US: Corporate America strikes back against socialist election campaigns

Great momentum for Socialist Alternative’s candidates sees major national lobby group and big business stepping in for opponents

With one week to go to the end of local elections on 5 November, the campaigns for city council in Minneapolis and Seattle, run by Socialist Alternative (CWI supporters in the US), have gained a strong momentum. Mighty opponents feel urged to rally behind the Socialist Alternative opponents in a response to movement-based campaigns and armies of volunteers.

Ty Moore for city council in Minneapolis

Corporate politicians and national lobbyists of big business, closely tied to the banking industry, clearly picked their candidate, Alondra Cano, for the city council race in ward 9 in Minneapolis, who they are rallying behind in a very tight race. This allows working class people a much clearer picture of the choice they have and to pick a candidate, Ty Moore, who will be on their side. Ty is a longstanding activist of Occupy Homes – defending home owners against foreclosures – and a leading member of Socialist Alternative.

In a surprising move, one of the main US wide lobby groups, formally based in Chicago, Illinois, stepped into this local race. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) – a lobby group of real estate/property agents – supports Democrats and Republicans, including Tea Party leaders like Michelle Bachman and Ted Cruz. It put $40 million into elections last year. Two weeks before Election Day on 5 November, a mass mailer by this Super-PAC (‘political action committee’) called on voters to give their support to Cano, followed by a second mail-out, a few days later.

This political fund’s sudden interest in local politics in Minneapolis is an acknowledgement of the tremendous echo Socialist Alternative’s campaign found, despite its shoe-string budget. This intervention of corporate America into the neighbourhoods of southern Minneapolis is part of NAR’s agenda to push back resistance of home owners against evictions. For example, they are at the moment suing the city of Richmond where a Green party mayor is using “eminent domain” in the Californian city to help indebted home owners who are hit badly by the banks. Eminent domain is normally used to expropriate ‘small people’ to clear the ground for big developers, motorways or other big business interests. In Richmond it gives an idea of how people can use unusual tools for the movement against Wall Street.

Occupy Homes took up this idea and says that all possible tools should be used in Minneapolis. The campaign points out that Wall Street crashed the economy, the banks got bailed out, and now the very same banks go after hundreds of families in ward 9, in Minneapolis alone, and try to kick them out of their homes. Occupy Homes successfully organised resistance against evictions and won back houses from big banks. This is one of Ty Moore’s strong campaigning issues.

While Alondra Cano publicly still presents herself as an activist and organiser, defending people against the banks, the truth of the matter was shown when the local establishment stepped in to help her campaign after it was taken aback by the Ty Moore camp’s mass door-knocking, hundreds of yard signs and outreach via phone banking.

While Cano was shaking hands with people threatened by foreclosures, the mayor sent police to evict residents in favour of the banks. The very same mayor then co-hosted a fundraiser for Cano, endorsed by the DFL (Democrats Farmer Labor Party – the Democrats in Minnesota).

At this fundraiser, not held in ward 9 but in the richest part of Minneapolis, the DFL machine was visible: the architects of a corporate hand-out to the owner of the Vikings’ football team – the billionaire, Zygi Wilf – acted as co-hosts.

Cano presented herself as a fighter for immigrants and people of colour. But while the racial achievement gap in schools in Minneapolis is growing and charter schools contribute to this fact, lobbyists of charter schools were named as backers of Cano’s efforts to grab the seat in city hall.

The open intervention of big money through NAR is further strengthening the commitment of hundreds of volunteers for Ty Moore. The SEIU, one of the strongest trade unions in the city, is backing the campaign. Occupy Homes is mobilising its members to help to get people to the ballot box for Ty. A national call for donations by last year’s Green Party candidate for president, Jill Stein and from Matt Gonzales, running mate with Ralph Nader for president in 2008, and many more, will find a bigger echo, now that people can see the national importance of this race.

Kshama Sawant running in Seattle

Richard Conlin has sat in Seattle city council for 16 years. Conlin has a network of power, is backed by big business and influential developers who organised gentrification in booming parts of the city on the west coast of the US. However, the fact that he raised more money for his re-election campaign than any other candidate in Seattle is not based on the fact that he is liked so much. Looking at the list of his backers, it is clear that developers and corporations are nervous about a very close race.

After achieving 44,000 votes in the primaries in August, Kshama Sawant is now running to get a representative of working class families elected to city council. Three hundred volunteers are door-knocking. A huge effort in fund-raising allowed this socialist campaign to send out mailers to 140,000 households. Kshama challenged the incumbent in a TV debate and numerous candidate forums. The neck-on-neck race encouraged the influential local weekly paper, The Stranger, to campaign for Kshama, sending Seattle’s establishment into a nightmarish state of fear.

Conlin even felt the need to start an ugly smear campaign. Eagerly taken up by the Seattle Times, the main pro-establishment newspaper in the city, Conlin questioned Kshama’s “civic engagement” as she had only voted in 3 of the 4 elections that she could have done so after registering. Formally Conlin is making points about voting and engagement but the subtext of his attack is clear: Kshama is an immigrant (she got US citizenship in 2010). This attack against a candidate of color from an immigrant background had a polarising effect and also mobilised new support for the Vote Sawant campaign.

The Stranger came out with a clear response to Conlin’s accusations and concluded: “Conlin’s problem is that Sawant is too civically engaged.

“Conlin should stop crowing about about her votes—Conlin should be worried about his votes against transit, for half-funded freeways, against sick leave, for an anti-panhandling bill that violated the city’s own human rights standards, against making homeless encampments safer, and the rest of his record.”

The final voting has already started. Over two weeks Seattle’s voters are asked to mail in their ballot. Roughly 200,000 voters will decide between a corporate politician and a working class activist. A grassroots campaign is fighting the influence of big money over politics and the outcome is open.

Fight for $15/hour

One of the main demands of the Vote Sawant campaign is a minimum wage of $15/hour and full trade union rights. The red shirts worn by Sawant supporters demanding such an increase from the current state-wide $9.19 towards a living wage became the visual mark and ‘brand’ of the campaign.

The bold minimum wage demand raised by fast-food workers, over the last year, spread all over the US, raises the aspirations of millions of low-waged workers. It resonates with the poorest parts of US America’s working class but gets support much beyond.

In the Seattle race, pushed by Kshama Sawant and her supporters, even the two candidates for mayor started to endorse $15/hour, in vague terms. While workers cannot rely on these two Democratic Party candidates, it shows the impact of a focused campaign.

All kinds of attacks were brought up against the Sawant campaign’s minimum wage demand. The main benefiters of worker super-exploitation are companies like McDonald’s, Walmart and the supermarket chain Target. The argument was made again and again, that small businesses would “lose out” with such a wage increase.

However, it is obvious that $15/hour would only be a first step to earn enough out of a full-time job to feed a family. And the mythical small businesses are already broke because of poverty, foreclosures and a broken economy which is based on corporations sitting on billions without spending, while working class families suffer. The overdue correction of the situation facing hard-pressed working class families will be a first step to repair the whole economy.

In Minneapolis, the Ty Moore for City Council Campaign also found a big echo with the demand for $15/hour, including during an f immigrant rights demonstration in early October. The sitting councillor for ward 9 said he is “very sure” that the city cannot impose such legislation. “This is just a red herring that Ty Moore is using that demonstrates he really doesn’t understand the job he is applying for”, the Minneapolis Star Tribune quotes Gerry Schiff in an article on a candidate forum (where this sitting councillor was not even present).

Not so surprisingly, the city council had no problem in bypassing law in the interest of a $150 million gift to a billionaire around the Vikings’ Stadium, where they avoided a legally obligatory referendum of the people of Minneapolis.

The law allegedly prohibiting Minneapolis from brining in a minimum wage is unjust and was never even tested in court – a step a city council could immediately take by implementing this increase in wages. A living wage ordinance of the city can immediately force all contractors with the city to stick to a minimum of $15/hour. Achievements like the right for same-sex marriage were not won by politicians arguing what they cannot do, but by movements with leaders who showed a way forward defending working people’s interests.

The fight for $15 will, of course, not end on Election Day, 5 November. The efforts of tens of thousands of fast-food workers, SEIU and other trade union supporters and many community activists shows the potential for an upsurge of the poorest parts of working people in the US to fight back.

Political openings

The strength of the two Socialist Alternative election campaigns in Minneapolis and Seattle is that they flow from a programme to defend working class people against Wall Street. It is based on the correct understanding that the anger shown during the Occupy movement, in 2011, has not disappeared gone but is still a live mainspring for future powerful movements and political earthquakes.

Millions of Americans are alienated from the two parties of big business and are looking for an alternative. In a more profound sense, despite small numerical economic growth, the economic and political system is broken and many Americans realise it. Social tensions are rising.

Right wing populists and libertarians – ultra-liberal, pro-market lobbyists – are trying to step in to the political vacuum. But all indicators point to the main development for the coming years coming from a new search for a Left alternative – maybe, at the beginning, left-populist in character and then more and more truly working-class based. The potential is opening up for a coalition of labour, socialists and Green Party activists and candidates to offer an alternative to pro-big business policies.

Despite huge tasks and small forces, Socialist Alternative is extremely well positioned to help these developments along, to help the fight-back against corporate greed and for the struggle for a socialist future.

To find out more about the two campaigns, see

Majority of King County Labor Council votes to endorse Sawant

Unprecedented momentum for Independent working class challenger

A meeting of Seattle’s trade union leaders on 16 October saw a resolution debated and voted on to endorse Kshama Sawant for Seattle City Council. Despite a previous vote to support Sawant’s opponent – 16-year Democratic incumbent, Richard Conlin – 28 delegates voted to endorse Sawant, with 21 voting against.

While falling just short of the two thirds majority required to formally endorse, Sawant’s campaign manager Ramy Khalil pointed out "This is a very strong signal of the impact the Sawant campaign has had within the labor movement. Make no mistake this is a real blow to Conlin, who took Labor’s support for granted with his pro-business politics.”

"The momentum for Kshama Sawant’s campaign shows that workers have a real choice in this race" said Patrick Ayers, a Metro bus driver. "We can send an advocate for $15/hour to city hall. The endorsement of Conlin was a mistake, taken in summer before the effect of Sawant’s grassroots campaign was fully visible.”

"With my candidacy and the tremendous organizing by fast food workers, we have shifted the debate" said Sawant. "Suddenly both mayoral candidates have come out in favor of a $15/hour minimum wage. As a council member I will keep the pressure on the political establishment to make sure the $15/hour is rapidly implemented.”

Sawant has been endorsed by six unions, representing over 12,000 workers. The unions are IBEW Local 46, APWU Greater Seattle local, AFT 1789, WFSE Local 1488 and 304, CWA Local 37083, as well as the Transit Riders Union, and many union activists.

Adding to this momentum, on 14 October, a meeting of representatives of the Seattle Education Association (representing 5,000 teachers) voted to send their support to Sawant and her call for a ‘millionaire’s tax’ to fund education. Sawant is the only city council candidate that the SEA has voted to send such a statement too.

“The Labor Council’s vote is an important first step towards breaking away from the bankrupt policy of supporting big business politicians like Richard Conlin. Unfortunately, however, too many union leaders are still clinging to the idea that they must endorse Conlin to have ‘influence’ on the candidate they think will win. In fact, Conlin is beatable, and would be wiped out if labor was to put its resources behind an independent working class challenge like Sawant” said Philip Locker, political director of the Sawant campaign.

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October 2013