By ANN MONTAGUE
On Nov. 16, eleven days after election night, the first socialist to be elected to the Seattle city council held her victory rally. The rally was at the headquarters of SEIU 775NW. This fact alone is significant since SEIU endorsed her opponent. By the time Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant spoke that evening, the crowd was avid to hear her, and she spoke for half an hour. She started by saying that she would be speaking that long because “when you are challenging the status quo, you cannot speak in sound bytes. It takes time.”
Sawant talked mostly about the fight for the $15 an hour minimum wage and reminded everyone that voting is only the first step. She then warned that there would be attempts to use slander to divide the movement. They will tell us to have a “reasonable” discussion and try to water down our demands. “We need to stay strong, the power is in our hands.”
Rita Shaw, a supporter of Socialist Action who was at the rally, reported that there were around 500 people in the hall, and it was standing room only. But more interesting than the numbers were the labor representatives who spoke despite the fact that they had supported her opponent. This included King County Labor Council Executive Director David Freiboth and a representative from SEIU 775NW. Shaw thought the most important thing about the night was Sawant’s emphasis on building broad coalitions all over the city to start talking about winning the $15 an hour minimum wage.
Two nights earlier, Sawant’s opponent, Democrat Richard Conlin, who had held the city council office for 16 years, had conceded the election. Sawant was behind on election night but was confident that the later votes, which tend to be from independents and non-voters, would put her over the top. As of this writing, votes are still being counted, and she has received 93,168 votes, which amounts to 50.63 percent of the total.
Her grassroots campaign was rooted in the movement for the $15 minimum wage and a millionaires’ tax to fund public transit and rent control. Sawant teaches economics at Seattle Central Community College and was an organizer for Occupy Seattle. She was arrested during foreclosure fights and supported the mass movement against coal trains and the building of the Gateway Pacific Terminal. She has pledged to give most of her $120,000 city council salary to social movements in the Seattle area.
Sawant is a member of AFT Local 1719, and they endorsed her along with CWA local 37083, APWU of Greater Seattle, IBEW Local 46, and AFSCME/WFSE Local 1488. A majority of the King County Labor Council voted to endorse her, but two-thirds was required for an official endorsement.
An election night statement from Socialist Alternative said, “U.S. capitalism is in a deep economic and social crisis. The political establishment is discredited, and their system of government appears broken. Deep anger is growing against inequality, racism, sexism and homophobia. Environmental destruction is worsening. The situation is crying out for an alternative. We urgently need a party of working people, connected to social movements, fighting unions, community organizations, Greens and socialists. As a concrete step to get there, we should form coalitions throughout the country with the potential to come together on a national level to run 100 independent working-class candidates in the 2014 mid-term elections. The unions who supported the [Ty] Moore and Sawant campaigns and many others should run full slates of independent working-class candidates in the mid-term, state, and local elections.”
One of the things that grabbed the attention of workers was this campaign’s relentless attacks on the Democratic Party, which her opponent Richard Conlin personified. In my union workers have been so disgusted by Democratic governors who are throwing huge tax breaks at corporations and then crying that their states are going broke that they found Sawant’s criticisms of the Democratic Party to be quite enticing. As a result, we sent a letter to all the SEIU locals in Washington State encouraging them to endorse the Sawant campaign. Now the workers will continue to watch closely Sawant’s activities in elected office.
The day after the victory party, Sawant sent out an e-mail to all her supporters, saying, “This is our fight, all of us.” She called on all her supporters to stand in solidarity with Boeing machinists at their rally that afternoon. She pointed out the Democratic-controlled state legislature had recently called a Special Session to offer Boeing $8 billion more in tax breaks while demanding draconian cuts in wages and benefits.
At the rally she spoke about the Boeing CEO’s threatening to leave Seattle. “The only response we can have if Boeing executives do not agree to keep the plant here is for the machinists to say: the machines are here, the workers are here; we will do the job, we don’t need the executives. The executives don’t do the work, the machinists do. We can re-tool the machines to produce mass transit like buses.”
Socialist Action hails the victory of Kshama Sawant, along with Socialist Alternative candidate Ty Moore, who won over 42 percent of the city council vote in Minneapolis. Although there are political differences among socialist groups, which can be discussed in the course of our common work, this election must be recognized as an important victory for the entire socialist movement.
Photo: Kshama Sawant.