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Hi, my name is Jim Macdonald, and I have an odd assortment of interests. In no particular order, I love Yellowstone, I am an anti-authoritarian activist and organizer, and I have a background in philosophy, having taught at the college level. My blog has a lot more links to my writing and my other Web sites. In Jim's Eclectic World, I try to give a holistic view of my many interests. Often, all three passions show themselves interweaving in the very same blog. Anyhow, I think it's a little different. But, that's me. I'm not so much out there, but taken together, I'm a little unusual.

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    Monday, January 15, 2007

    The company towns of Greater Yellowstone

    The company towns of Greater Yellowstone

    by Jim Macdonald

    I don't know how many people noticed the January 13 story out of Big Sky in the Billings Gazette entitled Couple objects to Big Sky Resort's plan to house employees. The gist of the story is that the Big Sky Resort has purchased a motel in which it intends to house the resort's employees as well as sell rooms to tourists. Many in Big Sky object, and a local couple has filed a formal complaint. Here is the rationale for the complaint, according to the article:

    Using the motel as employee housing "will decrease our property values, increase crime and decrease quality of life," [Patrick and Susan] Collins said.

    I can only hope that that is true.

    Many workers in Greater Yellowstone, whether you are talking about Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks, or the various businesses in the gateway communities and other towns like Big Sky, are not able to afford housing. In order to attract workers, many of the businesses and concessions provide employee housing and sometimes also the food and other goods at a fee that workers can afford. Such dependence on one employer for all these particular services can be dangerous, but in truth, it is not nearly as dangerous as it was for miners and other workers in the era of company towns -- like Andrew Carnegie's Homestead -- because most workers in Greater Yellowstone probably could have found work elsewhere. Thus, for the vast majority of workers, even perhaps the foreign workers who often spend upwards of $2,000 to an agent just to get to the United States in order to start work, we are not talking about oppression against labor in the same way that we see in the sweatshops throughout the world.

    Nevertheless, workers in parts of Greater Yellowstone are intended to be kept fully separate from the visitors, both wealthy and middle class, that they serve. In my five summers in Grant Village during the 1990s, I lived in employee dorms provided by my employer, ate in an employee dining room provided by the same employer, and spent my money mostly in the store in which I worked. Grant Village is set up so that each concession's housing is kept separate. Some live in dormitories and cabins while others live in employee campgrounds. Concessions employees are separated from National Park Service employees. The only place all might come together is in the employee pub.

    So, there is a whole physical and social world that most visitors never see, and there is a visitor world that many employees never see. I have never been to the Park Service employee area or inside a Grant Village cabin, and for the most part I've been to the campground when I stayed there as a visitor. The rules are often set up to discourage a lot of interaction between visitors and employees. My time at Hamilton Stores came with rules regulating the length of my hair, prohibiting facial hair, and telling us who we were allowed to let into the dorms, including how we may interact with workers from the other concessions. Given that most employees hated the tourist class, it was not a burdensome segregation. While there was acknowledgment that without the tourists there were no jobs, there was generally a wide cultural separation between the workers -- whether young or old -- and the tourists -- whether young or old. Many workers assumed tourists to be stupid -- giving them the name tourons -- and assumed they were more concerned with shopping for souvenirs than with the magical wonders all around them. I knew of many workers who would cheer when a tourist was gored by a bison or hurt by thermal features, happy that there was some sort of "justice" for the arrogance of most of the tourists whose money paid their wages.

    Many workers, separated from each other, developed suspicions of other workers. I remember that among waiters and waitresses in the Village Grill, there were several who claimed that Park Rangers were notorious for not tipping and hated what they called their big self-important egos. There was a divide in Grant Village between the Xanterra and the Yellowstone Park Service Station employees -- who sometimes socialized because they ate in the same Employee Dining Rooms -- and those who worked for Hamilton's (now Delaware North), often based on age (Xanterra and YPSS employees tended to be younger than the general store employees) but sometimes based on class (the assumption was that Xanterra employees tended to be poorer). In any job, younger and older employees often squabbled over noise and were often separated into different parts of the dormitories. Many older employees were married and/or lived in campgrounds and so lived separately from the single employees. Married workers had nicer dormitories. Most workers were friendly with their immediate store management, but there was suspicion of the management in headquarters. At Ham's, rumors about the wealth of the Povah's (owners of Hamilton Stores) spread, and there was a general assumption that they were cheapskates who could and should pay their workers better. If a worker defended the Povah's, it was often by comparing themselves against the workers at the other concessions. On my August 2006 visit to Yellowstone, workers at Delaware North told me how disgruntled they were with the owners and at least missed the consistency of the previous regime.

    Outside of Yellowstone, the story is certainly more diverse but not as drastically different as you might expect. Not all businesses provide housing, and most don't have the "company town" feel of the concessions of Yellowstone. Nevertheless, the price of housing is absolutely outrageous. Land for sale is not only scarce, it is highly desired by some of the richest people in the United States. Many of them move to the region for views of the Tetons or to live in the luxurious Big Sky area, where they can be members of the Yellowstone Club. In fact, the environmental benefit that comes from restricting private land access has been an incredible boon to the super rich. Yet, as a result, housing remains scarce for those who "clean the toilets." Many places like the Big Sky resort must provide housing for their employees, and the rights of workers in such situations is scarce to none. The only protection is the labor shortage, but in an environmet where you can't otherwise afford to live, it is small comfort to be able to work if you cannot provide for your own shelter. In some cases, workers who have lost jobs with one employer cannot find work with another. During my first summer in Yellowstone, a worker lost his job with Hamilton Stores after his former boss at TW (the predecessor of Xanterra) had talked to my boss about him. He had been hired and was doing good work for Hamilton's, but his past run-in with his employer had now cost him a chance to finish a summer in Yellowstone.

    Without workers, there is no tourism in Greater Yellowstone. They should not be subjected to the humiliation and class treatment that they inevitably suffer from in the area due to various prejudices and class differences that exist in the society at large. It is a remarkable privilege that anyone at all can afford property in the paradise of Greater Yellowstone, and it is sickening that people in Big Sky would use the value of their property as a reason to keep workers from living in the motel that has been provided for them. The property values in the region are already far too high as it is, and the workers are already forced into a situation where they are at the mercy of their employers. Because workers may be more prone to certain types of crime (a stereotype that by itself deserves a column) and may as a result drive property values down is sour grapes. Why should the workers that are depended on to raise the value of the property be separated in order to raise the property value further? Class hierarchy already comes with a price, as I have already argued in my essay, Yellowstone and class. Raising property values on the backs of workers comes hand-in-hand in Greater Yellowstone with the appreciation of animals, wildlife, and features for their own sake. The value of seeing a nature that rises above human artifice is inconsistent with de-valuing the workers who make this illusion possible.

    In fact, one should hope that the complaint of these Big Sky residents is essentially correct and that the value of the property in Big Sky decreases as a result of the motel being occupied by workers. Any leveling of the property value can only have the tendency to bring to the surface the obvious class prejudices that exist between members of all social classes. Instead of workers being hidden away in the employee dormitories or the wealthy in expensive hotel rooms, or the middle class in the lodges and campgrounds, all stewing in the perceptions that exist from being segregated, it is far better in my mind that the differences be allowed to blossom. In a wild area like Yellowstone, in places like the Lamar Valley, wildlife engage each other in a battle for their own survival. Like people who enjoy gladiator battles, many come out with their cameras and spotting scopes for a peek at the battles of the natural kingdom, as though because of our civilization we are immune from it. Instead, we have tucked it away and let it build beneath the surface. In our cities, in the Homesteads and company towns of the past, these situations have exploded like powder kegs. There have been horrible riots, and many people have died in situations that only could rise in a world of class oppression. The rich of Big Sky, the rich and middle class tourists of Yellowstone, and the rich of Jackson believe they have all escaped the pollution of the cities for their own privileged wonderland, one they further convince themselves is a privilege shared by all humans. Yet, we can see that there is no escaping the fact that we all eat and urinate, get dirty, and therefore still have the remotest relationship to our animal nature no matter where we are. Even then, we hide it in sewage, in laundromats,in meatpacking plants, and on ranches and farms. In Greater Yellowstone, it takes a working class to perpetuate the illusion that we are totally separated from the National Geographic moments in the Lamar Valley. Thus, there is always a working class living in close proximity to a wealthy class. One can only hope that by bringing that relationship out in the open that the truth is exposed.

    Yet, the thought that the workers of Greater Yellowstone will actually contribute to decreasing the property value for the rich in places like Big Sky, of course, is a very unlikely scenario. In fact, the workers have made the property owners of Big Sky just that much wealthier. Visitors, no matter their attitudes toward workers or vice versa, continue to flock to Yellowstone (even if workers are not always quite so eager to do the same despite the obvious benefits of such work), and the class gulf that continues to widen will most likely still only flare up where it is most acute, in the large cities.

    This is very sad to me because I don't understand why a place as beautiful and as special as Greater Yellowstone must exist as a sickening and bizarre microcosm of the abuses of the larger society. Why are buffalo, wolves, and grizzlies essentially treated either as nuissance animals or as heroic curiosities? I sometimes feel the same about the Yellowstone worker, although the "heroic curiosity" label is reserved only for the rangers. You cannot imagine the sense of disappointment people get when I tell them I wasn't a ranger in Yellowstone but rather worked for a concessionaire. Just as buffalo shouldn't be penned and just as they at the same time shouldn't be put on a pedestal at the expense of other wild animals, the workers of Greater Yellowstone shouldn't be banished to the netherworlds, certainly not on the basis of someone else's property value; they are already penned enough. Much can said for the argument that the parceling of land into private property has been an extreme detriment to all that makes the area beautiful and special. So, anything that works against such a system is welcome to me.

    Some argue that the tourist economy is the only thing that has protected it from mineral and agricultural development. If that is true, how pathetic. That is only a greater blight on civilized society at large and should only encourage a greater resistance against it. It suggests that we are all beholden to the company town, the one run by the tourist industry, and how we should thank our lucky stars that we are not stuck in the mining towns of old. Why should we assume that one form of oppression must exist? We have no reason to make such assumptions. And, if we did have reason, why should we feel happy with such a world? For crying out loud, let the workers in Big Sky stay at the motel; it's already ugly enough for workers as it is without this insult.

    At some point, we have to challenge the right to property, the rationale on which it stands, and the million abuses that are the consequence of this prejudice. It is a prejudice that goes far beyond Greater Yellowstone and its workers. Nevertheless, in Yellowstone, we can see plainly why the prejudice is so disgusting. If you destroy the class system among people, it will be easier to see the ways in which we continue to perpetrate systems of oppression throughout existence, to plants, animals, the water, and the land. In places like Yellowstone, we still see that enlightening hope even if the picture we see is largely an illusion built on the same systems of oppression. It is time we see the irony of it and begin to do something about it. One can only hope that we can stand with workers, with the land, and with the animals against the absurdities that arise in the Yellowstone that's hidden from view. In the short term, let us hope that the workers in Big Sky are not forced to be segregated more than they already are.

    Jim Macdonald


    For more on Jim and his relationship with Yellowstone, see the The Magic of Yellowstone. Similar themes have also been developed in his essays: Yellowstone and class and Anarchy in Yellowstone: A people’s history of Yellowstone National Park?

    7 Comments:

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I'd kind of like all the rich or middle class people who believe that the workers should be banned from the hotel to be banned from the park themselves. Or, forced to do a swap...the workers get to stay in luxury, and the privileged, entitled people have to stay in rustic conditions without indoor plumbing.

    Of course, ultimately it would be nice if the concept of luxury were banished from the world.

    And if animals and plants weren't treated like museum exhibits but were instead viewed as our equal partners in survival.

    That'll be the day...

    Great essay, Jim.

    --Julie

    1/17/07, 7:14 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    1. why does yellowstone have to be a microcosm of the rest of society? why is this hard to understand?

    think math. (there are 2 answers---left to the reader).

    the simple one is because its in this society. one has parks and museums, and radical blogs. also one has ghettos, a digital divide, and closed libraries. they go together, along with associated attitudes. this also has social value currently, since one can point out people who say, dont have a library, who may be ignorant, have bad habits, and see no value in a yellowstone, and then use that to continue denying them the priviledge of having a library or visiting yellowstone while justifying one's own as being merited or of a 'better class'.
    (In DC one can compare the maintenance of the Potomac to the Anacostia for an example of this sort).

    i wonder who the workers are at yellowstone? people who do this for a living or people on summer break? in the resorts in the east, its a mix. Some of the locals are happy to work at a resort because its better than a mine or what they grew up with, and lets them live where they grew up. Often they have less of a 'class conflict view' than people who are more upwardly mobile, who actually may in some (perverse) way derive benefit from being lowly workers instead of owners of or visitors to resorts. (And occassionally the onwers or visitors may actually be their families).

    this is a bit like organizing a starbucks. alot of people would be somewhat happy to work at starbucks; others see them as a place for class warfare or organizing and being working class.

    like a resort in a wilderness, one can ask whether one needs a starbucks if one wants coffee. its possible one could 'self-manage' these issues, but at present this is not done. wealthy people help fund parks, just as rockefeller and carnegie funded many educational institutions. but people could theoretically do this themselves.
    historically they often haven't.

    Could working people have developed the internet? Or, does bill Gates deserve his billions for making it like McDonalds?

    2. it might be nice to see some property values fall so that others (eg value of labor) can rise. of course if it falls too much then one may end up with a seemingly bad result (eg if wealth can no longer fund yellowstone, then it may be plundered by the poor, as occurs in some african parks which are plundered to provide food for japanese consumers and minerals for Microsoft or just simply to sustain the locals; or like iraq, where locals plundered museums and ruins. some places welathy tourists are greeted with 'show me the money').

    3. if the stock market fell a bit, then some wealth would dissapear. some extreme attitudes might decrease in prevalance, because they are unable to be sustained. then resort workers might be treated better. unionizing can aid this, but too often it doesn't. even union workers tend to spread business hegemoney, which perpetrates classism. (including the classism in which workers see the 'natural class' (animals, etc.) as either property or just nothing.)

    (it can be mentioned that unions and sportspeople recently developed an alliance, becasuse sportspeople are angry that western lands they hunt and fish on are being turned over to energy companies; as a result they are starting an alliance with workers who also have grievances with those companies for wage reasons. so this is a start of a path toward combining natural values with human rights against those of capital. so happy together.)

    4. this issue reminds me of a show on WPFW by Mike Tidwell on global warming and the ski industry. My impression is that skiing is skewed towards wealthy people. (It might be interesting to know the demographics of people who go to ski resorts.) They also destroy alot of habitat, though of course one can argue this permits many more people to enjoy it-- those who don't like walking. But, the ski industry is worried about warming, so they are doing things like using wind power and aiming for efficiency. I believe their concern is that snow melts when its warm, though i think this theory is controversial. Exxon Mobile may have sdtudies showing there is no correlation between temperature and snow, and people only believe this due to the influence of ancient superstitions.

    this program left out the idea that maybe people should stop driving to ski resorts, even if they have the money. The wealthy may actually be contributing much more to warming than the average.
    they could be shut down, rather than encouraged or legitimized by being reformed. (Similarily, if working people have a problem with the rich, they could have a general strike rather than being complicit in the 'microcosm of society' they inhabit. While this i think is not practical (the old ideas about the general strike probably being overrated slogans), they can think of what society they might prefer to be a microcosm of, and aim for that level of complicity. )

    ski resorts to me are a much lower priority than national parks funded by resorts, because they don't protect nature much (they destroy more) and likely are even more elitist. having them unionized and green might be nice, or it may be mostly whitewash. (I guess if this were Iraq, one might say ski resort, Walmart or Yellowstone employees are actually collaborators, and hence really not worth supporting).


    As an aside, it can also be mentioned that Tidwell like some clean energy types ridiculed the idea that wind energy has any downsides----he asked one resort owner whether having a big wind farm on the top of his mountain seemed unsitely, and the answer was no.

    however, this neglects the fact that wind farms destroy habitat, so its not just sight. Ski resorts to some are unsightly. Since ski resorts have already destroyed habitat, wind there seems ok. But one doesnt need any more. 'Clean energy' which destroys the environment is not that clean. (Wind energy belongs on farms, which are already developed, not in wilderness).

    i might imagine that ski-ers actually wouldn't even notice a mountain if it lacked a ski resort on it.

    1/20/07, 4:06 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Having worked in both Yellowstone and Big Sky...I think you are way off the mark...the "class" issues you rail against are so very minor compared to the rest of the World's problems...

    I mixed, mingled and socialized with all classes at all levels- tourists and employees alike...people are there because they want to be...not because they have to be...Its inevitable that people congregate with others similar too them - that doesn't make it class oppression...

    Moreover- you are just plain wrong on some things- housing is not "absolutely outrageous"- compared to what?? San Francisco? DC where you live?? I worked as a toilet cleaner at Big Sky and was able to afford housing outside of company housing..."land for sale is scarce"???? have you looked around the GY area?? There is a real estate boom- with a great deal of land/housing for sale that - compared to the rest of the country is still quite cheap (Yellowstone CLub and immediate Big Sky vicinity notwithstanding)

    Since you do not believe in private property....can I have all your stuff??

    2/9/07, 2:24 PM  
    Blogger Jim Macdonald said...

    Dear anonymous,

    First of all, I am curious from a research standpoint about the housing you found. How much did it cost, where did the money go, what percentage of your wages was it? How much disposable income did you have? In my particular case, there was absolutely no way I could have afforded housing on my income. I am interested in knowing more of the details in order to understand the situation better.

    Secondly, you didn't say what you made of the complaints of the residents of Big Sky against having employees stay at the hotel. Or, is this a minor issue?

    I beg to differ on your assessment that class is a relatively minor issue in respect to the rest of the world's problems. That seems to be a curious statement, and I'd like to know why you think so. I agree that class hasn't been considered a very important problem to many Americans of all social classes; I have a lot of thoughts as to why. Perhaps, you would like to share yours.

    Thirdly, as to the price of housing...take a walk through Jackson Hole and look at the real estate prices. Better yet, let me show you - http://www.jacksonholerealestate.net/
    Tell me that there's some affordable property there. Teton County, Wyoming, is in fact comparable to DC and San Francisco, which are sickening in themselves (do you think I own property? I have a middle class income and live in a group home in a part of town that many don't dare live). You can find some affordable housing in the Cody area, but guess what? Try to find a job that can support that housing. In most of the rest of the country, you simply don't have employers who provide housing for their workers - you simply don't have to. Wages in DC and San Francisco are much, much higher than they are in the resort areas.

    I agree with you that most people who work in the area want to work there; I have said repeatedly that they are not representative of the lower classes of America; that makes it all the more strange and ironic that there are people in Big Sky who would wish to hide them from view.

    Maybe, you mingled with lots of different people; I can't argue with that. It does not square with my experience. People are going to be drawn to people who share similar experiences; what I think is troublesome is that those experiences are to a large extent pre-determined. I'm also upset that the environmental solutions in the region tend to be those that ironically most benefit wealthy people. That's an odd thing.

    As for what's mine, you come find me and tell me what you need, and we'll talk. But, like so many, you take it that just because I don't believe in private property that I'm amoral. You tell me what's right about taking all "my" stuff. But, if you expect me to tell you that it's by right mine because it is mine, you have another thing coming. Hopefully, you can see the fallacy in your reasoning.

    I had a wonderful many years working in Yellowstone; only as time has passed have I realized how strange an experience it actually was. If it didn't run up against so many things going on in the rest of the world, I wouldn't care. But, it does, and that I suppose is the sharpest difference of opinion we have. Class distinctions in Yellowstone are extremely bizarre, and that's perhaps why I highlight them, because they suggest (because they aren't pronounced like they are in the streets of my city) larger contexts in which to look at things.

    Jim

    2/9/07, 3:08 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi Jim-

    Thanks for the reply…I have tried to address several points directly- marked by a *- see below:
    Dear anonymous,

    "First of all, I am curious from a research standpoint about the housing you found. How much did it cost, where did the money go, what percentage of your wages was it? How much disposable income did you have? In my particular case, there was absolutely no way I could have afforded housing on my income. I am interested in knowing more of the details in order to understand the situation better."

    *To be honest, I cannot remember exact figures- I was working for Boyne Corp for their going rate for seasonal, entry level housekeeping employees- and one season rented a room in a shared condo in the Meadow…the next season I had another room in a house with some friends. We all worked for Boyne…and all afforded housing…When your ski pass is paid for (by Boyne) and all you do is ski and work- you are not needing nor spending a lot of disposable income…granted this is seasonal work and I had to find other work in summer- which I did easily. My first season at Big Sky I lived in employee housing…rooming with a diverse group of individuals from all classes (educated white kids, uneducated older white males, educated immigrants, uneducated immigrants)

    *Moreover, this comment of yours “Nevertheless, workers in parts of Greater Yellowstone are intended to be kept fully separate from the visitors, both wealthy and middle class, that they serve” is not accurate- certainly not in Big Sky…Employees eat in the very same cafeteria that visitors do, participate in activities (torch light parades, contests and events) designed to include both employees and guests- every year Big Sky Ski Patrol (professional full time employees) put on a community dance (held at a main hotel) that is open to all employees and guest alike- which is quite popular with both…and the chair lifts and lines are eminently egalitarian and conducive to a lot if interaction amongst “classes”…

    "Secondly, you didn't say what you made of the complaints of the residents of Big Sky against having employees stay at the hotel. Or, is this a minor issue?"

    *Its minor- Its typical NIMBY that is to be expected- it may be based on ignorance and prejudice or on personal experience but it is not a major concern and indeed your quote is just one couple’s view and may not be the prevailing attitude of other home owners. It will come to naught as Boyne (and Yellowstone Club which bought another hotel across the street for the same purpose) will do as they please…Big Sky can’t even be a company town as it isn’t even a town…there is no official legal entity that speaks on behalf of the “town” of Big Sky…

    "I beg to differ on your assessment that class is a relatively minor issue in respect to the rest of the world's problems. That seems to be a curious statement, and I'd like to know why you think so. I agree that class hasn't been considered a very important problem to many Americans of all social classes; I have a lot of thoughts as to why. Perhaps, you would like to share yours."

    * I apologize for my ineffective communication. I did not mean that class issues in general were not important- just that class issues in Big Sky/Yellowstone is a minor issue compared to the rest of the World’s class issues…

    *Nor are the class issues of Big Sky/Yellowstone very indicative of class issues in general in the United States or the rest of the World-The class dynamics of BS/YS are relatively complex and not as easily summated as tourists, workers and/or different class of workers (for a true dissection of class issues – one should look at Big Sky and Yellowstone separately as they are different- having worked at both I am torn as to which one to focus on)…Typically people visiting are doing so for recreation and pleasure and environmental amenities- those parameters in and of themselves set the stage for a rather homogeneous level of income- such that they can afford to recreate…but it also to a certain degree applied to workers as well…at Big Sky- for example- The vast majority of the people who worked there were there because they wanted to ski- or at the very least wanted to be in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE)- there was a wide range of classes even within groups- you had graduate school educated, affluent white kids working side by side with non-college educated African Americans and Latinos…You had some people (a minority) who were there for the job and those that were there for the skiing…and yet working side by side.

    "Thirdly, as to the price of housing...take a walk through Jackson Hole and look at the real estate prices."

    * Yes, my bad- in my caveat of Big Sky and the Yellowstone Club, I should have included Jackson Hole – in all three places housing is quite expensive…and yet in the entire GYE from Pinedale to Big Timber, Bozeman, Livingston, Columbus, Red Lodge to Rigby housing is relatively affordable with adequate availability…

    "Better yet, let me show you - http://www.jacksonholerealestate.net/
    Tell me that there's some affordable property there. Teton County, Wyoming, is in fact comparable to DC and San Francisco, which are sickening in themselves (do you think I own property? I have a middle class income and live in a group home in a part of town that many don't dare live). You can find some affordable housing in the Cody area, but guess what? Try to find a job that can support that housing. In most of the rest of the country, you simply don't have employers who provide housing for their workers - you simply don't have to. Wages in DC and San Francisco are much, much higher than they are in the resort areas."

    *Yes, but could you afford to live in DC or San Francisco cleaning toilets??

    "I agree with you that most people who work in the area want to work there; I have said repeatedly that they are not representative of the lower classes of America; that makes it all the more strange and ironic that there are people in Big Sky who would wish to hide them from view."

    * Its not necessarily wishing to hide them from view…its wishing to not have their housing nearby and is based on experience of high density housing of seasonal employees- which over the course of a long winter does often involve alcohol, noise and violence…this isn’t wishing to not see “poor” people…it is wishing to avoid problems typical to high density population areas- problems people typically were hoping to avoid by moving to Montana and thus not surprising that people would object…

    "Maybe, you mingled with lots of different people; I can't argue with that. It does not square with my experience. People are going to be drawn to people who share similar experiences; what I think is troublesome is that those experiences are to a large extent pre-determined."

    * My experience was not an aberration- most of my fellow employees at both BS and YW experienced similar…from the 30 year career managing housekeeping at Yellowstone to transient employees employed for just a few weeks…it was all very fluid and in general people were open-minded and eager to interact with others- a few “touron” comments not with standing…I recreated with NPS employees, dined and socialized with tourists etc…perhaps it was your mindset that kept YOU from having these experiences…?

    * My family came to visit me at Big Sky (as did others)…stayed at the hotel I worked at…what does that do to class dynamics? I was invited to socialize with tourists in Yellowstone! I socialized and recreated with full-time employees at both locales…My immediate supervisor (in Yellowstone) was a Hispanic immigrant whilst I was a Caucasian of “middle class” extraction…

    "I'm also upset that the environmental solutions in the region tend to be those that ironically most benefit wealthy people. That's an odd thing."

    *I am curious to know what you mean by this- can you explain?

    "As for what's mine, you come find me and tell me what you need, and we'll talk. But, like so many, you take it that just because I don't believe in private property that I'm amoral. You tell me what's right about taking all "my" stuff. But, if you expect me to tell you that it's by right mine because it is mine, you have another thing coming."

    * well…”morals” are a value judgment…and if life on this earth has taught us anything is that humans have different values…what is important and “right” and “valuable” to one person is not necessarily to another…I may not feel right about taking your stuff…someone surely will feel differently and not care in the least…and that is why Rule of Law is an important arbiter.

    "Hopefully, you can see the fallacy in your reasoning."

    * ..ummm...not so much :)

    "I had a wonderful many years working in Yellowstone; only as time has passed have I realized how strange an experience it actually was. If it didn't run up against so many things going on in the rest of the world, I wouldn't care. But, it does, and that I suppose is the sharpest difference of opinion we have. Class distinctions in Yellowstone are extremely bizarre, and that's perhaps why I highlight them, because they suggest (because they aren't pronounced like they are in the streets of my city) larger contexts in which to look at things."

    Jim

    *I do not think the class issues in BS/YS are “bizarre”- I think they are relatively benign and relatively common to any tourist “destination” area- There will always be those working whose job it is to provide services to those who are visiting…In Yellowstone and Big Sky those distinctions are greatly blurred and not easily pigeon-holed- shaped in large part by the unifying aspect of the GYE itself- the vast majority of people – workers and visitors alike- are there because of their love for the area- which – in my opinion and experience- is a great class neutralizer.

    Thoughts?

    Carter-

    2/12/07, 12:15 PM  
    Blogger Jim Macdonald said...

    Hi Carter,
    Thanks for a lot of this. I learned something about what it's like to work at Big Sky, something I've only seen from the other side of things - I was there for a work conference this past summer. Let me go through your comments with the care you did with mine.


    *To be honest, I cannot remember exact figures- I was working for Boyne Corp for their going rate for seasonal, entry level housekeeping employees- and one season rented a room in a shared condo in the Meadow…the next season I had another room in a house with some friends. We all worked for Boyne…and all afforded housing…When your ski pass is paid for (by Boyne) and all you do is ski and work- you are not needing nor spending a lot of disposable income…granted this is seasonal work and I had to find other work in summer- which I did easily. My first season at Big Sky I lived in employee housing…rooming with a diverse group of individuals from all classes (educated white kids, uneducated older white males, educated immigrants, uneducated immigrants)

    Out of curiosity, what years did you work there? Would you imagine that the experience you had with a group getting housing would be easier today, or is it harder?

    I don't know about Big Sky; I do know that housekeepers for Xanterra in Yellowstone made better money than most people who worked there because they had a lot of trouble keeping people employed in that work. There was overtime, 60 hour weeks occasionally, and higher base wages as labor became scarce. On the other hand, there was a super high turnover rate. Was there a high turnover rate among workers in Big Sky while you were there?

    The second thing I'd like to say is that you and I are working from different defintions of class. I'm not talking about class in terms of relative level of education; I'm talking about relative level of income. One of my senses of things is that while many people who worked in the area aren't wealthy, and many aren't even middle class, that they are not necessarily demographically representative of the lower class. That is, there isn't great racial diversity, there are a disproportionate number of single people, there are a lot of young and old people but not as many in between (outside of teachers and veterans and those types), that now there are a disproportionate number of immigrants from certain countries, and on and on. I'm not saying that's a problem; I'm just trying to identify who the working class is in the area. This summer, for instance, in both Big Sky and Yellowstone, I saw large numbers from Eastern Europe and South America - in most cases, the immigrant workers were educated and from professional families in their home countries, but were not necessarily poor in their home countries, either.

    In my time in Yellowstone, most young concessions workers were white, lower or lower middle class, and educated. It wasn't universal, though I will say that in five summers in Hamilton Stores, I never saw a person of color working in the store and not that many with Xanterra. This year, I saw many more, mostly immigrants from South America or Asia.


    *Moreover, this comment of yours “Nevertheless, workers in parts of Greater Yellowstone are intended to be kept fully separate from the visitors, both wealthy and middle class, that they serve” is not accurate- certainly not in Big Sky…Employees eat in the very same cafeteria that visitors do, participate in activities (torch light parades, contests and events) designed to include both employees and guests- every year Big Sky Ski Patrol (professional full time employees) put on a community dance (held at a main hotel) that is open to all employees and guest alike- which is quite popular with both…and the chair lifts and lines are eminently egalitarian and conducive to a lot if interaction amongst “classes”…

    This is interesting to know. Do the yearlong residents tend to participate in these activities? Except for religious services, I can't think of a like example within Yellowstone itself. I think there was a 10 K run, but so few participated in that that it hardly counts.

    *Its minor- Its typical NIMBY that is to be expected- it may be based on ignorance and prejudice or on personal experience but it is not a major concern and indeed your quote is just one couple’s view and may not be the prevailing attitude of other home owners. It will come to naught as Boyne (and Yellowstone Club which bought another hotel across the street for the same purpose) will do as they please…Big Sky can’t even be a company town as it isn’t even a town…there is no official legal entity that speaks on behalf of the “town” of Big Sky…

    Far from making me feel better about Big Sky, this actually has the tendency to re-inforce the idea of Big Sky as the prototypical, almost extralegal company town. If the Yellowstone Club essentially rules the town and corporations like Boyne, then it is exactly the kind of class run town that I meant to talk about. In Homestead, it was Andrew Carnegie; here it's an oligarchy of sorts, or Tim Blixseth, or someone like that, but it's not a town in the sense that the people who work in the town, or who live there (and aren't members of the Yellowstone Club) don't actually have any say in what will happen. If the complaint of relatively wealthy residents is for nothing, then it actually reinforces the idea that the class system in Big Sky is even more, not less hierarchical. As Big Sky is also part of Greater Yellowstone and mixed with the ongoings of the ecosystem, that the wealthy members of the Club essentially rule over the area (an area not even legally a "town" but which is a town in fact), then that's not a good thing.

    The same happened in the Tetons area. In fact, Grand Teton would not have extended to the Jackson Hole part of the park if not for Rockefeller's money and the front company he used to buy up the land.

    Remember that I have said that working in Yellowstone (see "Yellowstone and class" for instance) is a wonderful thing, perhaps most wonderful for the workers of Yellowstone who get to spend months working in Yellowstone. Yet, it's a wonderful thing that essentially reinforces the decision-making control over the area. It's sweet to be able to ski all winter and mountain bike all summer while making money. Beneath the surface, though, it's not so sweet, and our joy comes at a larger price. Some of these essays are pointing to that price and the inconsistency of that price with what we value about Yellowstone.

    I don't think that's minor; it's only minor as long as Yellowstone still resembles a place any of us would value. But, as none of that is in our control and even less so over time, as issues that face the land and animals are increasingly exacerbated (do you follow the bison or the wolf or snowmobile or grizzly controversies), then we will ultimately have a Yellowstone that only serves the interest of the most powerful wealthy interest. That may not seem that dangerous in the Yellowstone context, but since the money that controls Greater Yellowstone is connected to the problems throughout the rest of the world, it is extremely dangerous in the larger context. We should be able to do more in Greater Yellowstone of all places to consider issues related to classism in order to help turn the larger tide.


    *Nor are the class issues of Big Sky/Yellowstone very indicative of class issues in general in the United States or the rest of the World-The class dynamics of BS/YS are relatively complex and not as easily summated as tourists, workers and/or different class of workers (for a true dissection of class issues – one should look at Big Sky and Yellowstone separately as they are different- having worked at both I am torn as to which one to focus on)…Typically people visiting are doing so for recreation and pleasure and environmental amenities- those parameters in and of themselves set the stage for a rather homogeneous level of income- such that they can afford to recreate…but it also to a certain degree applied to workers as well…at Big Sky- for example- The vast majority of the people who worked there were there because they wanted to ski- or at the very least wanted to be in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE)- there was a wide range of classes even within groups- you had graduate school educated, affluent white kids working side by side with non-college educated African Americans and Latinos…You had some people (a minority) who were there for the job and those that were there for the skiing…and yet working side by side.

    Well, yes, I think you are right about this. There are similarities among all types of people who come out there and there are all kinds of nuances. What I have to wonder, though, is, the notion that the United States has set certain land aside for the purpose of recreation. It's not that recreation is bad, but in what sort of world must land be parceled off just this way. Yes, it is all over the place today, but at one time it wasn't. Industrialization, capitalism, the agricultural revolution, and theories about property and property rights have all paved these roads. At the same time, these revolutions have depended on certain values about labor, laborers, etc. We can take the easy answer and say we can't turn back. True, but if unchecked, what do these forces do to the earth at large? We've been taught that Greater Yellowstone is a special place because it has been set aside for recreation. Perhaps, that idea is wrong. Perhaps, it's part of the same crap that has been part of genocide, nuclear holocausts, and neocolonialism in the Global South. On whose backs , even we who enjoy our work, is our recreation society? It's all the more interesting that if Yellowstone at large is a luxurious place for even some working poor in America (which it is), isn't it interesting that even in that same area, some of the same hierarchies exist? And, if they are more benign in Yellowstone (and surely, they are...working poor make money to spend more time in Wonderland), what does that actually say? This essay was pointing toward an injustice, but the whole story is quite complex, and you're noting some of it. I think I have in this and some other essays. I think it's a story worth telling and an outcome worth resisting.

    * Yes, my bad- in my caveat of Big Sky and the Yellowstone Club, I should have included Jackson Hole – in all three places housing is quite expensive…and yet in the entire GYE from Pinedale to Big Timber, Bozeman, Livingston, Columbus, Red Lodge to Rigby housing is relatively affordable with adequate availability…

    I'm not sure I consider Bozeman all that affordable (I did find a couple places in a recent search), and the trend from reports is that outlaying areas where property is still somewhat affordable is that it's getting less so and also require people to make greater commutes with much higher gasoline and cost of living expenses. All of this contributes to sprawl, which is an environmental hazard few actually want. That's one reason I say that what's good for the environment tends to benefit the rich. You can cut off sprawl by restricting growth; restricting growth is certainly better for the environment. In fact, the West is becoming more and more urbanized, and you find fewer people outside the towns. All good, except fewer and fewer can afford to live there. So, the issue of who controls the decision-making and the resources ultimately matters if we are to have any equity. Is there any wonder there's a labor shortage in Greater Yellowstone? The labor shortage may be averted either by more corporate-provided housing, or by making more land available, or by lowering prices, but the trade-off is environmental. Until the system is challenged, we are going to have a meandering status quo that oscillates between one injustice and another.


    *Yes, but could you afford to live in DC or San Francisco cleaning toilets??

    Some obviously do. In DC, they tend to be Salvadoran immigrants, laborers with or without papers. They live in crowded environments inside and outside the city. DC and San Francisco are examples of the problems of severe class problems; I am simply saying I don't think Greater Yellowstone is exempt from it. Where it's not, it still points to the problems that exist in the larger society and the world at large, and that should be unacceptable in a place that owes its social value for being an exception to hierarchical values.

    * Its not necessarily wishing to hide them from view…its wishing to not have their housing nearby and is based on experience of high density housing of seasonal employees- which over the course of a long winter does often involve alcohol, noise and violence…this isn’t wishing to not see “poor” people…it is wishing to avoid problems typical to high density population areas- problems people typically were hoping to avoid by moving to Montana and thus not surprising that people would object…

    In DC, in response to an uptick in violent crime, a strict curfew was imposed on juveniles to be in by 10PM. There was a weak correlation between violent crime and being juvenile, but only an agist would say that by being young and out past 10PM, that you were by that reason alone more likely to commit a crime. Statistical correlations don't make for causations. More African Americans are accused of crimes; should ALL African Americans as a result be stereotypes or punished as a result? Yet, that's exactly what was happening with juveniles.

    My point is that no one has any reason to treat workers as a class as noisy, drug-using criminals just because more of them are prone to it. It is therefore anti-worker to separate them just because of what some may do. I won't deny the drug use, for instance, in Yellowstone, or the fact that we had rangers show up a little more than I was accustomed to seeing by myself. That's irrelevant, however. Just because certain people of a certain class statistically tend to do certain things doesn't make it right. It is classist, and I don't think you can make an argument that would convince me otherwise. In fact, your defense of the reaction was classically so.


    * My experience was not an aberration- most of my fellow employees at both BS and YW experienced similar…from the 30 year career managing housekeeping at Yellowstone to transient employees employed for just a few weeks…it was all very fluid and in general people were open-minded and eager to interact with others- a few “touron” comments not with standing…I recreated with NPS employees, dined and socialized with tourists etc…perhaps it was your mindset that kept YOU from having these experiences…?

    I'm not sure how either of us could possibly generalize what "most" did. In my circles, most did not. I worked in the same store for five summers and was more social than most of my co-workers with those from Xanterra. Most of them did not, either. That's a cross-section of five years in the 1990s at Grant Village. That's all I can actually speak to, except for a few conversations here and there.

    But, even if one of us is right about our experience, there's no doubt about how things are set up. There is the world that is visible to the visitor, and the one that is visible to the worker. In Grant, it's not that short a hike from an employee dorm to a visitor campsite. In most parts of the park, it's not all that obvious where the workers are.

    And, a study of the history shows that's not unintentional; there is a specific effort to cater to a particular type of tourist. That changes as the world changed, but not a great deal.


    * My family came to visit me at Big Sky (as did others)…stayed at the hotel I worked at…what does that do to class dynamics? I was invited to socialize with tourists in Yellowstone! I socialized and recreated with full-time employees at both locales…My immediate supervisor (in Yellowstone) was a Hispanic immigrant whilst I was a Caucasian of “middle class” extraction…

    And, we had to sneak in my significant others parent into our dorms or risk being fired, a cousin as well. I never knew a Latino in my years working there. And, though I see more now, mostly immigrants, it still says nothing about class. It does suggest that there is at least some racial tokenization, which strange to say it, is an improvement over not even doing that much.

    "I'm also upset that the environmental solutions in the region tend to be those that ironically most benefit wealthy people. That's an odd thing."

    *I am curious to know what you mean by this- can you explain?

    I think I got to some of it above. There are a lot of other examples. That which protects the view of the rich can often be environmentally beneficial. But, another example is winter use, and that's been covered on a number of blogs besides mine. We can look more at that if you like.

    * well…”morals” are a value judgment…and if life on this earth has taught us anything is that humans have different values…what is important and “right” and “valuable” to one person is not necessarily to another…I may not feel right about taking your stuff…someone surely will feel differently and not care in the least…and that is why Rule of Law is an important arbiter.

    But, the Rule of Law, first of all is not value neutral. Certain people with values created the Rule of Law. Secondly, I differ with you very much on the notion that all values are relative. Certainly, some are better than others, or there wouldn't be a "rule of law". Is a law against murder or slavery wrong simply because there is a law against it?

    In fact, laws are what they are because some had the power to enforce their values, and if there are problems with those values, then they need to be resisted. We shouldn't just accept the Rule of Law because it is such, or else we'd simply excuse people who worked for the Nazi's in Germany as just following German law. We'd excuse slaveowners for simply following the law, and we'd criticize abolitionists and those on the underground railroad for breaking the law.

    The arbiter is reason, and if reason can't determine values, then there's no point having this or any other discussion. And, if can't determine values, the rule of law can't do a better job.

    As an anarchist, I do have trouble with the notion that there should be self-appointed arbiters of value, but the values are there. We should do everything possible to create a world where those values rest on the participation of autonomous communities rather than on oligarchs who would convince us that the Rule of Law is somehow value neutral.


    "Hopefully, you can see the fallacy in your reasoning."

    * ..ummm...not so much :)

    The fallacy is that just because I don't believe in property rights doesn't mean you have the right to anything I might call mine. However, if you need anything, let me know, and let's see.

    *I do not think the class issues in BS/YS are “bizarre”- I think they are relatively benign and relatively common to any tourist “destination” area- There will always be those working whose job it is to provide services to those who are visiting…In Yellowstone and Big Sky those distinctions are greatly blurred and not easily pigeon-holed- shaped in large part by the unifying aspect of the GYE itself- the vast majority of people – workers and visitors alike- are there because of their love for the area- which – in my opinion and experience- is a great class neutralizer.

    Thoughts?


    To the contrary, what you describe is very strange when you look at it at the backdrop of the rest of society. Classism exists, but it exists in a way that's unlike most places in the country. The way it exists is unique, and while it exists in a way that's often relatively beneficial in some ways to the workers, the system still contributes to the detriment of Yellowstone and justice at large. Both in context of itself and in respect to the world in which which this class system exists, its benign aspects are part of the larger cancer that will make problems that face Yellowstone unsolveable. As I said, it will probably explode elsewhere, but it will be too late for many of the environmental victims caught in the crosshairs, those beyond class, the animals, plants, land, and water, who have even less say in the class environment that passes itself off as untamed wilderness.

    Carter-

    2/12/07, 3:13 PM  
    Blogger CSK said...

    Hi Jim-

    just a few brief comments...on your comments...on my comments :) I have enjoyed this dialogue but will have to leave it at that...feel free to have the last word...it is your blog after all :) (is that a class distinction? and indication of ownership??)

    Jim Wrote:
    "Far from making me feel better about Big Sky, this actually has the tendency to re-inforce the idea of Big Sky as the prototypical, almost extralegal company town. If the Yellowstone Club essentially rules the town and corporations like Boyne, then it is exactly the kind of class run town that I meant to talk about. In Homestead, it was Andrew Carnegie; here it's an oligarchy of sorts, or Tim Blixseth, or someone like that, but it's not a town in the sense that the people who work in the town, or who live there (and aren't members of the Yellowstone Club) don't actually have any say in what will happen. If the complaint of relatively wealthy residents is for nothing, then it actually reinforces the idea that the class system in Big Sky is even more, not less hierarchical. As Big Sky is also part of Greater Yellowstone and mixed with the ongoings of the ecosystem, that the wealthy members of the Club essentially rule over the area (an area not even legally a "town" but which is a town in fact), then that's not a good thing.

    I replied:

    ** The local politics of Big Sky are far too complicated to be adequately addressed by us relatively uninformed here- suffice to say that the “citizens” of Big Sky are not beholden to the “companies” of Boyne or Y-Club…both companies have been sued by locals for environmental issues (sewage abatement issues and riparian damage) and the locals were victorious…this is where rule of law comes in handy.

    **Moreover- the purchase of motels by Boyne and Y-Club for their employees is yet another way for guests and employees to mix as they will both be staying at the same place…certainly not out of sight…(both say they will still rent rooms to tourists)

    Jim Wrote:

    "I don't think that's minor; it's only minor as long as Yellowstone still resembles a place any of us would value. But, as none of that is in our control and even less so over time, as issues that face the land and animals are increasingly exacerbated (do you follow the bison or the wolf or snowmobile or grizzly controversies), then we will ultimately have a Yellowstone that only serves the interest of the most powerful wealthy interest. That may not seem that dangerous in the Yellowstone context, but since the money that controls Greater Yellowstone is connected to the problems throughout the rest of the world, it is extremely dangerous in the larger context. We should be able to do more in Greater Yellowstone of all places to consider issues related to classism in order to help turn the larger tide."

    I replied:

    ** I do follow the wolf, grizzly, and snowmobile issues with rapt attention…and the processes and outcomes speak to the opposite of what you believe to be the case- that “none of that is in our control” – that just isn’t the case…if it was –would there be wolves in Yellowstone now?? The Big Money in the area was decidedly against re-introduction…and yet they did not prevail…The Grizzly has rebounded relatively nicely in spite of locals predilection for disposing of them…The snowmobile issue is a great example of competing interests trying to fight for their own agendas- Big Money enviro groups wanted no snowmobiles...Big Money snowmachine manufactures wanted 2-stroke engines with no daily limits- who won?…did you participate in the public comments on the draft plan?? Is that just window dressing and of no substance?? Who is the ruling “class” in the motorized vehicle use plan for Gallatin National Forests- those who want more access to the wilderness with their motorcycles and ATVs…or those who want less? Which class are you?

    **What is the money that controls the GYE?? Is it large land holders who buy up huge tracts to preserve under conservation easements?? Or is the developers who buy up land to subdivide and destroy habitat…??

    Jim Wrote:

    "My point is that no one has any reason to treat workers as a class as noisy, drug-using criminals just because more of them are prone to it. It is therefore anti-worker to separate them just because of what some may do. I won't deny the drug use, for instance, in Yellowstone, or the fact that we had rangers show up a little more than I was accustomed to seeing by myself. That's irrelevant, however. Just because certain people of a certain class statistically tend to do certain things doesn't make it right. It is classist, and I don't think you can make an argument that would convince me otherwise. In fact, your defense of the reaction was classically so."

    **…but this is twisted logic…as we have already established that workers in Big Sky and Yellowstone are a mix of classes…and thus re-classed purely by their choice of employer…

    ** …and why is it wrong to acknowledge certain characteristics about a group of people?? …if you had a group of pedophiles, would you ignore their tendencies and let them live next to a school?? Would you purposely ignore certain truths just to try and attained some ideal?? That seems misguided and foolish at best. As much as you would like to live in a Utopia of class/distinction/characterization free society…that is not reality…it never has been…and probably never will.

    Jim Wrote:

    "But, even if one of us is right about our experience, there's no doubt about how things are set up. There is the world that is visible to the visitor, and the one that is visible to the worker. In Grant, it's not that short a hike from an employee dorm to a visitor campsite. In most parts of the park, it's not all that obvious where the workers are."

    I replied:

    ** That’s weak- the employees dorms at Mammoth are right across the street the entire park Head Quarters and the Post Office…hardly out of sight…we used to sit on the porch of our dorm and watch the tourists watch the Elk…

    Jim Wrote:

    "As an anarchist, I do have trouble with the notion that there should be self-appointed arbiters of value, but the values are there. We should do everything possible to create a world where those values rest on the participation of autonomous communities rather than on oligarchs who would convince us that the Rule of Law is somehow value neutral."

    I replied:

    ** Well…supposedly in a democracy they are not self appointed- but instead appointed by you – or your fellow citizens whose views differ from yours…but you are right Rule of Law is not value neutral…however- most peoples values fall with a standard deviation of the “norm” and thus it is helpful to codify those values- it is up to each society to deal with those whose actions fall outside those values…

    Carry on.

    2/14/07, 12:30 PM  

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