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Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

US: Socialist candidate takes lead in Seattle Council elections

As the count continues Kshama Sawant, from the Socialist Party’s sister organisation in the US, takes the lead in the Seattle City Council elections. The results are now gaining national coverage with many pundits now betting Sawant will win.

The US is seen as the home of capitalism, the world’s richest and most powerful nation. But it is also home to millions of working class people who are struggling to get by, let alone live the American Dream.

In 2011 Occupy camps mushroomed across the continent, giving expression to the growing discontent as working class people, young people and black and ethnic minorities revolted against being made to pay for the crisis caused by the bankers in Wall Street.

United States capitalism is in a deep economic and social crisis. The political establishment is discredited, and, especially after the recent government shutdown, its system of government appears broken. The situation is crying out for an alternative.

But the resistance is growing. Occupy Homes grew out of Occupy in Minneapolis and has scored important victories in defeating attempted home evictions.

Fast-food workers have begun to organise and inspire with their ‘$15 an hour and a union’ campaign. It is increasingly understood that both the Republicans and the Democrats stand for the super-rich 1%.

Against this background, two Socialist Alternative (CWI in the United States) candidates sent historic shock waves through the United States left and beyond on 5 November. Both candidates, Kshama Sawant in Seattle and Ty Moore in Minneapolis, mounted the strongest election campaigns by open socialists in a major US city in many decades.

Ty, an Occupy Homes activist, got 43% of the vote as an open socialist for City Council in Ward 9 of Minneapolis. As counting continues Kshama is on track to win a seat if her lead holds. Regardless of the final count, the votes for these firebrand socialist candidates illustrate clearly the anger at the corporate-controlled establishment.

Kshama’s campaign has received enormous support from volunteers and donors. It has also had very good press coverage in Seattle. Even when it looked like 16-year incumbent Richard Conlin had won after the first batch of votes were counted The Stranger, a weekly Seattle paper, wrote:

“Sawant may not win a cushy leather seat at the city council dais this time around, but there’s no question that she won everything else: the spirit award, a dedicated base of Seattle progressives who are committed to helping her run again (and again, and again, if need be), and most importantly, the public debate.

“She framed the discussions that dominated both her own race and the mayoral race (such as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour), forcing incumbent council members to at least feign allegiance to working class voters instead of just the business bigwigs who routinely fund their re-election campaigns.

“Conlin [Kshama’s opponent] may have out-fundraised Sawant two-to-one and had 16 years of name recognition from his tenure on the council, but voters are now quite aware that he’s also had few memorable legislative victories-and they’ll expect Conlin and his colleagues to prove their progressive bona fides before the next election. Not bad for an outspent outsider who turned Socialism from a pox to a pistol.”

Successes for socialists in US election campaigns

By Bryan Koulouris, Socialist Alternative

Rooted in the Great Recession and the shallow economic recovery, there is a tremendous distrust of the political establishment, which fuelled both Ty’s and Kshama’s Socialist Alternative election campaigns. The government shutdown also stoked up a popular rage that allowed the socialist campaigns to strike a real chord with ordinary people.

During the shutdown, the approval rating for Congress slumped to a historic low of 5%. In a Gallup poll, a record-high 60% said that a new party was needed in the US, and a record low of only 26% said the two main parties were doing an adequate job.

Many people in the US often feel discouraged and demoralised by the rigged pro-corporate electoral system. However, these campaigns demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that independent candidates and ordinary working class people can challenge the establishment and win without relying on a dime of corporate money! The campaign for Ty Moore raised more money than his main corporate-backed opponent, and for Kshama Sawant raised $110,000 compared to her opponent’s $238,000.

Socialist Alternative’s (co-thinkers of the Socialist Party in the US) campaigns showed clearly that it is possible for working class and young people to organise together and fight to change the world.

We now want to build on this momentum, and are appealing to people to donate and get involved with Socialist Alternative to help us build future campaigns of the 99% like the fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage and union rights and the struggle to tax the super-rich to pay for a green jobs programme and mass transit.

A party for the 99%

These election results, along with the Arab spring, the 2011 Wisconsin labour uprising, and the Occupy movement, have made possible what seemed impossible. They are ushering in a whole new process. Not only are these electoral campaigns leading to the growth of a new vibrant socialist movement in the United States, but they will also serve as a model that will contribute to the eventual rise of a new party that will fight the richest 1% – a mass party of working people.

Many people on the left argue that socialist ideas cannot gain mass support in the US; these campaigns show that they’re dead wrong. Pew Research Center Polls show over and over that a majority of young people and people of colour now prefer socialism to capitalism.

Campaigns

Kshama and Ty’s opponents barely bothered to resort to “red-baiting” against socialist ideas. Instead, incumbent Richard Conlin in Seattle used thinly-veiled anti-immigrant and sexist rhetoric against Kshama while Alondra Cano in Minneapolis shied away from negative campaigning, preferring to rely on her support in the real estate industry and the political establishment.

A new socialist movement needs to be built by socialists being the most effective fighters for the needs of working class people. Socialist Alternative has stood out for our ability to connect with politicised workers.

At the same time, we honestly explain that reforms in our society can only be fully sustained if power is taken out of the hands of big business and a new socialist system based on democratic public ownership of the top 500 corporations is established.

Ty Moore’s campaign in Ward 9 of Minneapolis was built alongside important high-profile housing justice campaigns led by Occupy Homes Minnesota. Ty and Socialist Alternative helped co-found this organisation which has successfully defended many homeowners from being evicted by big banks and the police. The centre of Occupy Homes’ ‘Foreclosure and Eviction-Free Zone’ was in Ward 9 – a diverse, working class community.

Likewise, in Seattle, Kshama’s campaign helped put the ‘Fight for 15’ – strikes and protests of low-wage workers for a $15 an hour minimum wage – at the centre of political debate. Labour organisations placed an initiative on the ballot to raise the minimum wage to $15 in the suburb of SeaTac.

Socialist Alternative energetically built this movement while aiding victimised striking workers and countering arguments against raising the minimum wage. This contributed to the ballot initiative’s historic success.

Eventually, both SeaTac mayoral candidates, who hadn’t mentioned the minimum wage at the beginning of their campaigns, came out vaguely in support of $15 an hour. Kshama’s success at shifting the political debate prompted the Seattle Times, the largest newspaper in Seattle, to say before the election that “the winner of Seattle’s election is already the socialist Kshama Sawant.”

These independent working class electoral campaigns have important lessons for the labour movement, which is facing a serious leadership crisis. Democratic politicians are often the ones proposing cuts, privatisation and other attacks on unions, too. In this situation, the labour movement needs to regain its fighting traditions and run more of its own working class candidates.

Instead, labour leaders often back Democrats either out of fear of the Republicans, habit, or the fact that many live lives of luxury that have more in common with politicians than their own members.

Support

However, our campaigns demonstrate that workers are increasingly fed up with politics, and labour support can be gained by credible independent campaigns with concrete demands. Ty obtained the active support of SEIU, one of the strongest trade unions in the city. Kshama won endorsements from six union locals, and a majority of the King County Labor Council voted in favour of endorsing her (narrowly missing the super-majority necessary for an endorsement).

In the coming months and years, union members will face continual attacks on their rights and living conditions. In the course of these fights, protests, pickets, strikes and direct action will be needed. Workers will have to struggle to win democratic control of their unions and elect leaders who are willing to resist the corporate onslaught.

These battles will show the need for workers to have their own independent political representation, and these recent election campaigns show that unions can run very successful independent candidates, which should be a step towards forming a new party of the 99%.

Many people who supported our candidates are breaking from the Democratic Party, but aren’t ready yet to do so fully. Socialist Alternative will continue to argue that the Democrats are fundamentally a party of big business, and that working class people shouldn’t give any support to them.

Moving forward

As a concrete step towards a new party, we should form coalitions throughout the country with the potential to come together on a national level to run 100 independent working class candidates in the 2014 mid-term elections.

US capitalism is in a deep economic and social crisis. The political establishment is discredited, and their system of government appears broken. Deep anger is growing against inequality, racism, sexism and homophobia. Environmental destruction is worsening. The situation is crying out for an alternative.

We need to actively build the socialist movement along with broader coalitions of the 99% to challenge the agenda of big business. The incredible election results of Ty Moore and Kshama Sawant are shining examples of the way forward.

Check online at www.socialistalternative.org or www.votesawant.org or on Twitter @VoteSawant for updates as more votes are counted.