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A fighting strategy for working people: Sawant camp launches Workers Strike Back party

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Kshama Sawant — Photo by Lauren Vasatka
Kshama Sawant — Photo by Lauren Vasatka

Last Saturday, in the University of Washington's Kane Hall, people of all ages filled the building for the kickoff rally for Workers Strike Back (WSB), a campaign launched by socialist Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative, and others. According to the WSB website, rallies were held simultaneously in nine cities that day. For example, in Philadelphia and North Carolina, people gathered to discuss what could be the makings of a new political party.

WSB invited eight panelists to speak on various issues facing workers. First up was Nina Wurz, a member of the Carpenters Union and the Peter J. McGuire Group. Wurz spoke out against how "many unions have become institutions of bureaucrats selling us out." She added, "We are all of one class. That's what solidarity looks like," asking that workers not allow differences in political beliefs to stop them from organizing together.

Raghav Kaushik took the mic next to speak on the passing of the historic ordinance against caste discrimination in February. Seattle became the first in the US to add caste to its list of categories protected from discrimination.

Then began the topic of Starbucks workers' fight for unionization. Conner Brennan spoke about his Evanston, Illinois, store fighting the "uphill battle" of holding out against the corporation's union busting. A little over a month ago, his co-workers held a vote on whether they would join Starbucks Workers United. The result was unanimous in favor of joining the union.

On Starbucks's retaliation against workers seeking unionization, he said, "We have to, first of all, stand [on guard] against retaliation across the entire company and have no illusions ...that Starbucks is a so-called progressive company that can be appealed to morally."

Nick Cruse paced back and forth across the stage with the microphone in hand. The writer, activist, and co-founder of the Revolutionary Blackout Network spoke passionately about solidarity and demanding better from progressive leaders. "We live in a capitalist dictatorship. Don't believe me? You can predict who's going to win an election by who has the most money," Cruse said before eventually handing the mic off to Griffin Ritze, a Northern Kentucky Amazon worker and union leader.

Griffin Ritze — Photo by Lauren Vasatka  

Ritze and others are fighting to establish a union at the Northern Kentucky KCVG Air Hub, the largest such facility in the country. Ritze described the working conditions and how workers feel the company doesn't care about their safety: "Workers were forced to move freight and operate machinery outside with wind speeds above 40 knots. Hundreds of workers were later forced to evacuate the building."

He continued, "One co-worker told me that all she could think of was the tornado at an Amazon facility in Illinois in 2001. Six workers dead. ...These are the stakes for Amazon workers. It's either our lives or their profits."

Having traveled from Manchester, England, Mike Forster with Enough Is Enough came to voice his support for WSB, saying, "Listen, over the years, Britain has developed an inferiority complex to America. But now we're going to lay it clean, with some superiority: I think we have a better women's football team."

Forster gave the audience a moment to laugh before explaining the state of his country. "We have the worst-performing economy in the advanced capitalist world, with the worst cost-of-living crisis. We've had more prime ministers in the last nine months than you have had presidents in 15 years." Forster told of the growing demand in the UK for a new party, saying that a survey found that 61% of Britons favored the idea.

Paula Lukasek — Photo by Lauren Vasatka  

Paula Lukasek, a University of Washington staff member and the president of Local 1495, then stepped up to the mic to speak about how workers and students are treated at the UW. "We got the City of Seattle to agree to a $15 minimum wage. But you know what? The UW said, 'Oh, we're a state agency. Even if we are in the city of Seattle, we're not paying it.' So Kshama worked with the students and staff to fight back and force the University to [pay] a $15 minimum wage."

Lukasek lamented that the university was considering letting certain student housing be demolished and rebuilt into units owned by a private company, even though the UW has a homelessness issue. "They're proposing to tear down all those units and have a private company come in, rebuild it, and charge double or triple the rents people are paying. So much for fighting homelessness."

Last but not least, Kshama Sawant spoke. She gave an impassioned speech about our decreasing living standards, rising costs, and environmental damage.

"The horrors of this system is on full display in the working class town of East Palestine, Ohio," she said, railing against the loosening of train regulations and how "rail workers voted to go on strike for a fair contract. Yet in what can only be described as a sellout on steroids, both parties voted to break the railroad workers' strike."

Sawant also said that support for unions was at its highest in modern-day polling and added an appeal. "The capitalist system is owned by the bosses. It is inherently unequal and oppressive, and it is completely unsustainable. But I also want to be clear that you don't need to agree with me or Socialist Alternative about socialism in order to get involved with WSB. It is not a socialist organization. It is a movement of working people organizing around a fighting strategy to win the things we need."