SEATTLE – She hasn’t taken office yet, but Seattle’s newly elected socialist city council member already is offering solutions to the city’s problems that would make even the most liberal Democrat blush.
Amid a severe rift between Boeing machinists and management, Kshama Sawant – the first self-declared socialist elected to city-wide office in Seattle in a century – essentially ripped a page from Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and urged a cheering crowd of union supporters Monday night to rise up against their oppressors.
“The workers should take over the factories and shut down Boeing’s profit-making machine,” Sawant said at a downtown plaza, according to Seattle’s KIRO-TV.
Last week, the machinists rejected a contract that would guarantee jobs for eight years at Boeing’s Everett plant, just north of Seattle, building the company’s new 777X airliner. In exchange, new machinists would give up their guaranteed company pensions.
In response to the rejection, Boeing management has discussed taking the jobs to other states.
Sawant, a former software engineer from India who lectures in economics at Seattle University and Seattle Central Community College, calls Boeing’s threat “nothing short of economic terrorism because it’s going to devastate the state’s economy.”
A takeover by the workers, which she calls “democratic ownership,” is the answer, she contends.
“The only response we can have if Boeing executives do not agree to keep the plant here is for the machinists to say the machines are here, the workers are here, we will do the job, we don’t need the executives,” she said, according to KIRO.
“The executives don’t do the work, the machinists do,” maintained Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative Party.
She explained to the Seattle TV station after her speech that once the workers “take over,” they can make better decisions about what to build.
“We can re-tool the machines to produce mass transit like buses, instead of destructive, you know, war machines,” she told KIRO.
The call to take over Boeing is in line with the policy of the Socialist Alternative Party, the U.S. branch of the British-based Trotskyist international organization the Committee for a Workers’ International.
On its website, the party says that as “capitalism moves deeper into crisis, a new generation of workers and youth must join together to take the top 500 corporations into public ownership under democratic control to end the ruling elites’ global competition for profits and power.”
The alternative Seattle Weekly said of Savant in August when she was running for office: “We like her because she’s an honest-to-god socialist who’s willing to throw a few Molotov cocktails into the cloistered hatch-pits of our terribly staid civic ‘debates.’”
Sawant, who has referred to herself as a Marxist, this month became the first socialist to win a city-wide election in Seattle since Anna Louise Strong was elected to the School Board in 1916, unseating a four-term incumbent.
In the Pacific Northwest, regarded as a progressive hotbed in the early 20th century, the Communist Party played a key role in the development of some of its most powerful unions.
In 1936, the U.S. postmaster general, James Farley, joked that there “are 47 states in the union, and the Soviet of Washington.”
More than 20 years after the revolutions in Eastern Europe toppled ubiquitous statues of communist leaders, Seattle features a statue of the founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin.
The Socialist Alternative Party insists the “dictatorships that existed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were perversions of what socialism is really about.”
“We are for democratic socialism where ordinary people will have control over our daily lives,” the party says.
‘Join the struggle’
Sawant won her seat on the city council this month on a platform of anti-capitalism, workers’ rights and a $15 per-hour minimum wage for Seattle workers.
An introduction on her campaign website charges that the Democratic Party “pays lip service to working people” and calls for citizens to “join the struggle for democratic socialism.”
Both Democrats and Republicans, her campaign says, “serve the interests of a tiny financial aristocracy.”
“The Sawant campaign is an opportunity to break out from the prison of corporate politics.”
She urges the building of “a mass workers’ party drawing together ordinary people, youth, and activists from Occupy, unions, and environmental, civil rights, and women’s rights campaigns to provide a movement-based opposition to the corporate political parties.”
“We live in one of the richest cities in the richest nation on earth,” her website says. “There is no shortage of resources. Capitalism has failed the 99%. Another world is both possible and necessary – a socialist world based on the needs of humanity and the environment. Please support our campaign and join the struggle for democratic socialism!”
Sawant received a tip of the hat from a columnist for the Guardian newspaper of London who declared that her election shows “socialism can play in America.”
Ari Paul wrote that “her election does show that not only was she not afraid to be a socialist, people were not afraid of electing one.”
“It’s not just that socialism is coming into fashion; people are finding out that maybe they’ve been socialists this whole time and didn’t know it,” he said.
While there is an independent socialist member of the U.S. Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, lawmakers who lean to the far left in Congress, nevertheless, have been conscious of the fact that using terms such as “socialism” or “socializing” are not politically advantageous.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., for example, found herself in an awkward position in a House hearing in 2008 on rising oil prices.
She was challenging the president of Shell Oil, John Hofmeister, to guarantee that the prices consumers pay will go down if the government permitted the oil companies to drill wherever they want off of U.S. shores.
Hofmeister replied: “I can guarantee to the American people, because of the inaction of the United States Congress, ever-increasing prices unless the demand comes down.”
The Shell exec said paying $5 at the pump “will look like a very low price in the years to come if we are prohibited from finding new reserves, new opportunities to increase supplies.”
Waters responded, in part, “And guess what this liberal would be all about. This liberal will be about socializing … uh, um. …”
Realizing she had uttered a politically provocative term, the congresswoman paused to collect her thoughts.
She continued: “Would be about, basically, taking over, and the government running all of your companies. …”
The oil executives responded by saying they’ve seen this before, in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.
See Waters in 2008 hearing: