Minimum wage campaign

Open Letter to Comrades in Socialist Alternative


Dear Comrades:

Kshama Sawant’s election to the Seattle City Council both increased the mood of workers in and around Seattle and increased the interest in socialism. We supported her campaign, argued in favor of voting for her, and some of us made substantial donations to her campaign. We were elated when she got elected. However, every step forward comes not only with new opportunities, but also new problems and, yes, new potential dangers. In this case, we are worried that Kshama has gotten too close to the union leadership and also is not clearly enough distancing herself from the liberal Democrats on some key issues.

  • At the 15 Now conference in Seattle last April, the leadership of the hotel workers union appeared on behalf of the hotel owners. They wanted the union hotels exempted from the $15 per hour minimum wage. Their position was that they could not make the hotels pay this increased wage plus keep paying the same amount for health care benefits. Instead of arguing that we have to build a movement that makes the hotel owners and all employers do both, Kshama simply supported the position of the union leadership. We think this was a mistake. We are also told by city officials that it’s possible that union workers will be exempted from the new ordinance. We think Kshama should bring this out in the open and campaign against this. What is the purpose of having a union if it means lower wages?

  • When a Kathleen O’Toole, former capitalist and, before that police commissioner in Boston, was appointed police commissioner in Seattle, Kshama correctly enough voted “no”. However, her statement on the issue was unclear at best. She implied support for O’Toole’s “tiered” approach for the use of police repression. This is simply unacceptable. And she praised O’Toole for her “openness” in answering questions. We wonder if O’Toole was questioned about the repressive and also racist methods of the Boston police.

  • Shortly after that, a young Latino man, Oscar Giron, was killed by a sheriff’s deputy in Seattle. For over a week, the Seattle police withheld video of the event as well as refused to turn the body over to Oscar’s family. Meanwhile, there were protests organized by the family. We think Kshama, or at least somebody from her office, should have been at the protest and that she should have made a public statement, at the very least demanding that the video and the body be turned over immediately. Unfortunately, she has been silent on this issue to this very day. When we were writing an article on this for this blog site, we contacted Kshama’s office for a comment. We were told they had been “too busy” to even discuss the issue. This issue of police brutality and police murders as well as the issue of mass incarceration of black and Latino people is the central issue of repression in US society. Socialists – especially one in public office – should be the most outspoken on this question.

  • Now we have another issue: Israel’s murderous attack on Gaza as well as what has been happening in the West Bank and in Israel itself. Sawant is only a city official, but it is common for political figures at her level to participate in broader campaigns, make statements, etc. This is doubly so for her, since she is the most prominent socialist in the US. There have been two protests against Israel in Seattle recently. Kshama Sawant should have been there and should have spoken there.She should have made a public statement on the issue, introduced a resolution at the city council, etc. (SA has made a statement, but that is a different matter.)

One of the many children killed by the Israeli regime. Kshama Sawant should be clearly speaking up on this issue.

One of the many children killed or wounded by the Israeli regime. Kshama Sawant should be clearly speaking up on this issue.

This is extremely disappointing. Domestically, she won’t speak up clearly and unequivocally for the most oppressed layer of society – those who come into contact with our criminal (in)justice system, especially Latino and Black people. Internationally, when this huge crime against humanity is being conducted in Gaza, when little children are being targeted, when even worse is developing – Kshama Sawant is publicly silent. A clear statement on this issue by Sawant would attract attention and might actually influence some people in the US who are confused on the issue. It could also help strengthen a socialist perspective among pro-Palestinian supporters here.

Instead, Kshama Sawant is missing in action. If this continues, there will be major disappointment among many people who originally supported her. This silence will increase the cynicism and confusion that is so widespread already among both workers and young people.

It may sound harsh, but we have to ask: “What kind of socialism is this?”

We hope that members of Socialist Alternative ask within SA and inside the CWI why Kshama Sawant is not speaking out on these issues.

NOTE: Since this article was published, Sawant did speak out more openly on the issue, including putting forward a resolution against Israel’s war. Just as was predicted here, this opened up a tremendous opportunity to really expose the state of Israel for its racist, expansionist nature. Sawant was interviewed on the radio to defend her resolution. However, her performance was extremely weak, so weak as to leave the uninformed confused at best. (It can be heard here.) It’s difficult to think that her weak performance was simply due to being uninformed herself. The most reasonable explanation is that she did not want to alienate some of her Democratic “allies” on the city council. See this article.


6 replies »

  1. Sawant’s failure to speak publicly about what is happening in Palestine/Gaza goes beyond what is acceptable for a socialist. I would bet she has spoken openly-and harshly-about Israel’s criminal attacks, but now that she is an elected official, that’s in her past it appears. She and SA must have decided that their “base” is the city council and their supporters and doesn’t want to offend them, just like with her other actions.

  2. I do wonder what Sawant’s supporters-which may be a dwindling bunch in Seattle and other places-are thinking about these actions. I have no doubt that she has spoken out strongly in support of the Palestinian people in the past-before she was elected. Her silence on these issues is deafening.

  3. Huh, for somebody who publishes an “Open” letter you don’t seem interested in replies unless its from someone who agrees with you. Again, Sawant has NOT been silent on these issues as a simple Google search will reveal.

    • We are always happy to publish comments from those who differ. If you have different views on this, or any other article, by all means send them in and as long as they aren’t abusive, etc. we’ll be happy to print them. Looking forward to hearing your views…

  4. Perhaps the comment wasn’t saved properly (if so I apologise for sounding harsh)

    Here are two examples where Sawant has raised the attack on Gaza

  5. Thank you, Ben, for these articles. We have seen them already. These statements came out after the above article was written, but our point still stands: She should have been at the first two rallies against Israel’s attack on Gaza. She did, ultimately, introduce a letter that she evidently was hoping fellow council member Nick Licata – a Democrat – would sign with her. She then went on the radio and “defended” the letter. We put “defended” in quotes because her performance was extremely weak. She never raised the racism that is really taking off in Israel. She hardly mentioned the land and water theft in the West Bank. It is hard to explain her weak performance except to say that either she really doesn’t know what is happening there (which is unlikely, but if that’s true it is unforgivable) or that she didn’t want to go “too far” in the hopes of keeping liberal Democrats like Licata on board. Overall, if an ordinary worker had been listening to that show, I think he or she would have come away thinking that Israel is right. See this article on this issue:

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