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On Wednesday morning, the Workers and Socialist Party joined and supported the striking workers at South African Airways. Our comrades in SAFTU succeeded in putting forward a motion calling for the SAFTU Central Committee to join the picket and pledge solidarity with the strike. About 100 members and leaders of SAFTU and its affiliates stood shoulder to shoulder with striking workers on the picket line at OR Tambo International airport.
The bosses of SAA have taken a conscious class approach towards the strike, instead of approaching the matter strictly from the narrow economic considerations of SAA. If there was any doubt on that, this was further confirmed by the revelations of the losses the airline has incurred since the beginning of the strike; the conduct of the SAA management in the negotiation and public declarations of government in response to requests for a further bail-out.
The unprecedented intervention of the Department of Labour in the strike is further evidence of this co-ordinated political onslaught. The department has written a letter to Numsa demanding proof of compliance with the new anti-trade union amendments to the labour laws, especially a requirement for a secret ballot. This is calculated to intimidate the unions and prepare for the possibility of declaring the strike ‘unprotected’ in accordance with the draconian anti-trade union amendments to the labour laws.
The media has reported losses amounting to R200 million in four days of the strike – an amount which could have easily settled the strike. The NUMSA report of the last minute withdrawal of management’s offer of a 6,5% increase clearly reveals that Treasury, which is expressed preference for liquidation of SAA, is dictating the terms of negotiations and are hell-bent on digging in its heels rather than make concessions to the modest demands of NUMSA and South African Cabin Crew Association, the trade unions organising the striking workers.
In a remarkable demonstration of class unity and determination to fight, the strike remains solid after days of intransigence of the SAA bosses and relentless attacks and demonization by the capitalist class through all their mouthpieces. Mainstream media reporting is unanimous in their blatant blackmail of the workers as well as their cynical attempts to blame workers for the crisis of SAA caused by years of looting by the ZUPTA gang, mismanagement and neo-liberal restructuring.
Workers and Socialist Party calls on Numsa and SAFTU to escalate the support for the strike. The workers movement cannot afford this defeat which is clearly a prelude to attacks on the workers in ESKOM, PRASA, and other state-owned entities (SoEs). It is clear that government wants to dismantle the SOEs and is moving towards wholesale privatisation to provide outlets for monopoly capital that is currently hoarding cash estimated at R1,4 trillion and desperately searching for profitable outlets.
We have again called for SAFTU to organise a general strike to link struggles of workers in SAA with workers in all parastatals and in the private sector where employers are also mounting resistance against wage demands and imposing retrenchments to demoralise workers trying to fight for better wages and defend conditions of employment. After the Central Committee decision, WASP will be actively working to mobilise workers, affiliates and other forces necessary to make the general strike successful.
We reject the imposition of the consequences of looting on workers and calling on the working class to join a fight to save SAA. Part of this struggle should be a demand to end corruption and mismanagement. But none of this is possible on the basis of the current boards and management of SAA, ESKOM and PRASA amongst other parastatals. The boards are made up of the same corporate elite that is exploiting and plundering the working class in the private sectors and who use state-owned entities for their corporate interests and personal enrichment. SAA and other state-owned entities must be placed under the control and management of the working class – workers, trade unions and communities. In the final analysis, the real alternative to the crisis of state-owned entities and every industry in turmoil is the nationalisation and democratic planning and management of the commanding heights of the economy by the working class, where SAA and other SoEs will serve a socially useful functions in the interests of majority and not the few. For that, the working class must rebuild its mass organisations and movement including a mass political party to unite and struggle for a socialist alternative to the crises of capitalism.
By Mametlwe Sebei
A series of resignations from South Africa’s official opposition, Democratic Alliance, starting with Herman Mashaba, a reactionary right-wing populist mayor of Johannesburg, who had styled himself a Donald Trump of South African politics, and culminating into resignations of the national leaders of the party itself, including the party leader Mmusi Maimane and Federal Chair Athol Trollip has plunged the DA in the unprecedented crisis. Since its formation in 2000, out of the merger of the predominantly white, neo-liberal conservative parties, the Democratic Party, Federal alliance and the architects and ruling party of the apartheid regime (the National Party). The Democratic Alliance has been the most successful and, until explosive emergence of the EFF, the fastest growing party in the country. All this crumbled in the 2019 national elections, when the party, for the first time since the first democratic elections in 1994, when its main predecessor DP started its triumphant march to becoming an official opposition, lost votes and seats in parliaments. 2019 elections outcomes precipitated a terminal party crisis unfolding currently.
The rapidity with which the party plunged into this deep crisis is only matched by its meteoric rise from a small, fifth biggest opposition party of 1, 73 % in the 1994 elections to the official opposition party in 1999 elections, where it registered a phenomenal increase in electoral support and seats in the national assembly from 7 to 38 seats. This meteoric rise culminated in the take-over of three additional metro councils of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay during 2016 local government elections which put the party in charge of the four of the biggest six cities in the country including its legislative, administrative and industrial capital cities.
On the basis of this breakthrough, not only the party appeared unstoppable but with skyrocketing polls of 31-35 % in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 elections, many in the DA and outside of it, thought DA was poised for a take-over of power nationally, through coalitions with bourgeois black parties, in spite of its unshakeable image as a party of white minority. Based on this perspectives, DA developed its strategy of coalitions and adjustments of its policy positions to reach out to even broader sections of the black middle class and accommodate its alliance partners.
These perspectives and strategy crumbled in the last elections when it was clearly rejected by DA’s traditional white minority base, many of whom defected to an openly white racist and right-wing Freedom Front, leading to the electoral slump and unravelling of the current crisis.
The damning prognosis of this in the report of the review panel led by the former leader of the party, Tony Leon that called for resignation of the party leader, Mmusi Maimane and chairperson of the party’s federal executive, James Selfie set in motion trail of disastrous events that culminated into a unfolding calamity for the party.
Illusions of stability and cohesion shattered
Following the report of the review panel appointed by Mmusi Maimane to investigate the causes of the loss in the electoral support in the 2019 elections and on its recommendations, James Selfie’s resignations as the chairperson of the party’s federal executive, elections for the replacement threw wide open the factional squabbling which DA had hitherto downplayed. The concerted attempt to cover-up the cracks had allowed the party to present an illusion of the most stable political party in the country. To be sure there were occasional leaks of internal fights and squabbles, which even led resignations of key figures like former party chief whip Lindiwe Mazibuko, but these were isolated instances and the party downplayed with a measure of success.
This appearance of stability and political cohesion, along with a false impression of zero-tolerance for corruption and ‘moral’ purity were major factors amongst others in a sustained growth of the party, especially in the whole period when all major parties were in open turmoil and tainted by scandals of corruption, and internal strife that invariably led to paralysis and splits in the ANC, COPE, and IFP.
All these illusions of internal party stability were crushed by this crisis. Along with the shattering blows to its highly cloistered image of moral purity it suffered from scandalous revelations of corruptions in its administrations in the metros of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Tshwane, this crisis marks a qualitative turning points in the fortunes of the DA and spell the disastrous end of its glorious days. In the best scenario it can retreat into an insignificant party of privileged white minority, and prolonged death agony.
Zille’s ascension to power- turning back the tides of change.
The report of the review panel, which was headed by the former white party leader Tony Leon and ascension to the powerful position of Federal Executive chair of an increasingly controversial former white party leader, Helen Zille has been widely viewed and correctly so, as a clawing back of power by the party’s old ‘white establishment’ and right-wing counter-reform project to return the party to its traditional white conservative base.
The damning statements of Mashaba, Maimane and exodus of black members in Kwazulu-Natal province to ANC, coming barely months following a significant shedding of its long standing black base amongst ‘coloured voters’ to the newly formed GOOD party led by its expelled former mayor of Cape Town, Patricia De Lille, marks a crushing blow to the painstaking, decades long efforts to shake-off the image of DA as a racist anti-black white party.
Zille has been causing serious embarrassment to the DA through her racist tweets speaking favourably of the legacy of apartheid regime and colonialism in South Africa and openly defied Maimane’s attempts to reign on her. She has also been using her widely followed twitter account to campaign against Maimane’s ‘One South Africa for all’’ project which had tried to take DA much further into the black communities through support for BEE policies and highlighting racial injustices against black majority in a way that clearly made the ‘Old DA establishment’ uncomfortable.
These positioned her as a voice of the conservative counter-reformist grouping, supported by Institute for Race Relations, which Herman Mashaba has labelled right-wing. Her ascension to power, regardless of her declarations to ‘stay on her lane’, could therefore not be understood otherwise than a triumph of this faction over the Maimane faction and resounding defeat of the black caucus that has been driving for more orientation to the black middle class and support for BEE policies that pitted them against the white DA establishment and supporters.
The scandals of corruption implicating major DA leaders including Maimane himself have also tainted the DA publicly and undermined Maimane leadership severely. The recent revelations of the car donated by Steinhof and the-below-market rental for the luxury house in Cape Town for Maimane and his family, illegal or not, have seriously damaged his name and along with him, DA image.
Torrents of revelations of corruption scandals in DA local government administrations have also tainted the party. Reveleations of corruption and bribery in R12 billion GladAfrica and R1 billion fuel supply tender irregularities in Tshwane Metro, R1 billion Fleet contract tender in Johannesburg metro, which also involve EFF, and misappropriation of funds in Cape Town to mention only few have exposed the party posturings on corruption as a lie.
Growing social polarisation at the root of DA crisis.
Many commentators have correctly pointed to the factional struggle between the reform project centred around the black caucus of the DA and its ‘old white establishment’ as the underlying cause of the crisis. The fall-out between Zille and Maimane over the provocative racist tweets of the Zille and ‘black and white conflict’ in the DA offers, however, no explanation for the depth and timing of the crisis in the DA.
The conflict between the ‘race-blind’ white ‘liberals’ and racist conservatives in Helen Zille camp and pro-BEE and populists of Maimane-Mashaba faction are real and were inevitably bound to lead to the crisis.
This factional conflict and splintering however has far deeper sociological causes than the superficial analyses of bourgeois commentators suggests. Neither the Zille bashing conspiracy theories nor the white washing of Maimane-Mashaba cabal sheds light on the material basis of the DA split in the social polarisation taking place in society and deepening crisis of capitalism.
Workers and Socialist Party and its predecessor, Democratic Socialist Movement, has consistently argued that DA will never grow significantly beyond the high point it reached in the 2014/2016 elections. This prognosis was based on the historical limitations of the DA as a traditionally white party with a history stretching back to colonial and apartheid regimes and brutal anti-working class programme, which could appeal to sections of black middle class appalled by rampant corruption of the ANC and its black elite but can never appeal to the vast majority of the black working class.
DA’s growing black base was based on historical factors which have turned into opposite effects today, the ANC and the economic situation in the country. In a thinly veiled swart-gevaar (Afrikaans for black danger) Fight Back campaign that won over the support base of the right-wing parties like Freedom Front and National Party, the DA secured its position as the only viable party of white minority opposed to the ANC policies in government since 1994. Recognising the electoral limitations of this support base to the political ambitions of the DA, the leadership has been at pain to broaden its electoral base by reaching out to black middle class voters.
Based on the disillusionment of the black middle classes with the ANC government over corruption in particular and media-sponsored image of DA as corrupt free party, this strategy was successful enough to allow the party to sustain its growth beyond limits initially imaginable. Nonetheless, this was mostly aided also by the growing disillusionment and electoral drop-out of the black working class votes for the ANC, which allowed DA to increase its parliamentary representations disproportionately higher than the increase in its electoral support.
The victory of Cyril Ramaphosa in the ANC and to the helm of the country brought to an end of a period that was a paradise for the opposition, especially for the DA which increasingly found itself increasingly running short of Zuma-era scandals to capitalise on. Most importantly however, these co-incided with a period of deepening economic crisis of capitalism which undermined the social foundations for the political coalescing of black and middle classes on which DA successes rested.
Beginning with the recovery from the shockwaves of Asian financial crisis in late 1999 and accelerating in 2003, South Africa experienced an exceptional period of sustained and fastest economic growth surpassing previous records, with economic growth reaching over 5 % over a period of four years leading to 2007. Although the growth was mainly in the financial sectors of the economy and had no significant impacts in the conditions of the working class, it did allow for advances of the black middle classes in the corporate and public sectors of the economy.
Growth in public fiscus and private sectors of the economy, along with restructuring and outsourcing of public services, created conditions for the advances of black professional middle classes and small businesses to occupy positions left by old white officials leaving for private sectors and securing business opportunities in outsourced service like cleaning, security and technical consultancies, etc.
These stalled with the Great Recession of 2008 and since then worsened with the deepening crisis, massive retrenchments, rising interest rates and tariffs which are also ruining the middle classes. Plummeting levels of consumption, rising levels of debts and defaults on credits, housing and car repossessions and retrenchments in the banking sectors are just but few indicators of these deepening crisis of the middle classes.
It is also this situation which is at the root of the growing social polarisation which translates into racial and political polarisation within and between classes in society, especially the middle class. How can the DA contain the colonial nostalgia and the ever growing discontentment of Black liberals within the party? It is also the crisis that is tearing the DA apart. Both on the basis of Maimane’s black caucus group and counter-reform programme of Helen Zille DA is doomed. The demand for DA support for Affirmative Action and other BEE policies reflect the growing frustrations of the black middle class support mobilised by DA with the reverses of previous social gains and voluntarily collaboration of the white elite in advancements of their ambitions. DA fudging its policies on these issues no longer suffices.
On the other hand, these policies spells a disaster for the white middle classes in particular who stand to lose from shrinking job and business opportunities in public and corporate sectors. With DA increasingly unable to speak unequivocally against BEE policies to placate its black supporters and coalitions, the white supporters began to vote with their feet. Regaining this support is main object of counter-reform wing of the DA and right-wing turn of Zille and faction around her. Either way, it seems the DA isfacing an abyss as it can no longer grow and even keep its black middle class base without alienating its white supporters and vice versa.
Maimane and Mashaba don’t represent aspirations of black majority
Allegations of corruption, racism and factional splintering of the DA does not only demonstrate that DA is not an alternative to the corrupt and factionalised ANC. It shows that there cannot be any alternative on the basis of capitalism and any of its parties, particularly in the period of deepening economic crisis of capitalism, which lay bare and aggravates every tendency towards the social and political crises of the system and exposing its contradictions. It was, as Warren Buffet commented, that “only when the tides goes out do you discover who has been swimming naked”. The rising racial tensions and growing revulsion for the corruption of the political establishment reflects the widening social polarisation that is rooted in the alienation of the working and middle classes over their worsening economic conditions.
Both corruption and racism are, however, inherent to capitalism. As a system based on theft and plundering of the working class, public service and environment for profiteering of few, capitalism cannot free itself of corruption. The same with racism. As Malcolm X said “you can’t have capitalism without racism”. For the tiny part of the population to rule over the rest they have to divide them in order to conquer and keep them in subjugation. Racism has been one the most enduring form of prejudice to keep the working class in chains.
Maimane and Herman Mashaba do not represent the aspirations of the black majority, who are poor and working class. The cabal around them has also been responsible for corruption in DA administrations which has stolen the money from public services for the poor. Herman Mashaba has been at war with the poor of Johannesburg through his xenophobic rhetoric and anti-immigrant campaigns which legitimised looting, plundering and killings of many poor African and Asian migrants. Herman Mashaba using the Johannesburg Metro Police Department in an operation of “Clean sweep” that has been running since 2013, confiscating goods of street vendors and shops around around the CBD of people who are trying to make a living. This is a blatant class war from the government, these attacks are barbaric and baseless as we see unemployment rising everyday.
His Free Market Foundation has been actively campaigning with the most reactionary employer associations to dismantle centralised bargaining which has had to devastating impacts on the plastic sector workers where workers’ wages have been slashed by more than 50 percent amongst others. In this anti-working class crusade, they collaborated with the most reactionary white racist groups, Orania Movement. All these happened under Mashaba as Helen Zille pointed out in relation to the FMF conference that Mashaba hosted at Orania, a white-only town which is the bastion of this ultra-reactionary extremists where black people are not allowed to stay.
Only the working class can build a real opposition to the ANC rule.
With the EFF nose in the trough of corrupt DA administrations and battling their own damaging complicity in the VBS banking looting, close links to cigarettes mafia and discredited by overt rapprochement with the Zuma camp, the stinking rot of the whole political establishment has never been clearer. The corruption, paralysis and bankruptcy of the bourgeois opposition parties reveals the impotence of these parties to provide a viable alternative to the corrupt, incompetent and anti-working class ANC.
WASP has consistently argued and campaigned for a new mass political alternative based on the fighting organisations of the workers, youth and communities. A campaigning, mass working class party organised democratically and at this stage, on a federal basis can potentially lay a basis for a broad fighting unity of the working class and the revolutionary left parties based on a mass campaigning around trade union issues, student and community struggles, against xenophobia, climate change, gender oppression and every other injustice.
With a bold socialist programme capable of answering all the pressing problems facing humanity, a fighting workers party can become a pole of attraction for environmental justice activists in extinction rebellion against the growing ecological calamity, the whole generation of young people radicalised by #FeesMustFall, #OutsourcingMustFall and now #TotalShutdown and growing community protests taking an increasingly insurrectionary character in the localised shutdowns for service delivery and jobs.
The trade union movement has a leading role to play in building this alternative. SAFTU-initiated Working Class Summit is a step in the right-direction and need to be developed further along with campaigns for a general strike and #TotalShutDown based on mass occupations of all the major cities across the country for decent wages, jobs, service delivery and to stop climate change and gender based violence. The affairs of humanity, are better managed in the absence of profit motives, only socialism can ensure good quality education, housing, health, infrastructure, etc.
By Ty Moore, Socialist Alternative USA
Foreword by Alex Sivitilli, Workers & Socialist Party
In August of this year I had the opportunity to volunteer for the Vote Sawant campaign run by our US section in Seattle to re-elect Socialist Alternative member Kshama Sawant to Seattle’s district 3 council seat. The visit was brief, but it highlighted the discipline and determination required for a legitimate working-class campaign to succeed.
There were many ways to help despite my limited time in Seattle. I was given plenty of tasks such as preparing packets that aid “canvassing” teams and putting up posters around the neighborhood (a busy job given the daily vandalism that targets Kshama posters). I was able to end the day by joining a team to canvass the neighborhood and knock on doors of potential voters. We spoke with Seattle residents about their views and struggles while informing them about the movement behind Socialist Alternative and Kshama.
Fellow volunteers, mostly Socialist Alternative members, were quick to strike up conversation and create a very welcoming environment. This was especially remarkable given the hectic position of being a week away from the primary election. I went through quick training sessions in how to canvass with scenarios where we took up roles and advised each other on how to better handle certain situations with potential voters. Canvassing itself involved separating into teams and using mobile apps to help organise which voters to meet and speak with.
The daily routine in the office ran efficiently like clockwork, but it was also able to adapt to developing conditions. This was made possible due to a dedicated layer of assigned roles and tasks, analysis of evolving material conditions on the ground, and effective use of limited resources (the campaign accepts no corporate money and primarily runs on volunteers and donations from working people).
In addition to taking inspiration from the efforts and success of the hard-fought victory of our US comrades, we also take note of what strategies and methods we can adapt to our work here in South Africa. A revolutionary working-class party must be actively involved in community and workplace struggles. As WASP we are funded by our members and working class supporters and refuse any funding from the bosses. We must push the enforcement of the Political Party Funding Act in South Africa so that the parties in power reveal the corporate donors they serve.
Despite visiting from a world away, it was possible to step into action with comrades I had just met, and we operated as if we had worked and fought shoulder-to-shoulder for years. It is critical that we as the Committee for a Workers’ International continue to aid our socialist brothers and sisters abroad with solidarity in forms of finance, motivation, and labour. Where possible, we must also escalate our campaigns to worldwide movements that can unite the working class across borders. I’m proud to be part of this revolutionary international, in struggle, not just in name.
Kshama Sawant Re-Elected Despite Corporate PACs Spending $4 Million to Buy City Council
Jeff Bezos’s bid to buy Seattle City Council has backfired. Despite big business dropping unprecedented cash behind Amazon-backed candidates in all seven council races, Seattle voters rejected this attempt to flip the council to the right in all but two of the seven council races. In Seattle’s most-watched, most expensive, and most polarized council in decades, Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant appears to have won a narrow victory.
After election night returns showed Sawant behind by 8 points, with 46% to Egan Orion’s 54%, the corporate media and big business sounded triumphalist. But 60% of late arriving ballots counted in the following days swung toward Kshama. By Friday evening’s count Sawant had crested 3.6% past Orion with a lead of 1,515 votes, with that number likely to rise a bit further in the days ahead.
Washington State’s mail-in ballot system allows voters to mail in their ballots up to three weeks before election day. Early voters tend to be older and wealthier, with later voters being disproportionately younger, working class, and renters – those more likely to vote socialist. This year the late ballot bump for Sawant was bigger than ever, a reflection of the huge 58% turnout in District 3. Even our critics in the local media were forced to credit Socialist Alternative’s record-breaking get-out-the-vote operation.
The high turnout also reflected the wave of outrage that swept Seattle in the final three weeks of the election following Amazon’s $1 million “money bomb” dropped on Seattle on October 14. This brought Amazon’s total contribution to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce PAC to $1.5 million, and corporate PAC spending as a whole to over $4.1 million – approaching five times the previous record!
National political figures weighed in against Amazon, followed by a wave of national media attention. The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board complained that “Bernie Sanders tweeted this week that Amazon’s spending in Seattle was ‘a perfect example of the out-of-control corporate greed we are going to end.’ Elizabeth Warren decried Amazon for ‘trying to tilt the Seattle City Council elections in their favor,’ adding that ‘I have a plan to get big money out of politics.’”
A referendum on corporate power
Warning that Bezos’s $1.5 million gamble to defeat Sawant and other progressives may have backfired, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat said: “The election was playing out as a referendum on the performance of the City Council.” An Elway/Crosscut poll showed 67% of likely voters supporting “someone who wants to change” the Council’s direction. Westneat continued: “Now [the election] could well be a referendum on Amazon and corporate power” (10/23/19).
Of course, the Seattle Times is at the forefront of a relentless corporate propaganda offensive to blame Sawant and other so-called “left ideologues” for the failed “performance of the City Council” in addressing Seattle’s homelessness and affordability crisis, the top concern for voters. The paper endorsed Amazon-backed candidates in all seven council races, portraying them as “change” candidates.
In reality, Seattle’s housing crisis is part of the global failure of capitalism, which treats housing as a commodity to enrich billionaire speculators, rather than as a basic human right. Working people are right to be angry at the inaction of city, state, and federal authorities to address the crisis. But blame for this falls squarely on a political establishment that is complicit with corporate power, not on activists and political leaders like Kshama Sawant calling for universal rent control and taxing big business to massively expand quality public housing.
Amazon executives’ chosen opponent for Kshama was Egan Orion, a fully corporate candidate who posed as a “progressive” to win votes. Orion put posters up all over town saying he accepted no corporate PAC money despite the fact that he applied for corporate PAC money, interviewed with the PAC, and thanked them when he got their endorsement. He sent out mailers with lies about Kshama to every household.
Orion’s supporters tore down over 1,000 Kshama Sawant yard signs throughout the district, and in the final two weeks, they vandalized over 200 signs with spray-painted profanities. Crucial to overcoming the lies and attacks against our campaign was building widespread public awareness about this attempt to buy the election through thousands of conversations on the doors and at street corners by our members and volunteers.
Debate on Seattle’s Left
Once again, Seattle has shown that socialists and working people can take on the most powerful corporate titans and win. This victory should give confidence to movements everywhere, from the recent wave of mass anti-austerity and democracy protests spreading across the globe, to the youth climate strikes, labor battles, as well as other socialist election campaigns including Bernie Sanders’ inspiring fight for the presidency.
Yet it would be a major mistake to imagine that similar victories can be won through struggle and determination alone. The role of Marxist perspectives, program, and organization was essential in Seattle and will be vital to defeating the concentrated power of the capitalist class everywhere.
At the start of the election campaign, a de-facto alliance between big business, key labor leaders, and most liberal political figures had coalesced to try and defeat Sawant and block the election of Democratic Socialists of America candidate Shaun Scott in District 4. This anti-Sawant alliance came to life in the aftermath of the “Tax Amazon” campaign in 2018, which went down in defeat following aggressive bullying by Amazon, including threats to move jobs out of Seattle.
The broad coalition built around the Tax Amazon campaign, in which Sawant’s office and Socialist Alternative played a central role, initially won unanimous passage of the tax on the top 3% of Seattle corporations to pay for affordable housing and homeless services. However, facing intense pressure from big business and a well-funded repeal campaign, this coalition was shattered and city council repealed the tax in a 7-2 vote just one month later.
From left-liberal and pro-business voices alike, blame for the defeat was put on the “divisive” approach of Sawant and Socialist Alternative. Despite support from a number of unions, leaders of the Ironworkers and other trades angrily denounced the campaign as a “tax on jobs,” fearful that Amazon would follow through on their threats to cut back new construction in retaliation.
In the August 6 primary, with no endorsements from her fellow city councilmembers or other prominent Democratic Party politicians, with labor publicly divided, Sawant received just 37% in the primary election. “No incumbent in recent memory has survived a primary showing that low,” wrote Westneat in the Seattle Times (8/7/19). “[T]he days on the council for the crusader for rent control and taxes on big business could be numbered.”
The fight for unity against Amazon
If Sawant and Socialist Alternative had adopted the approach of most liberal and labor leaders to try and avoid a direct confrontation with Amazon, it’s likely Jeff Bezos’ bullying strategy and attempt to buy the city council would have succeeded. There was nothing automatic about the widespread working-class distrust toward corporate power getting organized into a coherent fightback.
In fact, most elections across the U.S. don’t feature bold working-class challenges, given the corporate domination of the two-party system. Even in Seattle, where the local Democratic Party organizations have shifted leftward under the impact of Sanders and other left challengers, this hasn’t resulted in strong working class fighters running for city council in most races.
Socialist Alternative based our electoral strategy on confidence that, if offered a fighting lead, working class and young people in Seattle were capable of defeating Amazon and big business. Crucial to this strategy was the potential for working-class pressure from below to push progressive and labor leaders off the sidelines and into a united fight with us against Seattle’s corporate establishment. Socialist Alternative members provided the Marxist backbone of this strategy. Their energy, self-sacrifice, and political skills successfully built perhaps the most powerful grassroots election campaign in Seattle history.
Over 1,000 volunteers and SA members have helped us knock on over 225,000 doors and make 200,000 phone calls. 7,900 working people donated to the campaign, and with a median donation of $20 we raised $570,000, smashing all previous records for both the number of donors and total amount raised. We’ll be publishing a fuller report of this historic effort soon.
The dynamic unleashed after the primary election confirmed our strategy. Candidates backed by Amazon and big business moved on to the general election in all seven council races, facing off against more progressive candidates. With the looming threat of the Chamber of Commerce engineering a wholesale takeover of City Hall, our call for maximum unity against big business rapidly gained traction among grassroots activists, exerting pressure on bigger political players.
More endorsements for Sawant, as well as Shaun Scott, began rolling in from progressive leaders and groups who had sat on the sidelines in the primary. The scandalous effort of conservative labor leaders to win Egan Orion the Labor Council’s endorsement was defeated when over 300 union members signed an open letter in protest. By the final weeks, 21 unions had endorsed Sawant – a substantial majority of the union locals who endorsed in the District 3 race. A joint event promoting a Green New Deal for Seattle was organized with Sawant, Morales, and Scott speaking, an important display of programmatic left unity that was absent in the primary.
In a major defeat for the business-backed Democratic establishment who have long-dominated city politics, local Democratic Party groups endorsed both Shaun Scott and Kshama Sawant in September (they had already endorsed Morales in the primary). Sawant is the first independent socialist ever endorsed by Seattle’s Democrats, and this endorsement was made despite her very public calls for left Democrats, labor, and social movements to join together to build a new party for working people. This victory, the product of an energetic grassroots effort, was linked to passing resolutions condemning corporate PAC spending through four Democratic Party organizations.
All this laid the basis for our re-election campaign to become the central driving force behind a unified response when Amazon dropped their $1 million money bomb on October 14th. Alongside the Democratic Party groups, we organized a press conference two days later outside of Amazon headquarters, followed by rally called by Amazon workers a week later.
This broke the dam. A wave of national media coverage followed. In a high profile reversal, even Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda – the liberal city councilmembers who had publicly called for Sawant’s defeat in the primary – felt compelled to speak at the rally against Amazon and announce their endorsement of both Sawant and Scott. A wave of other progressive Democratic Party leaders followed suit.
The naked attempt by Jeff Bezos to buy Seattle City council backfired, but only because it met a well-prepared united front strategy to mobilize working class anger into a unifying force, pushing even reluctant labor and liberal leaders into alliance with socialists to fight big business. The role of Socialist Alternative, with our clear analysis, strategy, and a politically self-confident membership, was absolutely vital to moving these wider forces into united action.
As the wave of socialist election campaigns across the country continues to expand, the rich lessons of how we defeated Jeff Bezos in his hometown can help serious socialist organizers develop winning strategies for working class struggle everywhere.