To the editor:
We're proud to be leaders and rank-and-file activists in the 14 unions and counting that have endorsed Kshama Sawant's campaign for re-election, together representing over 80,000 workers. Seattle has been a national leader for progressive victories and working-class struggle. We're happy to recently be joined by the Seattle Education Association and SEIU 925 in supporting Kshama's campaign.
Kshama is a rank-and-file member of the American Federation of Teachers Local 1789. She is one of us. In just the last few weeks, Councilmember Sawant has joined hotel workers fighting for a first union contract, stood with museum workers organizing their union, supported Amazon security officers in their successful fight to unionize, and rallied with Teamster Uber and Lyft drivers fighting for justice. Kshama is one of the most consistent voices for working people ever elected to Seattle City Council. The leadership she provided - alongside union activists and community leaders - in making Seattle the first major city to win the $15 minimum wage is only one of dozens of examples of Kshama Sawant being at the forefront of struggles to build the labor movement and improve the lives of working people.
There is a severe housing crisis in Seattle, and even many union members can't afford to live near their workplaces. Kshama's campaign is the only one in District 3 fighting for rent control and taxes on wealthy corporations to fund quality social housing and vital services. Big business is worried about us winning further victories, and that is why they're spending a million dollars in corporate PAC money with the aim of removing Kshama. After Seattle won $15/hour, the victories spread like wildfire throughout the country. We can do the same thing - if we re-elect Kshama - by building a successful movement for rent control.
The labor movement is at a crossroads, with both increased attacks from the billionaire class and many workers taking the road of struggle, reflected in increased strikes and in the powerful contract struggles that have taken place. We will not find the best way forward without significant discussion involving many thousands of union members and fighters from the wider working class. Right now, a debate is taking place in Seattle labor movement that has important lessons for how we can build our fighting capacity. Some of that discussion centers on whether or not unions should endorse Kshama Sawant, but the implications go much further.
With record levels of inequality, for the labor movement to grow and thrive, we need to fight against the big corporations that want to attack our rights, wages, and benefits. This can be best accomplished by adopting bold demands and a strategy to win, by building rank-and-file democracy in the unions, and by not limiting ourselves to what's acceptable to big business. Unfortunately, some union leaders think we can build our influence by siding with CEOs and the political establishment rather than understanding these forces stand in the way of improving the lives of working people. These union leaders, some without democratic processes in the ranks of their unions, voted against endorsing Kshama at the MLK Labor Council.
Last week, Monty Anderson, head of the King County Contruction Trades Council, said he was opposing Kshama because she called on the city to tax Amazon in order to build affordable housing, and because she stood with the community in opposing the construction of an enormous police station in the north end of Seattle. 'She started getting in between the relationship between our end users, the City of Seattle, King County, Amazon, [and] other builders.' He added, 'We feel like a local politician should be facilitating business in the city, and she was doing the opposite.'
We disagree with brother Anderson. The job of a pro-union city councilmember should be to stand up and fight for the rights of workers, not facilitate business relations. We need to base ourselves on a fighting strategy, the way we did to win the $15 minimum wage in Seattle. We need the same approach to win rent control, a Green New Deal for working people, greater police accountability, and more. Big business and the political establishment stand in our way, with over a million dollars in PAC money hoping for 'anybody but Kshama' to win this election, and we need to work together to defeat them, not cozy up to them as brother Anderson is proposing.
We also stand with Kshama in her principled opposition to the rollback of police accountability in last year's police contract, which also angered some union leaders. Councilmember Sawant stood with more than 25 community groups, black leaders, and dozens of union members and leaders in opposing the rollbacks in the contract - a decision since further vindicated by US District Judge James Robart's recent ruling.
It's unfortunate that, intentionally or not, a section of labor leaders have made a decision that will effectively further embolden Amazon and the Chamber of Commerce, rather than stand with the interests of working people and people of color. We know that Councilmember Sawant will continue to fight unambiguously for workers everywhere, alongside fellow rank-and-file union members fighting in their workplaces, and for affordable housing and racial justice in our community.
Paula Lukaszek, WFSE 1488 President*
Claude Burfect, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists*, Past President WFSE 341*
Mike Andrew, Pride at Work*, UAW 1981/National Writers Union *
Jonathan Rosenblum, UAW 1981, Author of 'Beyond $15'
Justin Vinson, Member SEA Executive Board*
* in a personal capacity only
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