By Ann Montague
November 16th, 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 as SEIU endorsed her opponent. By the time Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant spoke the crowd was ready 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 bites. It takes time”. She talked mostly about the fight for the $15.00 an hour minimum wage and reminded everyone that voting is only the first step and then warned them that there will be attempts to use slander and to divide the movement. She went on to explain that their opponents will try to make this personal. They will tell us to have a ‘reasonable’ discussion and they will try to water down our demands. “We need to stay strong, the power is in our hands”.
Rita Shaw, a Socialist Action supporter was at the rally and reports there were around 500 people there 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 the 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 that position for sixteen years had conceded the election. She 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 is 50.63 per cent.
Her grassroots campaign was rooted in the movement for $15 minimum wage, 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 the 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, AFSCME/WFSE local 1488. A majority of the King County Labor Council voted to endorse her but 2/3 was required for an official endorsement.
A statement election night from Socialist Alternative stated, “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 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 were personified by her opponent Richard Conlin. 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 an opportunity to watch a candidate take on the Democratic Party enticing. As a result we sent a letter to all the SEIU locals in Washington State encouraging them to endorse the Sawant campaign. Now they will continue to be watching.
The day after the victory party Sawant sent out an e-mail to all her supporters saying, “This is our fight, all of us” And calling on all her supporters to stand in solidarity with Boeing machinists at their rally that afternoon. She pointed out the Democratic controlled legislature had recently called a Special Session to offer Boeing $8 billion more dollars in tax breaks while demanding draconian cuts in wages and benefits. At the rally she spoke about the Boeing CEO 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.”