Since first being elected in 2013, our independent socialist City Council office has used a class-struggle, movement-building approach to win a number of historic victories for working people in Seattle. These include making Seattle the first major US city to have a $15 an hour minimum wage, which we won by launching the 15 Now movement within days of first taking office in 2014. Organizing alongside renters and rank-and-file union members, we have won monumental victories for renters’ rights, and we have launched a reinvigorated campaign for rent control, forcing the Democrats on the Council to discuss our proposed legislation at the upcoming Renters’ Rights committee meeting on November 30.
Last year, propelled by unprecedented support from working people and the George Floyd protest movement, we led the Tax Amazon movement to victory, winning the Amazon Tax to fund affordable housing and Green New Deal projects by taxing the top 3% of the largest and wealthiest corporations. These victories have not just been limited to Seattle, but have had national and international effect. Not surprisingly, we have been fiercely opposed by Seattle’s Democratic-Party-led political establishment, the super-rich, and corporate interests, who want a continuation of the status quo of inequality and a passive working class.
Our experience in Seattle has shown that under the pressure of mass protests such as Black Lives Matter, many politicians are forced to be performatively progressive, and say good things about taking on the unjust system and the billionaire class. But they will inevitably betray working people and oppressed communities as long as elected representatives refuse to base themselves on working-class organizations as opposed to establishment political parties. In order to win any meaningful gains for working people, you have to wrench them from the hands of the bosses and overcome the backroom and overt opposition of the political elite who uphold the bosses’ interests. This cannot be done by parliamentary maneuvering.
The only strategy is for socialist and other working-class representatives to use their positions to build fighting movements and unabashedly stand on the side of working people, including only taking the average worker’s wage as I do.
This analysis is not unique to Seattle or the United States. Capitalism is a global system of exploitation of the majority – the working class and the poor. Only by fighting for a socialist world free of poverty, climate destruction and war can these things be alleviated. This means we need more socialist campaigns to build our struggle in the streets, campuses and workplaces across the entire world, especially in North America. That’s why I’m proud to endorse Rosalie Bélanger-Rioux for Borough Councillor in the city of Montréal (Desmarchais-Crawford district of Verdun).
Kshama Sawant, Seattle, USA City Councilmember