Only days after passing a tax on Amazon and big business in Seattle, corporate politicians repealed the ordinance. Socialists always emphasise that while we must fight to tax the rich, this will always be fiercely resisted and ultimately reversed unless we also have a socialist struggle to change society to place ownership of these companies under the democratic control of workers. We publish an edited version of the council chamber speech by Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant. Kshama is a member of Socialist Alternative (co-thinkers of the CWI in the US).
The Seattle Times reports that nearly 23,000 working families in Seattle are extremely rent burdened – they pay more than half their income on rent. Rent is skyrocketing.
The median home price is over three quarters of a million dollars. Women In Black report that this year at least 53 people have died because they did not have shelter.
The Democratic Party establishment has presided over this crisis.
The only solution to the affordable housing crisis is for the city to build social housing which is publicly owned, permanently affordable housing. To raise revenues go to those who have not paid their fair share – big business.
The people’s budget struggle last year brought 400 people to the public hearing who spoke with one voice: “City council, do your job! Tax big business so that we can begin to address the affordable housing crisis.”
That night we engaged in peaceful civil disobedience in an overnight occupation of city hall.
Because of our courage, determination, strategies and political clarity we came to that unanimous vote on 14 May.
Now less than a month after that unanimous vote, these council members are going to overturn that hard won victory.
All around the country there is overwhelming support for making the tax structure more progressive and making big business and the rich pay their fair share. Right after we passed our tax the mayor of Mountain View, California said, “shouldn’t we have a Google Tax in the cities in the Bay Area?
There has been a tsunami of propaganda from big business – lies, distortion, and misinformation. It has had a temporary effect on the public opinion.
To quote Tim Harris, “any progressive measure you talk about, you will find big business opposing it.”
This onslaught came at us when we began building the 15 Now campaign for a $15 an hour minimum wage. What if the 15 Now movement had said, “big business is opposing us, they’re spreading lies, they’re impacting public opinion! Let’s fold our tent and go home!”
What did we do instead? We built a powerful grassroots movement.
We engaged in a citywide door-knocking campaign. We had neighbourhood meetings. We had rallies, protests, marches, and we changed public opinion to the point that the vast majority of Seattle and the nation supports $15 an hour.
We not only won 15 here. We have now won 15 in many other cities.
This is a cowardly betrayal of the needs of working people. Boeing made the same kinds of threats Amazon and other big businesses are making today.
Boeing did that decade after decade. And the legislature caved to them.
The logic was always, you can’t fight big business. If they threaten to take away jobs, then accept whatever they want.
Boeing executives got everything that they wanted. And they took the jobs away anyway.
Stop any random person on the street and ask them, “do you think Amazon pays its fair share?” And they will tell you no.
Ask them, “do you think we need affordable housing?” They will say yes.
“Do you think big business should be taxed for that?” They will say yes.
The lesson here is we cannot put our faith on politicians who are not willing to stand fight with us and that is why our movements needs our own independently elected candidates who are willing and able to really fight against big business.