‘Really combating for working folks’ — Sawant on defeating the recall and plans for transferring ahead in Seattle’s District 3

By Elizabeth Turnbull

It has been close to two since months Kshama Sawants Latest political victory was confirmed. The longest serving member of the Seattle City Council had staved off a recall by just over 300 votes.

Today, Sawant’s strategies appear largely unchanged — centering around rent control, union building, and protections for the working class.

Sawant will not say what her plans would have been if she had lost.

“I can’t really answer that question on a personal level,” Sawant told CHS in an interview last week. “In the history of movement building there are both victories and defeats, victories and setbacks, so if we had had a set back then of course we would have continued Socialist Alternative and I would have continued our political activism.”

Sawant said that any decision about her seat on the council or a run for a higher office would ultimately be made collectively with the local chapter of Socialist alternativethe activist organization she leads and that provides the foundation for her office’s work.

Ahead of the election in December, Sawant’s office tabled in various parts of the city and went hard on their rent control agenda, centering her political identity in her involvement with the working class.

While Sawant’s strong rhetoric remained consistent throughout her efforts to overcome the recall effort, Sawant, and others on her team, admitted that there was uncertainty along the way.

“There was definitely sort of some nervousness,” said Bia Lacombe, a community organizer in Sawant’s office. ”[We were] hoping for the results that we got.”

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Before the December vote, Sawant focused her energy on rent control and rallying the working class.

“Defeating the recall has redoubled my determination,” Sawant said. “We need to bring that kind of leadership that will allow working people to reach their full potential.”

A new, powerful front for Sawant’s fighting spirit is forming in the Starbucks line on Broadway and at the coffee giant’s cafes across the country.

This week, the socialist council veteran led her counterparts in approving a resolution voicing the council’s support for the unionizing cafe workers in the city. Along the way, Sawant also bashed Democrats for tepid labor support and pilloried council members Alex Pederson other Sarah Nelson for staining on the Starbucks vote.

Sawant also successfully pushed her office’s socialist wonkery into the resolution with a passage voicing the council’s support for “card check neutrality,” a growing movement to replace or augment elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board with negotiated agreements between union representatives.

City Council backs Seattle Starbucks unionization efforts

In Sawant’s eyes, if workers can succeed in forming a union in the city where Starbucks is headquartered, the effects may be felt for workers across the nation, including those working for other corporations.

“Imagine if the Starbucks union gets established and wins fair contracts,” Sawant said. “That will be nothing short of an earthquake in the fast food sector and the service industry.”

The recall victory is playing out in other ways, too. Some of the more than $1 million raised by the Kshama Solidarity campaign to defend her seat is now being used to fight for Seattle labor rights. Sawant has donated $10,000 of her solidarity fund to Starbucks Workers United and she has condemned “union busting,” which Starbucks has denied.

The hope, Sawant says, is to improve living standards for Starbucks workers and that some sort of chain reaction may occur in which more workers in the private sector unionize.

“It will be an almighty battle that we have to conduct,” Sawant said.

Sawant also intends to keep pushing for rent control efforts in Seattle and to advocate for renters rights. Sawant says there is a power imbalance in place between tenants and landlords where renters are forced to pay their rent or be evicted, while landlords are able to hold off on fixing maintenance issues, and face little repercussions.

While she does not have legislation to address this specific imbalance yet, Sawant said her team is investigating with the hope of potentially introducing legislation in the future.

“I don’t want to imply that we already have legislation. We don’t, because we are just investigating it,” Sawant said. “We are just now looking into it and as I said in the committee, we are going to be looking for avenues for legislation to close any existing loopholes.”

In the meantime, Sawant is still advocating for a rent control policy which would dictate that rent be tied with inflation rates and she says that, for now, the eviction moratorium should remain in place “for as long as the public health emergency lasts.”

“City council members and the mayor— we are all working safely from home. We are having meetings on Zoom,” Sawant said. “So if the city is not COVID safe enough for elected officials to go out, then how dare they lift the moratorium for ordinary people.”

As the longest serving member on the city council, Sawant successfully avoided the most recent attempt to remove her from office, but her socialism and political style remain on trial.

While her critics view the Trotskyist council member as a divisive figure, thousands in the city and around the world view Sawant as a hero for the working class, willing to stand up to corporations, and to work alongside the average person that is struggling to make ends meet.

At this point in her ideology and political career, Sawant is not surprised by the polarity of opinions about her. For Sawant, this is yet again an illustration of class struggle.

“If billionaires like Howard Schultz, if corporate landlords, if Amazon executives, if these people started liking what I was doing, I would be seriously worried that I was selling out,” Sawant said. “If you’re truly fighting for working people, you will end up angering big business.”

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