Pawn Shops

[This is part of the Release the Kraken! series.]

September 6, 2013

In the piece Quilas: Bike Sharer, I mentioned the web site Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. The current post on that day was Gramercy Pawnbrokers. He was concerned about a For Rent sign he saw over a pawn broker’s sign, and that they might be closing.

I commented that along with liquor stores and check cashing places, pawn shops are the scourge of poor neighborhoods. My comment was rejected. Here are some that were not:

jvny-pawnshops-1

jvny-pawnshops-3

Too many people don’t take the time to think about what it is they’re defending.

Adding Insult to Injury

During this time when I’m not working on any of the 41 pieces in my Drafts folder, I will pass on this story from last week’s Guardian.

The Job Centre bar “promises upmarket pub food in an atmosphere of quirky design features inspired by its function as a place that once served the unemployed.” The actual job center, located in a part of London with a high level of unemployment, was closed in 2010.

    “The bar’s name and its interior design suggest that you want potential clientele to understand that your bar is for the new people moving into Deptford, for whom job centres are a joke, and not the existing residents of Deptford, for whom job centres are often a necessity …” – Jane Elliott, Lewisham People Before Profit

In the “East Village,” where there are no job centers, gentrifying bars took names like Downtown Beirut, celebrating the Israeli bombardment of 1982.

beirut

No-7Eleven-NYC Packs It In

I can’t remember when the last time was that I wrote about N7E. When their founding member quit? Maybe. I unsubscribed from their blog and stopped visiting their Twitter page because it was just a lot of nonsense.

Well, things have been getting steadily worse for them, it seems. I was wondering recently how long they were going to keep up their “boycott” when I saw this:

quilas-n7e-packs-it-in-3

It’s the beginning of the end. They’ve reduced their weekly leafletting to once per month. Soon they’ll be gone completely. They won’t announce it — one first-Sunday they just won’t be there, then another, then it will be over.

Back in August of 2013, their founder wrote:

boycott-20130823-1100

I think a better reason it was doomed was that it had no social base. No one rallies for the small business owner — it’s antithetical to the class itself. If they had been fighting for the rights of the workers, they could have developed something — look at what just happened in Seattle! — but the only time they mentioned the workers was to attack them. They accused them of vandalizing other businesses in the neighborhood, smoking pot behind the store, menacing the leafletters… This was never a cause that deserved support. The sooner they wither away, the better.

Hyper-Gentrification Revisited

In Hyper-Gentrification, I wrote about a blogger called Jeremiah Moss. Specifically, about something he wrote called On Spike Lee & Hyper-Gentrification.

Since that time, he was invited to rewrite that piece for the New York Times, as part of their overview of gentrification. So his position, distilled, is:

    The old-school gentrification of the 20th century, while harmful, wasn’t all bad. It made streets safer, created jobs and brought fresh vegetables to the corner store. … Unlike gentrification, in which the agents of change were middle-class settlers moving into working-class and poor neighborhoods…

    …hyper-gentrification in New York was implemented via strategically planned mass rezonings, eminent domain and billions in tax breaks to corporations…

    So before gentrification became “hyper”, it wasn’t all bad, according to Moss. When the process of removing the working class from their neighborhood was happening, using all of the tools at the disposal of both real estate developers and the city, from illegal evictions, to arson, to filling vacant apartments with drug dealers to drive out tenants, to turning over in rem buildings to “developers” for pennies on the dollar, to programs like AHOP, this wasn’t all bad. The same private/public interests (themselves, bourgeois legalisms) were at play as today, at the then-existing level of development.

Moss sees gentrification starting when people and small businesses start to move into an area where they weren’t before. He fails to understand the processes that led to that, despite his many references to Neil Smith. He doesn’t see the “flipping” of buildings (buildings bought and then sold at a profit, sometimes without any renovations being made) as part of the process, or even the transition from a healthy building stock to a decrepit one. For him, as for so many like him, it starts when the outward signs become noticeable.

So what is his solution?

    Let’s drastically reduce tax breaks to corporations and redirect that money to mom-and-pops. Protect the city’s oldest small businesses by providing selective retail rent control, and implement the Small Business Survival Act to create fair rent negotiations. Pass a citywide ordinance to control the spread of chain stores. … Shop local and protest the corporate invasion of neighborhoods.

Increase taxes on corporations? OK. Direct the money to small businesses? To what end? If the Small Business Survival Act creates fair rent negotiations (Moss’s contention), small business rents will be lower. So what will they do with the money? Raise their employees’ wages? Ha! Pocket the money? Probably. Use the money to expand? Probably. So the small businesses will become big businesses, in time. Maybe even chains. Regarding shopping locally, I’ve already addresses that.

Moss’s changes will only benefit small business owners. That is his starting and ending point.

    This … is the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petty bourgeoisie. … [I]t believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within whose frame alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided.*

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* The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, accessed April 27, 2014.

Pearl Paint Illegally Fired 39 Workers

There’s been some hubbub recently about Pearl Paint, a five-story art supply store on Canal Street, closing.

It was first reported (as far as I know) by Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, the small-business-lamentation blog.

On Tuesday, DNAInfo reported that Pearl Paint illegally fired 39 of their workers! In his piece, Jeremiah reported, regarding the closing: “The information has not been confirmed with Pearl…” but there’s no mention of his speaking with any of the workers. He did report it on his Facebook page, but there’s no follow-up on his blog.

This is why it’s important not to be pie-eyed about small businesses. Glitter and paint cannot cover up class relations.

Hyper-Gentrification

There is an anonymous blogger who goes by the name of Jeremiah Moss. His blog is Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York.

I’m not a regular reader of this blog. The first time I read it, he was lamenting a pawn shop on 23rd Street(?) closing. I commented to the effect that pawn shops, along with check-cashing places, were scourges of poor neighborhoods, but he didn’t approve it.

It’s mainly a nostalgia blog. I put it in the realm of the sites I’ve commented on, tirelessly advocating the position of the small business owners of the city.

He recently got a bit of extra notoriety for a piece he wrote on “hyper gentrification”. To his credit, he claims to take the position of Neil Smith. Unfortunately, he represents Smith poorly. For Neil Smith, gentrification was a class issue. Gentrification occurs when a working class neighborhood is turned into a non-working-class neighborhood. Once the area in question is no longer working class, gentrification stops. The job is finished. There are no “levels” of gentrification. There is no such thing as “hyper gentrification”.

To try to define gentrification as a steady process of “upscaling”, as a commenter here once did, is to remove the class nature from it. By this definition, gentrification occurs any time land is capitalized. When the conversion of a working class neighborhood is seen in the same light as the price of a $10,000,000 penthouse being raised to $25,000,000, then it becomes synonymous with change itself, under capitalism. This is the position of the real estate industry.

This puts Moss squarely on the same side as Spike Lee, despite his claim to differ. Spike Lee does not think that he was a gentrifier, because he’s Black. For Lee, gentrification is a racial issue that started when the first (Black) gentrifiers found themselves priced out of their neighborhoods. It’s the same for Moss.

Nowhere in Moss’s piece do you find the word “worker”, or “working”, or “class”, or “Volume 3”. For Moss, and so many like him, gentrification is bad because it affects small business owners and their “buy local” customers, not workers.

He writes:

    I want to make one thing clear: Gentrification is over. It’s gone. And it’s been gone since the dawn of the twenty-first century. Gentrification itself has been gentrified, pushed out of the city and vanished. I don’t even like to call it gentrification, a word that obscures the truth of our current reality. I call it hyper-gentrification.

Gentrification is not over. Gentrification is not a one-time event. It’s over in some neighborhoods, but it’s still going on in others. There are slums in India that are being gentrified, due to their proximity to wealthier areas. The favelas of Brazil are also being eyed by real estate interests there. And cities like Detroit and Cleveland are already in the sights of developers, waiting for circumstances to change in their favor.

I’m not saying that there’s no reason to track the increases in wealth inequality, just that the problem doesn’t start when the first round of gentrifying small business owners are affected.

Promoting Ukrainian Fascism – Part 2

I hope this doesn’t have to become a regular series.

Here’s a quick look at some headlines from the past week from sources outside of the “East Village”:

ukraine-2-dream-deferred-0227
dreamdeferred.org.uk

ukraine2-daily-beast-0228
The Daily Beast

ukraine2-time-mag-0301
Time Magazine

ukraine2-counterpunch-0303
Counterpunch

So, how is this being presented in the “East Village” you ask?:

ukraine2-evg-0223
EV Grieve

ukraine2-villager-0227
The Villager

ukraine2-dnainfo0227
ukraine2-bob-holman-antisocialist2
La Mama, via DNA Info

To their credit, The Lo-Down and Bowery Boogie have not been propagating this. It waits to be seen if The Shadow will write anything in their next issue.†

* * *

A musical about current events is not necessarily a bad thing. The San Francisco Mime Troupe had a musical called Steeltown, about the rise and fall of steel-worker jobs in this country. And while searching other blogs for this piece, I came across something The Lo-Down wrote last January about The Living Theater’s performance of “Here We Are” (from their promotional material):

    In the show, the international (and multi-generational) company “visits the Anarchist collectives of France, Spain and Ukraine [Emphasis mine–Q] for the 19th and 20th centuries, and finds (them)selves transported to an immersive and participatory underground outdoor/indoor crossroads of our present moment. The ensemble and the audience work together to manufacture and perform the potential creative possibilities for a post revolutionary world of beauty and non violence.”

Of course, that’s not what this performance is about.

ukraine2-lamama

Headlines like:

ukraine2-nytimes-0226

And then! In a flash of total-recall, I totally recalled this, from an EV Grieve piece written last January:

[Bob]
ukraine2-bob-holman-antisocialist

Socialist post-modernism? It’s fine to dislike Avalon buildings, but to throw in “socialist”, when socialism had absolutely nothing to do with the topic (1st meeting of the No 7-Eleven group), makes his position then, and now, all the more suspect. Interestingly enough, this was written at the same time of the performance of “Here We Are”.

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† After a ten-year (?) hiatus, The Shadow recently published a new issue. I meant to write something about it but I haven’t got around to it yet. I even paid a dollar for the paper! I don’t remember ever having to pay for The Shadow before.

Promoting Ukrainian Fascism

I woke the morning of February 21 to see that local blogger EV Grieve had posted this:

ucca-evg

Signs posted outside the Ukrainian National Home list three sponsors: Ukrainian Congress Committee of America; Organization for Defense of Four Freedoms for Ukraine; and Federation of Ukrainian Student Organizations.

A bit of history:

    During the rise of European fascism after World War I, some Ukrainian nationalist groups tied their hopes to fascism as an ideology, and then collaborated with Hitler and Nazism in World War II.

    One Ukrainian nationalist group was the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) which split into two organizations: a less militant wing, led by Andrew Melnyk and known as OUN‑M, and the extremist group of Stepan Bandera, known as OUN‑B. The Nazis preferred the radical nationalist OUN‑B. During the German military occupation, the Ukraine witnessed terrible atrocities against Jews and other groups targeted by Nazi policies. The OUN‑B organized military units that participated in these atrocities. With the collapse of the Third Reich, many Ukrainian collaborationists fled their homeland.

    […]

    The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) [emphasis mine] is described as heavily influenced but not totally controlled by the OUN‑B. Supposedly an umbrella organization of Ukrainian-American groups, there are groups within UCCA that are complete OUN‑B fronts. (For example, the Organization for Defense of Four Freedoms for the Ukraine (ODFFU) [emphasis mine], according to confidential interviews with OUN members. Ukrainian Review is published in the U.S. by ODFFU and the editor is Slava Stetsko†.)

    The UCCA has also played a leading role in opposing federal investigations of suspected Nazi war criminals since those queries got underway in the late 1970s.1

In July 1952, the preliminary steps toward the formation of the Federation of Ukrainian Student Organizations (SUSTA) began with an initial organizing meeting held at the time of the UCCA convention in New York City.2 They promote the same aims, presumably without the baggage of their elders.

Yesterday morning, the fascists took control of Kiev. By the end of the day:

ukraine-haaretz3

    The Ukrainian nationalists see a Ukrainian state under their control as having “ethnographic borders,” as was originally proclaimed by a OUN‑B Manifesto in December 1940. Put more simply, the OUN‑B sees Ukrainians as a separate, classifiable race that have a right, when in power, to exclude others from the Ukraine’s borders. The realities of that formulation were made blood‑chillingly clear to the Poles and Jews in the region when the OUN‑B had temporary power six months after the Manifesto was issued.4

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† Slava Stetsko: OUN-B member, married to Yaroslav Stetsko, who briefly established himself as a pro-Nazi premier of the Ukraine under German military occupation.5

1Russ Betlant, Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party (Boston: South End Press, 1991), 69-71.
2SUSTA The Federation of Ukrainian Student Organizations of America” last modified February 8, 2014.
3Ukrainian rabbi tells Kiev’s Jews to flee city
4Russ Betlant, Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party, 73.
5Russ Betlant, Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party, 67.

Veselka Supports Fascism in Ukraine

This past Sunday [February 9], a friend of mine and I ate at a restaurant called Veselka, on East 9th Street and Second Avenue. When we were finished and leaving, I noticed this sign:

veselka-euromaidan

Since most “East Villagers” don’t know anything about what’s happening in the world, for their benefit, I will introduce “Euromaidan” to them:

veselka-the-nation1

and

veselka-ibd2

and

veselka-rev-news3

That’s it, in a nut shell. Connect to the articles footnoted below for more information.

So here it is, in the heart of the “East Village”, an open advocation of fascism, and what do you suppose the local reaction is? Well, as I already said, most people don’t even know what it means. But of those who do? Or should? Newspapers, and the like? This is how The Villager soft-pedaled efforts here to advance the fascist effort, in a January 20 article:

veselka-the-villager

An “awareness campaign”!

It’s not surprising that The Villager either doesn’t know what “Euromaidan” is, or worse, supports it. The social composition of fascist movements have historically been the small capitalists that they champion.

So on February 12, I posted this photo on Twitter, and @’d local news organizations/bloggers:

 
(Cue crickets.)

OK, not crickets exactly. EV Grieve posted something about Veselka yesterday:

veselka-evgrieve

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1The Ukrainian Nationalism at the Heart of ‘Euromaidan’
2Euromaidan: The Dark Shadows Of The Far-Right In Ukraine Protests
3The Ukrainian Euromaidan: The Solution to Putin, or Just Another Fascist Political Coup?

Class Struggle on First Avenue

On August 22, 2013, a week before the first national fast food workers walkout, Saru Jayaraman wrote in the New York Daily News:

    “Throughout his life, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders spoke out for racial justice and economic justice — seeing the two as inextricably bound together. When King was assassinated, he was in Memphis supporting striking sanitation workers, who were demanding a living wage, safe working conditions and an end to racial discrimination on the job. The fast-food workers staging walkouts across the United States today are the inheritors of that legacy.” 1

On the occasion of Martin Luther King Day, I have a story about this very struggle taking place in the “East Village”.

I was walking home from work last week, and I found myself walking eastwards on 7th Street. I don’t remember why I was this far west this evening — I’m usually at least on Avenue B by this point — but as I was crossing First Avenue I heard a lot of shouting from in front of the McDonald’s at 6th Street. It didn’t sound like frantic shouting, and remembering the walkout of December 5, I thought there might be something related taking place. So I walked down to see.

ev-mcdonalds
Outside McDonald’s, First Avenue, NYC, Jan. 14, 2014

There were about a dozen protesters outside the door of the McDonald’s. I stood back a bit, took my picture, and then asked the nearest person holding a sign if they had just walked out. I don’t know if she didn’t understand me, or just didn’t want to answer questions from someone she didn’t know, but one of their group came over and told me they were there to demand the job back of a worker who had walked out on December 5. We talked for a couple of minutes, I gave him my contact information so he could let me know of other events taking place, and I continued home.

As soon as I got home, I tweeted and emailed this photo, with a description of what was happening, to local bloggers and newspapers, those who routinely post information they receive about events taking place in the area. The only response was that one of them “favorited” the tweet, but did not retweet it. None of them reported it.

* * *

This is the neighborhood where workers are routinely vilified, when not ignored. Before the 7-Eleven opened on Avenue A, blog commenters wrote that they had no sympathy for the people who worked there, who would soon have to clean up the messes that they intended to make inside the store. As soon as it opened, they began to accuse the workers of harassing business owners in their vicinity, as I wrote about in Class Struggle on Avenue A, and later this:

evg-7eleven-worker-attack-20131213

Fantasy aside, this is a neighborhood that prides itself on desecrated restroom walls!


Mars Bar2

Meanwhile, in Washington Heights, when workers at Domino’s Pizza were fired after the walkout, local residents came out to support them, and the local newspaper reported it!


Domino’s Pizza, West 181 St., NYC, Dec. 9, 2013 3

* * *

At the same time, there seems to be no end to the reporting on the woes of Jerry Delakas, the owner/operator of a news stand at Astor Place. Over a dozen posts combined, this month alone, with appearances by CB3 representatives, City Council representatives, even the new Mayor granted him an audience! Of course, it’s all crass opportunism. It’s easy to come out in support of one individual, whose victory, if he wins, will not resonate any further. Whereas if one nameless worker’s rights are recognized and this worker is reinstated, the precedent will be set for the reinstatement of all of the workers who walked out, and walking out to protest low pay and unsafe working conditions will have the sanction of city officials. That’s not something that’s going to happen in this neighborhood!

This is the kind of story they have to be careful about covering. On the one hand, they’d like nothing more than to use low pay and arbitrary firings as a cudgel against a chain restaurant like McDonald’s, but they have to be careful not to actually advocate for workers, because the small businesses they champion engage in worse practices.

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1Fast-food workers carry King’s dream
2I am endlessly haunted by a sense of saudade and sehnsucht…
3Dishing it out at Domino’s

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