“Right, they have eliminated our place of work entirely, and the factory operates almost on its own, it learnt it all from us.”
-Elfriede Jelinek, Lust, 1989
For many years, the politicians in Olympia have fought to extend tax breaks to Boeing so the aerospace and defense company will have every incentive to remain in Washington. In the early 1970s, Boeing halved its workforce and triggered a regional depression in the Seattle area. While poverty was increasing and the metropolis began to appear run-down, Bill Gates and Paul Allen started Microsoft and began to transform Seattle into one of the first tech-cities (which now hosts Google, Facebook, and Amazon). Both companies still exist in the region, although Boeing is now taking a cue from the new techno-overlords and beginning to replace its workers with robots.
This isn’t a huge surprise. Boeing rose to become the darlings of the Pentagon by utilizing the Nazi rocket and jet technology they acquired after WWII. Now that their jets criss-cross the planet every second of the day, Boeing accumulated enough capital to partially robotize its Everett production facility. This accumulated capital existed thanks to over eight billion in Washington State tex exemptions, one billion of which was pumped directly into the robots. In 1998, the company required 200 humans to construct a plane. In 2015, it required only 102. That same year, the company installed the Fuselage Automated Upright Build system in its new production facility in Everett. By the time the facility opened, Boeing had shed 3,000 jobs since it was granted the state tax exemption in 2013. With the robots now churning out 777s at the Everett factory, the surrounding region is increasingly volatile, violent, drug-addicted, and impoverished.
Since 2016 (at least), Everett has experienced a massive spike in crime and opioid related deaths. It even reached the point where the Mayor of Everett was recommending the city sue the manufacturer of OxyContin for the amount of devastation it had caused. In addition to these pointless deaths, the craving for the drug has propelled a massive crime wave that has lasted for years. Bus fare boxes, roadside coffee stands, purses, and other forms of insecure capital are routinely stolen whenever possible. This desperate need for money was even channelled into the scattered “bikini barista” stands where a whole array of crime was engaged in over the counter. This went on to such an extent that it’s now illegal to wear a bikini while working as a barista. Even fully clothed workers are at risk in these stands and are subject to wide variety of threats including sex trafficking, gunfire, and sexual assault.
Coffee stands are everywhere in Everett and cater to the working class driver on the way to their job. If these coffee stands can barely sustain their fully-clothed employees off the wages of everyday people, what hope is there in the future of this degraded and crumbling form of capitalism? The homeless or precarious population continues to grow in Everett and Seattle, although there’s no tech-economy in Everett to alleviate the miseries of the economy. Those who are cast out on the street in Everett face difficult choices. Without a local job, people must commute south towards Seattle for employment, necessitating stable housing in their region (an increasingly difficult “commodity”).
The restructuring of Seattle has led to a situation where only 19% of its residents can afford to live there (or make roughly over $100,000). This unsustainable arrangement has caused an exodus of low-paid workers from the metropolitan center, driving up home and rental prices as far north as Bellingham. Although many people are forced to work in Seattle, the metropolis offers little solace from those suffering the ills of this wretched system. Permissiveness towards tent encampments, permanent tiny-house villages, and new laws facilitating RV camping are some of the few palliatives offered to those cast of the economic order in Seattle. Everett offers far less of this social-minded legislation. Its victims are awash in poverty, opioids, and violence. For these reasons, many homeless or precarious people flock to Seattle to escape their local misfortunes.
By the time the robots have completely taken over production at the Boeing factory in Everett, the city itself will have been physically and psychically eviscerated. Four years of layoffs and robotization at Boeing have been accompanied by extreme misery and pain in the local population. While all of this has been happening, Seattle-based Amazon is openly planning on the robotization of its own “fulfillment centers” and delivery services. The future they’re offering is suicidal, pointless, and filled with waste. While it’s easy to remain oblivious in the comfortable bubble of the metropolitan center, a simple journey north will reveal the wasteland capital leaves in its wake.