Kshama Sawant recently announced that she would forgo reelection on the Seattle City Council to instead launch a media project called Workers Strike Back. This is the wrong strategic decision for both her – and the broader Left.
On January 19th, Kshama Sawant, a socialist on the Seattle City Council, announced that she would not seek re-election. Sawant, a member of Socialist Alternative and DSA, is quite possibly the second most well-known socialist who is not a member of the Democratic Party, behind only Bernie Sanders. She has become somewhat of an iconic figure among the Left over the past decade, in part because she achieved victory as a third-party candidate and because she is unapologetic about her socialist politics. Sawant released a statement in The Stranger explaining her decision and promoting her newest venture, Workers Strike Back.
Sawant should receive her flowers for all that she has accomplished in Seattle – securing a $15 minimum wage, passing a renters’ rights bill, and imposing a tax on Amazon and other big businesses. However, her statement was a disappointment to many on the Left who have supported her for years. In her statement, Sawant takes several jabs at DSA and DSA-elected officials. She makes the claim that “since I was elected in 2013, more than two hundred self-identified ‘democratic socialist’ candidates have been elected nationally. But unfortunately, with rare exceptions, the overwhelming majority of them have abandoned their campaign promises and have failed to stand up to the political establishment.” This statement is a little odd, considering that just on the Seattle city council, DSA-member Tammy Morales has been standing with Sawant in fighting corporate interests. This statement is also a little ridiculous, as it is very unlikely that Sawant can follow every vote from the hundreds of DSA officials at the state and local level across the nation.
Sawant’s main target seems to be members of Congress like DSA-member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Pramila Jayapal, and her main gripe appears to be that they participated in a “historic and shameful betrayal of railroad workers.” She makes the claim that the Squad’s decision to vote in favor of the resolution to impose the contract on rail workers that did not include sick leave gave an opening to the Republican party to pretend that they are the party of workers. How you might ask? Because “five Republican Senators” voted against imposing the contract that the railroad workers did support.
Sawant’s claims about the railroad strike are part misleading and part flat-out false. There were two separate bills in the House of Representatives, one that included sick leave, and one that did not. Every single Democrat, not just the DSA members or progressives, voted for both of these bills. Then in the Senate, Bernie Sanders offered an amendment to the Senate bill to include paid sick leave. In the Senate, six Republicans (not five) supported this amendment, along with every single Democrat except for Joe Manchin. After this amendment failed to reach the 60 vote threshold, Bernie Sanders, along with four Democrats and ten Republicans (again, not five) voted against imposing the unagreed to deal on the railroad workers.
Now, because Sawant was intentionally misleading on the rail-strike vote, it is impossible to know if her “five Republican Senators” reference was about the overall contract or the sick-leave amendment. Either way, her point was ridiculous. Every single Democrat, between both chambers, with the exception of Manchin, voted for sick leave. A vast majority of Republicans in both chambers voted against sick leave, so to claim that the Squad allowed the Republicans to claim the mantle of “party of the working class” is just false. Republican Senator Josh Hawley will tell you himself that the lack of Republican support for the sick leave amendment shows that the Republican party is not the party of the working class.
Sawant uses the example of the rail strike vote to make the claim that “the DSA leadership has, for the most part, provided cover for the misleadership of the Squad.” This is a claim that will resonate with a decent chunk of DSA members. But, within the context of her statement this is an attack on the entire membership, not just a specific bloc on the National Political Committee (NPC) or DSA leadership as a whole. This is easy to see when she says in the very next sentence, “There is a vacuum of real left leadership, locally and nationally.”
It is also extremely unclear what precisely Sawant’s new venture, Workers Strike Back, is really trying to accomplish. She says at one point in the statement, “we need a new party for the working class,” but then the language she uses to describe this new venture seems to suggest the only goal is to motivate a surge in union organizing. She also says that it will include a video broadcast where she will be hosting a show titled On Strike. If it is about mobilizing labor and not about winning elections (since she directly says there are other ways to make political gains than by winning elections), then why are “quality affordable housing” and “free healthcare for all” listed as primary goals? How would mobilizing labor accomplish this? If it is a new political party, why does it need to exist? Sawant has already run for office under the “Socialist Alternative” label, so why create a new independent party when you already are the electoral face of a different independent party? Kshama Sawant has worked for years in Seattle, making actual progressive changes for the city, and by enacting progressive legislation, she has tremendously raised both her own profile, and the profile of Socialist Alternative. To throw away her position of power, a city council seat where she has undoubtedly helped normalize socialist politics both in Seattle and nationwide, for whatever Workers Strike Back is, does not make any sense.
Overall, this new venture seems destined to fail. Sawant is trying to establish herself as the new leader of the Left. But in this statement, she has taken shots at DSA, socialist-elected officials at every level (including some of her own city council colleagues), and independent left-media. Sawant, one of many Seattle City Councilors not running for another term, has become rather negative over the state of Seattle politics, as she predicted a “parade of bland candidates” in the upcoming city council elections. This is just one of several jabs indirectly made at Seattle DSA and their candidates running this year. If Sawant is alienating all of these groups, who does she expect to be the leader of?