Part 3: Inoffensive reforms for the servants of the Professional-Managerial Class

The version of the “housing crisis” that is dominating BC’s 2018 municipal election in urban centres is one that focuses on the interests of the most politically and economically important class – the professional-managerial class (we’ll use the acronym PMC for a shorthand). The PMC is made up of engineers, financial planners, corporate brokers, academics, social service managers, middle-level administrators, and other jobs that facilitate the circulation of commodities and manage social organization to stabilize the living world around capitalist production.

Over the last 30 years, the PMC has grown because of the transition of the economy of western Canada from a hybrid of resource extraction and manufacturing to one that scholars refer to as “financialized,” where finance, insurance, and real estate have become more important than manufacturing. In this new situation, which has been produced by a collaborative effort of all political parties, making an attractive investment climate is as important as promoting the “liveability,” safety, security, moderate climate, and good-times of southern British Columbia. City governments play an important role in administering the social life of this new economic order but are caught in a bind because their ability to affect political and economic problems is quite limited.

Vancouver has been particularly hard hit by the financialization shift. Under eight years of rule by Vision Vancouver, the city has been turned into a yuppie paradise. This jarring, alienating shift has made life good for the PMC, and for many legacy property owners who Mayor Gregor Robertson referred to in an interview in October on CBC’s Early Edition as “winning the lottery.” But the vast numbers of servants of the PMC have been neglected. This gap, which some politicians are referring to as the “missing middle,” has meant that in the 2018 Vancouver election there seem to be some openings for inoffensive reforms that can benefit the social groups that the PMC depends on to make the city “liveable.”

Since the 1980s, the services employment sector has increased from less than 40% of the Lower Mainland workforce in 1981 to 78% in 2012, with the great majority of service work concentrated in Vancouver. Service work is a broad definition, ranging from restaurant and retail work to secretarial work to nursing and social work. Some service workers serve the PMC their lattes and advise them on their $400 raw denim, and others police the poor to help keep streets safe. For years, under the majority rule of Vision Vancouver, the interests of the PMC were crudely prioritized, without much attention to the lives of their servants.

If passed, the inoffensive reforms proposed by the four progressive parties (the Four Progressives) are supposed to ease the cost of living and lessen the likelihood of displacement for the servants of the PMC. They might make a bit of a difference for the more well-paid and secure layers of the servants, but for the majority, and the most vulnerable to displacement, they won’t really help. And the differences between the parties that make up the group of four basically amount to attention to different levels of the servant class. Vision, OneCity, and the Greens are focused on increasing the supply of market rental and cheaper condo housing, and COPE is focused on moderating rents. Notably, even the tax reforms of the group of four focus on consumption taxes (including property taxes), not taxes on production like the business taxes that the BC Liberals cut by 60% during their 16 years in office in order to attract investment.

The inoffensive reforms of the Four Progressives are not the same as postwar-style social democratic reforms that subsidized the cost of living and wages for white workers; they are a dim echo of social democracy. The service workers that employers consider “unskilled” are too easily replaced and too non-unionized to effect the sort of pressure that industrial workers did in the 1950s. Plus there is the broader problem that Canadian capital is contracting rather than expanding and bosses are less eager to share their profits than they were in the years following World War 2. The politics of the Four Progressives is a louder and clearer version of the politics of the BC NDP, which promised to “level the playing field” for local condo and home buyers with an anti-foreign investor tax. But the NDP’s reforms arguably only benefited poorer sections of the relatively wealthy PMC themselves.

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