Socialist Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant and her party, Socialist Alternative, officially launched their latest project, Workers Strike Back, at a Saturday rally at Kane Hall.
After spending a decade shaming the dorky Democrats on the council for fucking over the working class, she and her party are taking their fighting movement on the road, calling for “undying” worker solidarity across the nation in the wake of historic unionization efforts.
If Workers Strike Back can learn to swim, Sawant and her party could help the new, revitalized wave of the US labor movement continue swelling. If they sink, Seattle loses its most formidable elected ally to a vodcast.
But so far, so good. The launch event drew hundreds into the University of Washington lecture hall to hear from various union workers from around town and panelists such as citizen journalist Nick Cruse, co-founder of Revolutionary Blackout Network.
“I think what they're doing is really awesome, and I'm excited to learn more about it,” attendee Dylan Wilder said before the event, which she learned about from tablers at the Ballard farmers market.
Another attendee, Ian Roberts, said his friend talked him into attending the rally. He wants to take a more hands-on approach to politics by “actually leaving the house instead of just complaining about it alone.”
After the speeches, Roberts said the panelists convinced him to join Workers Strike Back at their first action at the Amazon Spheres next month.
Roberts was not the only one who found the message compelling–unless, of course, he alone shelled out the $41,000 the campaign raised that afternoon.
The platform that raised that cash consists of a few planks. One, the working class must build strong solidarity across trades. Two, the working class must support each other in strike actions to win demands at the workplace. Three, the working class must use their leverage to pressure politicians for other victories like affordable housing, free health care, and policies that alleviate the oppression of women, people of color and other marginalized groups. And while we’re at it, the working class must put itself in the halls of power via a true labor party, not whatever the fuck the Democrats are doing.
If that sounds like Socialist Alternative on steroids to you, I don’t blame you for thinking that way! The party uses a similar strategy to get the goods. It's rare to see a strike in Seattle without a few red picket signs from the city’s most active socialist organization. And as they try to win workers’ trust at the picket line, Socialist Alternative asks for the workers' support to win demands at City Hall in return. Oh! And they kept Sawant in office for a decade to respond to the needs of the working class.
In its attempts to find its footing, Workers Strike Back is still wrapped up in the party that created it. Socialist Alternative members ran the launch event, and panelists raved about how Sawant’s office and party fought alongside them. But dual Socialist Alternative members and Workers Strike Back supporters insist that the new project is its own movement, not a shadow organization of the socialist party.
As Sawant said, you don’t have to agree with her or Socialist Alternative on matters of socialism to join the ranks. Workers Strike Back welcomes all workers.
“Capitalism relies on a divide-and-rule strategy in order for a tiny minority at the top to exploit the billions of working people on the planet,” Sawant said. “They need to divide us in every possible way and disorient us. We cannot let them.”
She added that Socialist Alternative has fought alongside workers with vastly different political beliefs, including Trump voters. Despite the differences, which Sawant said workers should debate internally, she noted the common ground Socialist Alternative found with Republican workers: “We have agreed on something crucial. They damn well want a union and are prepared to fight for it.”
Sawant is known for hurling the dreaded D-word at her technically nonpartisan council colleagues because she believes both Republicans and Democrats serve capitalism, or the interests of billionaires and bosses. In that way, she believes red versus blue is a false conflict. The real battle is between the capitalists and the workers, she argues.
For example, at the end of last year, Republicans, Democrats, and even Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came to the rescue of railroad profits when they imposed a shitty contract that rail unions had already rejected because of its pitiful sick-day allowance. Both parties blocked the strike for fear of wreaking havoc on the economy–which, fucking bingo!
Workers Strike Back envisions a world where a unified working class would have ditched their jobs and taken to the street in a mass strike action to support the rail workers’ demands. But that sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight. So, for now, Workers Strike Back will fight on smaller stages, growing the US labor movement action by action, rally by rally, vodcast by vodcast.
If they stoke the flames of current unionization efforts to a roaring labor movement, Workers Strike Back could be the best bet Sawant ever made. If they choke, Sawant has said that one City Council seat is no substitute for a national labor movement, which she and Socialist Alternative believe is the only way out of this capitalist hellscape.
As Cruse said, “There's been an active effort by the establishment to disempower you, to make you believe in the hero, that a hero’s gonna save you. I got bad news. That's not gonna happen. We save ourselves.”
The labor movement could probably use her help—or any help they can get. Despite higher visibility on social media in the last couple years, union participation reached its lowest point ever last year.