Class Struggle on Avenue A

So, 7‑Eleven on Avenue A and 11th Street finally opened for business on October 30, 2013, and in less than a week’s time, “No 7-Eleven NYC” (N7E) began attacking their workers on Twitter:

n7e-tweet-anti-711-worker

And from their blog:

n7e-attacks-711-workers

The claim that 7-Eleven employees are harassing local businesses comes from one of their supporters: the owner of the Hi-Fi bar, across the street (red highlighting mine):

hifi-attacks-711-workers

N7E and Co. has never been judicious with the truth. They have attempted to use everything and anything they find as a cudgel against 7-Eleven, from ministers leading campaigns against the store because it sells beer, to claims that 7-Eleven is a “crime magnet” due to the fact that 24-hour 7-Elevens in isolated areas have been robbed, to claims that the city’s attempted soda cap would give 7-Eleven unfair advantage over restaurants and movie theaters! They laud bodegas that over-charge for expired merchandise and make the bulk of their money from selling cigarettes, beer, and lottery tickets in poor neighborhoods.

bodega-front'
Yeah, bitch! Bodegas!

It defies reason to accuse the workers of 7-Eleven of this. To begin with, the workers at the new 7-Eleven are new to this hoopla. They haven’t been around since the time of the Hurricane Sandy planning session; they didn’t take the job and immediately join the fray. Secondly, their manager isn’t going to let them leave the store while they’re on the clock, especially to create mischief on the block.

I went into the 7-Eleven yesterday and spoke with a worker there. She told me the story of the owner of Hi-Fi coming in and confronting her. When she told him it wasn’t anyone from there, he became more confrontational. She also told me that most local businesses owners have been very friendly, and wished them well.

Once again, N7E rears its petite-bourgeois head. Attacking big businesses on the one hand, and workers on the other. These are the people who claim the mantle of resistance in the neighborhood.

***

Why would they even make this claim? Apart from the fact that they’ve never bothered with being honest, maybe it’s because this is exactly what they do!

Thursday, Oct 31
n7e-1031-0933

n7e-1031-2048

Sunday, Nov 3

Monday, Nov 4
EV Grieve reported that someone inside the store revised the N7E skull sign.

Later, he reported that someone outside the store destroyed the revised skull sign.

Friday, Nov 8

The accusations come easily to them because the actions themselves come easily to them.

***

Back in August, in response to the assertion that the 7-Eleven on Avenue A “targets only non-local foot traffic coming to the bars on A,” I responded “It’ll be people in the neighborhood who shop there, watch and see.”

What does N7E say?

n7e-no-customers-1109-0917

n7e-no-customers-1109-1606

I’ve made it a point to pass by there more often recently, to see who is going in, and just as I predicted, it’s neighborhood people. Mostly young mothers and children, mostly Black and Hispanic. In my two times entering the store, and the many times I’ve pass recently, I’ve noticed that the employees are also either Black or Hispanic! Of course, these people are not even on the radar of the all-White N7E!

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No 7-Eleven NYC, Labor, and “Free Markets”

This past Saturday (April 6), the local small-business association No 7‑Eleven NYC (N7E) held an event in Tompkins Square Park. This is how they advertised it:

n7e-tsp-announcement

I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it — I usually have a lot of work to do on Saturdays. As luck would have it, though, my mid-afternoon appointment got cancelled, so I was able to go. This is my review.

I guess the first thing I’d say is that N7E is undisciplined. They were supposed to begin at 1:00pm, but none of them arrived on time. Reverend Billy, an invited guest of theirs, paced back and forth waiting for them. They finally showed up around 1:10, carrying their signs and Wheel of Fortune.

I will discuss their activities in another post (perhaps). Today, I’ll just limit myself to their writings. This is the flier they handed out (I commend them for printing double-sided; at least they don’t waste paper):

n7e-tsp-flier1 n7e-tsp-flier2

Don’t strain your eyes trying to read it; I’ll enlarge the points I want to discuss.

n7e-tsp-flier1-blurb2

This is just deceitful. 7‑Eleven employs between seven and ten people per store (depending on the location), up to three-times more than a bodega.

The labor issue is probably the most significant one when comparing 7‑Eleven with bodegas. I’d like to point out something that happened just last week:

The workers at fast-food restaurants across the city went on strike. This is something that could never happen with bodega workers, for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that bodega workers are fragmented. Concentration of capital can enhance the solidarity of the workers, as more are brought into cooperation with each other by working in bigger firms.

On their web site, N7E’s propagandists insists that, in addition to employing more people, bodegas are, for workers, superior to chain stores, because bodega owners will hire convicted felons. I would love to see the statistics on this claim! However, on a more relevant note, they ignore that bodegas are exempt from most labor and health & safety laws:

  • Unemployment Insurance – Employees are paid in cash, so there is no record of their employment.
  • OSHA Requirements – If you have fewer than 25 employees, your penalty is cut by 60 percent. If your business has fewer than 10 employees, you’re exempt from many requirements that obligate you 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 your company has fewer than 50 employees, you have no healthcare responsibilities.1

Because bodegas workers are paid in cash, no taxes are withheld, leaving them with a large tax liability at the end of the year, and with no Social Security credits. Bodegas also frequently hire undocumented workers, whose protections are nil. Not only can they be fired for no reason, they are oftentimes threatened with deportation if they raise any objection.

nelp12

***

N7E claims that 7‑Eleven’s presence in the neighborhood threatens the “free market”.

n7e-tsp-flier2-blurb1

I’ve already discussed this claim with an N7E ideologue in the Comments section of another blog, but I will point out to them, once again, that rather than it being threatened, this is exactly how the “free market” operates:

    The battle of competition is fought by cheapening of commodities. The cheapness of commodities demands, [all else being equal], on the productiveness of labour, and this again on the scale of production. Therefore, the larger capitals beat the smaller. It will further be remembered that, with the development of the capitalist mode of production, there is an increase in the minimum amount of individual capital necessary to carry on a business under its normal conditions. The smaller capitals, therefore, crowd into spheres of production which Modern Industry has only sporadically or incompletely got hold of. Here competition rages in direct proportion to the number, and in inverse proportion to the magnitudes, of the antagonistic capitals. It always ends in the ruin of many small capitalists, whose capitals partly pass into the hands of their conquerors, partly vanish. [Emphasis mine]

I’m certainly not against fighting the “free market,” but people who know better can see N7E doesn’t know what they’re saying. A real grassroots campaign would be up-front about wanting to subvert the “free market” in their effort to establish the type of neighborhood they desire. They would understand that there’s no way that could be avoided. They would advocate for the people who work in the bodegas, instead of for the owners. They might even want to restrict the number of bodegas, as even they realize there is an over-abundance of them:

n7e-tsp-flier1-blurb1

***

The same organization that works to protect the rights of undocumented workers has an unfavorable assessment of bodegas as places to shop, as well:

nelp23

***

So this was an assessment of parts of their most current flier. I addressed their main fallacies. In the second bullet-point on page two, they claim that there is a ban in New York City on the sale of sodas over 16 ounces, which isn’t true, but isn’t worth the time to refute at any length.

I shot some video of the event. I have to watch it again to see if I want to comment on it. I might just upload it to YouTube and post a link to it.

=-=-=-=-=

1Small Business Exemptions
2Good Food and Good Jobs for Underserved Communities
3Unregulated Work in the Grocery and Supermarket Industry in New York City

Consumer Choice

I added a new category today, which means I’ve added a new topic to my revolving group of topics: Food. Right now, the main thrust of my posts will deal with the food branch of the unhealthy commodities industries, but it could be expanded over time to cover other aspects of food, such as food workers, or… I don’t know, genetically-modified food. We’ll see.

* * *

During the recent discussion around New York City’s proposed portion cap on sugary drinks, the beverage industry’s refrain, like the tobacco industry’s before it, was one of “personal choice.” They claim that people choose the high-calorie/low-nutrition products, in the ever-large sizes, they offer for sale. Without thinking, others echo this refrain when dove-tailing their own agenda with that of the unhealthy commodities industry.

In the same New York Times article I referred to in Follow the Money the intensity with which food companies pursue the “perfect” food was described:

    Frito-Lay had a formidable research complex near Dallas, where nearly 500 chemists, psychologists and technicians conducted research that cost up to $30 million a year, and the science corps focused intense amounts of resources on questions of crunch, mouth feel and aroma for each of these items. Their tools included a $40,000 device that simulated a chewing mouth to test and perfect the chips, discovering things like the perfect break point: people like a chip that snaps with about four pounds of pressure per square inch.

This is just one company and one product line, and it doesn’t include a dime of marketing or advertising money. Up against this, we’re told we have to exhibit “will power” and “personal responsibility”. We’re told that taking this away takes away our freedom of choice, as if anyone outside the industry chooses this.

It has always been the case that the food offered to the majority of people by capitalist food producers/distributors has been of poor quality. A quick Google search this morning yielded the following:

    Proceedings American Pharmaceutical Association Eighth Annual Meeting,
    Held In Boston, Mass., September, 1859,
    With The Constitution And Roll Of Members.

    Excluding, then, from the class of adulterations all cases of substitution, impurities, and accidental contaminations, adulteration may be thus defined: It consists in the intentional addition to an article, for the purpose of gain, or deception, of any substance or substances, the presence of which is not acknowledged in the name under which the article is sold.

    Your Committee feel that perhaps they may bring forward some facts, not in all cases agreeable, and that they may be met with the oft repeated statement that “the public wish the adulterated articles,” that “pure mustard and cream of tartar will not sell,” coffee with burnt peas and apples in it is “richer,” and more “nutritious,” but we feel constrained to say this pretended regard for the wishes and tastes of the “public” is most generally based upon a slight interest for the pecuniary welfare of the manufacturer or trader. [Emphasis mine.]

Another example:

    In London there are two sorts of bakers, the “full priced,” who sell bread at its full value, and the “undersellers,” who sell it under its value. The latter class comprises more than three-fourths of the total number of bakers. (p. xxxii in the Report of H. S. Tremenheere, commissioner to examine into “the grievances complained of by the journeymen bakers,” &c., Lond. 1862.) The undersellers, almost without exception, sell bread adulterated with alum, soap, pearl ashes, chalk, Derbyshire stone-dust, and such like agreeable nourishing and wholesome ingredients. (See the above cited Blue book, as also the report of “the committee of 1855 on the adulteration of bread,” and Dr. Hassall’s “Adulterations Detected,” 2nd Ed. Lond. 1861.) Sir John Gordon stated before the committee of 1855, that “in consequence of these adulterations, the poor man, who lives on two pounds of bread a day, does not now get one fourth part of nourishing matter, let alone the deleterious effects on his health.” Tremenheere states (l.c., p. xlviii), as the reason, why a very large part of the working-class, although well aware of this adulteration, nevertheless accept the alum, stone-dust, &c., as part of their purchase: that it is for them “a matter of necessity to take from their baker or from the chandler’s shop, such bread as they choose to supply.” [Emphasis mine.] … Tremenheere adds on the evidence of witnesses, “it is notorious that bread composed of those mixtures, is made expressly for sale in this manner.”

So when people say that it’s a matter of choice, or the converse, “personal responsibility,” you know they’re lying.

Follow the Money

I’m not ready yet with my next installment in the gentrification series, so I’ll return to one of my other recurring topics, a small-business association whose stated goal is preventing 7‑Eleven stores from opening in the East Village. I am referring, of course, to No 7‑Eleven NYC. They posted a flurry of tweets two days before the law was to go into effect banning the sale of sugary drinks in cups or containers larger than 16 ounces. Here is one of them:

In another tweet No 7‑Eleven NYC posted, they advance the idea that once in place, the law will be ineffective, because people will go into 7‑Elevens and bodegas to buy their sodas (which they seem to think they will then be permitted to take into restaurants and movie theaters), but in the one above they claim that the ban will hurt bodegas. The fact is that, while the ban would not have affected 7‑Eleven, neither would it have affected bodegas. Bodegas don’t sell sugary drinks in cups, and bottles and cans would not have been affected by the law.

But there are bigger issues than this. Back in January they tweeted:

The day after Judge Milton Tingling blocked the ban from going into effect, the NY Times ran an article detailing the relationship between the soft-drink industry and community groups around the country:

    Dozens of Hispanic and African-American civil rights groups, health advocacy organizations and business associations have joined the beverage industry in opposing soda regulation around the country in recent years, arguing that such measures — perhaps the greatest regulatory threat the soft-drink industry has ever faced — are discriminatory, paternalistic or ineffective.

    Many of these groups have something else in common: They are among the recipients of tens of millions of dollars from the beverage industry that has flowed to nonprofit and educational organizations serving blacks and Hispanics over the last decade, according to a review by The New York Times of charity records and other documents.

These activities echo those of the tobacco industry, that for decades contributed to minority and women’s organizations, encouraging them to focus on concerns other than smoking. Leaders faced a real conflict: either accept the money, or speak out about the disproportionate toll of tobacco on the health of minority populations. Women’s groups, heavily supported and buoyed by support for events like the Virginia Slims Tennis Tour, were silent on the rapidly escalating epidemic of lung cancer in women, focusing instead on breast cancer and other problems. (Advocacy Institute 1998).

When speaking publicly about their products, the beverage industry uses a playbook similar to that used by the tobacco industry, that focusses on “personal responsibility,” raises fears of government action destroying personal freedom and civil liberties, criticizes studies that hurt the industry as “junk science,” and promotes physical activity over diet.

Both industries’ tactics rely heavily on “personal responsibility” arguments that claim regulation isn’t necessary because it’s up to consumers to make healthy choices, yet they spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually to undermine personal responsibility. On February 24, the NY Times published an article describing the efforts food companies have made over the years to addict people to their products:

    As the sensory intensity (say, of sweetness) increases, consumers first say that they like the product more, but eventually, with a middle level of sweetness, consumers like the product the most (this is their optimum, or “bliss,” point). …

    “[M]outh feel.” This is the way a product interacts with the mouth, as defined more specifically by a host of related sensations, from dryness to gumminess to moisture release. … [T]he mouth feel of soda and many other food items, especially those high in fat, is second only to the bliss point in its ability to predict how much craving a product will induce. …

    “[S]ensory-specific satiety.” In lay terms, it is the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more. … The biggest hits — be they Coca-Cola or Doritos — owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating.

Efforts to encourage these industries to self-regulate are failing. Instead, the companies are consolidating power by building financial connections with health agencies and non-governmental organizations — and using that power to lobby politicians to oppose health reforms. In the February 23 issue of the English medical journal The Lancet, a team of researchers from around the world wrote:

    [T]hrough the sale and promotion of tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drink (unhealthy commodities), transnational corporations are major drivers of global epidemics of [non-communicable diseases] NCDs. … Despite the common reliance on industry self-regulation and public—private partnerships, there is no evidence of their effectiveness or safety. Public regulation and market intervention are the only evidence-based mechanisms to prevent harm caused by the unhealthy commodity industries.

On the day the ban was halted, No 7‑Eleven NYC retweeted:

That’s where they stand.

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Further reading:

The Local Economy?

There was another bodega walk this past Saturday.

no711-bodega-walk-0216

By the looks of their photos though, it wasn’t well attended.

Here is a flyer they typed up. I’m only going to address a few of their claims.

why-no-711-flier

(I left in the line about the free market because it’s funny. East Villagers, Unite! Defend the Free Market!)

It makes no sense to describe the East Village as having its own economy. There is no East Village industry, there are no East Village exports. Bodegas do not create a net inflow of capital (i.e., money is not coming into the East Village because of bodegas). The people of this area do not depend on the bodegas for their livelihood. If this were Pittsburgh and the steel mills were closing, it would be a different story. Rather than complain about which stores are opening, it would be better to limit the number and locations of all stores. Rather than view the area as an enterprise zone, it should be viewed as a neighborhood.

Whenever the phrase “the economy” is used, what is meant is profits — and in this case, it’s not even gross profits, it’s the Owner Class’s share of those profits. If one 7‑Eleven displaces one bodega, the net effect is zero, all else being equal. The revenue that went to the bodega now goes to the 7‑Eleven. If that was $10,000/month, it stays $10,000/month. The difference exists in how much of this remains with the owner. The bodega owner would have kept the entire $10,000, but the 7‑Eleven owner must send 50% of it to the corporate office, so he keeps only $5,000. So some of the profits do leave the area. But they don’t consider the effect on a particular owner, since the owner’s salary might be an increase for him. They only consider the effect to the Owner Class: Owner A receives $10,000, Owner B receives $5,000, net effect to Owner Class: -$5,000.

Now we need to look at the number of people working at each location. For my calculations, I use the likely-minimum number of workers. (My research indicates a minimum of two workers per bodega. According to Entrepreneur.com, the number of employees needed to run a 7‑Eleven is seven to ten.)

Bodega 7-Eleven
Profits/mo: $10,000 **$5,000
Wages/mo. – 2 empl.* 2,320
Wages/mo. – 7 empl.* 8,120
_____ _____
Total Income $12,320 $13,120
*$7.25/hr x 40 hrs
**1/2 goes to corporate hq
.

So with sales held constant, and the minimum number of workers employed, a 7‑Eleven raises the income of the neighborhood.

Equally ludicrous is the claim that 7‑Eleven has an unfair advantage over local businesses by being exempt from the >16-ounce soda ban. The only businesses in the neighborhood affected by the “soda ban” are restaurants and movie theaters, neither of which compete with 7‑Eleven. Mind you, Slurpees® are probably disgusting (I’ve never had one), and I don’t encourage anyone to drink them, and they should be regulated by the ban, but they do not give the 7‑Eleven an unfair advantage.

As far as homogenizing the neighborhood? That happened a long time ago.

NYC’s “Soda Ban” and “No 7-Eleven”

This morning I saw that the No 7-Eleven tweeter tweeted a link to an article in today’s New York Times that explains the “soda ban,” with comment:

Who is it unfair to? Are they saying that deli/bodega owners made their money selling >16-ounce fountain sodas, until the ban? Are they saying 7-Eleven competes with local restaurants and movie theaters? I wonder how much thought they put into their pronouncements?

Health efforts such as the “soda ban,” to be effective, must target the source. Everyone knows this. The profits of producers/retailers cannot be what drives health policy. (Naturally, this includes insurance!)

Since Bloomberg took office, New York has become the first city to require chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus (prompting a federal law compelling all fast food retailers to do the same), to ban trans fats from restaurant foods, to ban public smoking from most corners of the city, and pushed hospitals to keep baby formula locked up in order to encourage breast-feeding in new mothers.

But then these are primarily shopkeepers — by definition, not a very progressive bunch.