’s no impugning the motives of the petite bourgeoisie: their personal sacrifice, creating schemes that are supposed to grow, comes at great emotional cost. The next step of looking for someone to blame seems only natural, and what better target is there than the poor and the working class, who for some strange reason continue to shop at Wal-Mart and eat at McDonald’s?

=-=-=-=-=

Greg Sharzer, No Local: Why Small-Scale Alternatives Won’t Change The World (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2012), 113-119.

The Small Business Myth

Via From the archives: the small business myth, by Doug Henwood.

What I find more surprising, and disturbing, is the tendency of some folks on the left to embrace small business with some passion. This is particularly true in the unfortunately named anti-globalization movement—as if internationalization itself were the problem rather than the way it’s carried out. Their anti-globalism is connected to a desire to “relocalize” economies, and with them to reorient production on a much smaller scale. These aims seem more motivated by nostalgia—and, in many cases, by a nostalgia for something that never existed—than any serious analysis.

Larger firms are also far more productive than smaller ones. Small-is-beautiful advocates rarely tell us how tiny enterprises would produce locomotives, computers or telephones; maybe they’d prefer to do away with these things and revive a hunter–gatherer society. But if that’s what they intend to do they should tell us.

And people who presumably care about workers should also rethink their passion for tininess: the experience of actually existing small businesses show that they’re not great employers, with poor pay, cheesier benefits and more dangerous workplaces. Bigger firms are easier to regulate, more open to public scrutiny, friendlier to affirmative action programs and more vulnerable to union organizing.

No 7-Eleven’s Nativism

Two recent tweets from an organization dedicated to preventing the “whitewash[ing of] our community.”

Localism adopts the premise that people have free choice to structure a capitalist economy. But when people make the wrong choices, then localism can become right-wing and anti-immigrant. It critiques globalization for strengthening multinational corporations at the expense of communities.

A distrust of foreign people creeps in. Being rooted in a place enhances relationships, whereas “(m)obility erodes community.” Migration brings displacement and alienation. This parochialism extends to non-local workers, who don’t contribute to local economies and spend what they earn elsewhere. Since value for localists is created only through exchange, foreign workers bring no benefit.

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