“Aspirational Agreements”

Lake Buckhorn, Ontario  Sometimes language is not your friend, but a head fake to turn you from hard reality to some soft slush in the swamp of misunderstanding and mirage.

Over and over again during the ACORN Canada staff retreat the term, “aspirational agreement,” came up in different contexts from the organization’s engagement with various government authorities and corporate executives they had been pushing in one campaign after another, despite the fact that the very term is a contradiction in concept. An aspiration is a hope and sometimes a prayer, a wish and a wannabe, a goal rather than a plan, and something in the clouds that may never find the ground. An agreement is a commitment, a contract, and a binding glue between parties, hopefully operating in good faith, that represents a purpose, a plan, and real consequences for success or failure. An “aspirational agreement” is really nothing at all. It’s a promise on the schoolyard with fingers crossed behind the back. How does anyone in authority ever say something like this without a blush, much less find anyone listening with anything other than rage?

Listening to the reports found this falsehood cropping up over and over when the discussion involved governmental or corporate commitments to developing affordable housing or living wages for example, but nowhere did it seem to populate the conversations more densely than when “community benefits” agreements were on the agenda. Community agreements are not easy to win, but they are critical in trying to hold the feet to the fire of both governments and private, corporate developers, who, frankly, are in the business of over promising and under delivering. Developers are always self-interested and specialize in building castles-in-the-sky to get permission in the clouds and then excuse their failure to deliver based on the facts on the ground. Governments over promise on the short term to maintain support through the next election and hope to outrun the future on the long term. All of which makes the ability of community and labor organizations to win clear community benefit agreements on new projects and proposals in as clear and committed terms as possible, especially when it comes to jobs, housing, wages, social services, parks, and other amenities that are critical to people every day regardless of the profit-and-loss statements to investors later or the election returns in the by and by.

Lake Buckhorn

In Canada, and the United States and other countries are little different, everyone in power seems to be adopting the language of community benefits while running away from true commitments and signed, binding documents as fast as possible. “Aspirational agreements” are the perfect term for deception and disingenuous double-speak signifying nothing.

We’re certainly not fooled, but the effort to deceive certainly makes our work harder and the campaigns more conflicted, since now we have to spend time, energy and resources pulling the crust off before we can get anywhere close to the heart of the matter.

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Huge Victory in Bristol as Mayor Pulls Back Council Tax Exemption Proposal

Bristol ACORN blocks an eviction

Lake Buckhorn, Ontario   ACORN members, leaders, and organizers were celebrating with the news that the mayor of Bristol, England, had folded under growing pressure from the ACORN campaign and shelved his proposal to eliminate exemptions for lower income families from the council tax. ACORN’s research and reports indicate that the victory protects the 16,000 poorest families in the city and blocks them having to pay 9 million pounds or almost $12 million dollars. This is a huge victory, as an ACORN representative told the bristolcable.org, an on-line news provider there, “This is a vindication of all the hard work that ACORN members have put in over the last few months, taking on what looked like a hopeless campaign and smashing it into the ground. We can fight and we can win.”

So, why is this so critical? The council tax is the main governmental revenue generator for local city councils in England. It is a combination of property and personal taxes, usually about 50-50. For the growing millions of private tenants, the council tax is paid by the tenant in single occupancy situations and by the landlord in multiple unit complexes though of course passed on. It is a somewhat progressive tax compared to real estate taxes in the US because there are multiple “bands” assigned by value, and there historically have been some exceptions and exemptions from full payment that “reduce the amount of council tax owed on a property depending on the occupants’ income, age, employment status, health, being a full-time student, or if the property is unoccupied,” according to Wikipedia.

And, that’s the rub. Under the British government’s austerity program and cutbacks in recent years, many councils have rolled back one exemption after another in order to replace revenue that they had lost due to the central government’s reductions. One report indicates that only 32 of the 353 various councils in England continue to offer full exemptions. It is in this economic and political climate that the battle was waged in Bristol, when the Mayor decided to remove the exemption for the poorest families, and given the rollbacks across the country, why ACORN had initially begun this fight even knowing that it was an almost “hopeless campaign.”

For months though Bristol ACORN had thrown everything they could at the Mayor. There was a petition that quickly gained 4000 signatures. ACORN issued a report in the form of briefing document to the city councilors outlining the economic arguments against the removal of the exemption, including the belief that it would end up costing the city up to 4 million pounds for various reasons if they removed the exemption. There were actions a plenty and highly visible “stalls” or tabling around the issue making the campaign hard to ignore.

Politically, endorsements for the campaign began rolling in with some Labour Party councilors indicating they would publicly bolt on the vote with others silently behind them and the Green and Liberal Democratic Parties coming on board with threats to sue because the consultation had been illegitimate offering various ways of cutting the exemptions with no option of standing pat. Other Labour Party chapters were also preparing to endorse the ACORN campaign. The weight of all of this forced the Mayor to finally retreat, handing a huge victory to the organization.

The Mayor claims he may come back again next year, but ACORN had a ready response and threw down the gauntlet for this fight and many to come saying in what could become the motto of the Bristol organization, “We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again, because we are ACORN and we refuse to lose.”

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Please enjoy A Little Pain by Margo Price.

Thanks to KABF.

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