United States and World Politics

Election Victories for Socialist Alternative

Huge opportunities for working-class politics must be seized

By Bryan Koulouris

Two Socialist Alternative candidates sent historic shock waves through the U.S. left last night. Both candidates, Kshama Sawant in Seattle and Ty Moore in Minneapolis, mounted the strongest election campaigns by open socialists in a major U.S. city in many decades.

Only initial results have been announced, and more ballots are being counted in the next couple weeks. At the moment, both races are too close to call. Moore is down by only 130 votes. Sawant is down by only four percent in the initial count of an estimated 38 percent of the total ballots expected, with the remaining ballots likely to trend strongly in Sawant’s favor.

Regardless of the final count, the votes for these firebrand socialist candidates illustrate clearly the vacuum in U.S. politics and the anger at the corporate-controlled establishment.

Rooted in the Great Recession and the shallow economic recovery, there is a tremendous distrust of the political establishment, which fueled both campaigns. The government shutdown also stoked a popular rage that allowed the socialist campaigns to strike a real chord with ordinary people. During the government shutdown, the approval rating for Congress slumped to a historic low of five percent. In a Gallup poll, a record-high 60 percent said that a new party was needed in the U.S., and a record low of only 26 percent said the two parties were doing an adequate job.

Many people in the U.S. often feel discouraged and demoralized by the rigged pro-corporate electoral system. However, these campaigns demonstrated beyond a shadow of the doubt that independent candidates and ordinary working-class people can challenge the establishment without taking a dime of corporate money! Ty Moore raised more money than his main corporate-backed opponent, and Kshama Sawant raised approximately $110,000 compared to her opponent’s $238,196.

Socialist Alternative’s campaigns showed clearly that it is possible for ordinary people and young people to organize together and fight to change the world. Socialist Alternative wants to build on this momentum, and is appealing to people to donate and get involved with Socialist Alternative to help us build future campaigns of the 99 percent like the “Fight for a $15/hour minimum wage and a union” and the struggle to tax the super-rich to pay for a green jobs program and mass transit.

As cuts to popular government programs like Social Security are likely coming, possibly in the next few months, both corporate parties will probably see their support further undermined. Going into the 2014 mid-term elections, these socialist campaigns have shown the huge opening for independent working-class politics. Coalitions of fighting union leaders, socialists, Greens and civil rights groups should be built in every city across the country to organize movements and mount independent candidates.

These election results, along with the Arab spring, the Wisconsin labor uprising, and the Occupy movement, have made possible what seemed impossible. They are ushering in a whole new process in society. Not only are these electoral campaigns leading to the growth of a new vibrant socialist movement in the United States, but they will also serve as a model that will contribute to the eventual inevitable rise of a new party that will fight the richest one percent—a mass party of working people.

Socialist ideas on the rise

Many people on the left argue that socialist ideas cannot gain mass support in this country; these campaigns show that they’re dead wrong. Pew Research Center Polls show over and over that a majority of young people and people of color now prefer “socialism” to “capitalism.” Obviously, this consciousness is confused, but it illustrates that people are fed up with growing inequality, the unbearable rises in the cost of living, and capitalism itself.

Sawant and Moore’s opponents barely bothered to resort to “red-baiting” against socialist ideas. Instead, incumbent Richard Conlin in Seattle used thinly-veiled, anti-immigrant and sexist arguments against Sawant while Alondra Cano in Minneapolis shied away from negative campaigning, preferring to rely on her support in the real estate industry and the political establishment.

Socialist ideas are clearly back on the agenda, and Socialist Alternative is uniquely positioned to help build a new socialist movement. This needs to be done by socialists being the most effective fighters for the needs of ordinary working-class people such as a $15 an hour minimum wage and a tax on the super-rich to fund jobs and services. Socialist Alternative has stood out on the left for our ability to connect with politicized workers with understandable language. At the same time, we honestly explain that reforms in our society can only be fully sustained if power is taken out of the hands of big business and a new socialist system based on democratic public ownership of the top 500 corporations is established.

Building movements

Ty Moore’s campaign in Ward 9 of Minneapolis was built alongside important high-profile housing justice campaigns led by Occupy Homes Minnesota. Moore and Socialist Alternative helped co-found this organization, which successfully defended many homeowners from being evicted by big banks and the police. The center of Occupy Homes’s “Foreclosure and Eviction-Free Zone” was in Ward 9, a diverse, working-class community, and both Occupy Homes and the Moore campaign mutually reinforced each other.

Likewise, in Seattle, Sawant’s campaign helped put the “Fight for 15”—strikes and protests of low-wage workers for a $15/hour minimum wage—at the center of political debate. Socialist Alternative energetically built this movement, aiding victimized striking workers and countering arguments against raising the minimum wage. When labor organizations placed an initiative on the ballot to raise the minimum wage to $15 in the suburb of SeaTac, the Kshama Sawant campaign energetically supported this movement, contributing to the ballot initiative’s historic success.

Eventually, both mayoral candidates, who hadn’t mentioned the minimum wage at the beginning of their campaigns, came out vaguely in support of a $15/hour minimum wage. Sawant’s success at shifting the political debate prompted the Seattle Times, the largest newspaper in Seattle, to say before the election that “the winner of Seattle’s election is already the socialist Kshama Sawant.”

The labor movement

These independent working-class electoral campaigns have important lessons for the labor movement, which is facing a serious crisis. The labor movement is under attack from big business, and the Tea Party Republicans are trying to destroy union rights altogether. However, Democratic politicians are often the ones proposing cuts, privatization and other attacks on unions, too. In this situation, the labor movement needs to regain its fighting traditions and run more of its own independent working-class candidates.

Instead, labor leaders often back Democrats either out of fear of Republicans, habit, or the fact that many labor leaders live lives of luxury that have more in common with politicians than their own members. However, the Moore and Sawant campaigns demonstrate that workers are increasingly fed up with politics as usual, and labor support can be gained by credible independent campaigns with concrete demands. Moore obtained the active support of SEIU State Council in Minnesota, which played an instrumental role in the campaign. Meanwhile, Sawant won endorsements from six union locals, and a majority of the King County Labor Council voted in favor of endorsing Sawant (narrowly missing the super-majority necessary for an endorsement).

In the coming months and years, union members will face continual attacks on their rights and living conditions. In the course of these fights, we’ll need to use protests, pickets, strikes and direct action to defend ourselves. Workers will have to struggle to win democratic control of their unions and elect leaders who are actually willing to resist the corporate onslaught. These battles will show the need for workers to have their own independent political representation, and the Moore and Sawant campaigns show that unions can run very successful independent candidates, which should be a step towards forming a new party of the 99 percent.

Next steps

Many people who supported Moore and Sawant are breaking from the Democratic Party, but aren’t ready yet to fully break from the Democratic Party. Socialist Alternative will continue to argue within social justice movements and coalitions that the Democrats are fundamentally a party of big business, and that working-class people shouldn’t give any support to them—even candidates on their “left wing.”

We urgently need a party of working people, connected to social movements, fighting unions, community organizations, Greens and socialists. As a concrete step to get there, we should form coalitions throughout the country with the potential to come together on a national level to run 100 independent working-class candidates in the 2014 mid-term elections. The unions who supported the Moore and Sawant campaigns and many others should run full slates of independent working-class candidates in the mid-term, state, and local elections.

U.S. capitalism is in a deep economic and social crisis. The political establishment is discredited, and their system of government appears broken. Deep anger is growing against inequality, racism, sexism and homophobia. Environmental destruction is worsening. The situation is crying out for an alternative.

If socialists, Greens and union leaders don’t capitalize on this opening, then the right wing will. For instance, a Libertarian candidate for Virginia governor won over 145,000 votes in this election. Even worse, reports show that openly racist far-right groups are growing.

This is an urgent situation. We need to actively build the socialist movement along with broader coalitions of the 99 percent to challenge the agenda of big business. The incredible election results of Ty Moore and Kshama Sawant are shining examples of the way forward.

What We Stand For

Bail out workers, not Wall Street

  • Create living-wage union jobs for all the unemployed through a massive public works program to develop mass transit, renewable energy, infrastructure, healthcare, education, and affordable housing.
  • Free, high quality healthcare for all. Replace the failed for-profit insurance companies with a publicly funded single-payer system as a step towards fully socialized medicine.
  • No budget cuts to education and social services! Full funding for all community needs. The federal government should bail out states to prevent cuts and layoffs. A massive increase in taxes on the rich and big business, not working people.
  • Raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hour, adjusted annually for cost of living increases and regional differences, as a step towards a living wage for all.
  • A minimum guaranteed weekly income of $500/week for the unemployed, disabled, stay-at-home parents, the elderly, and others unable to work.
  • Stop home foreclosures and evictions. For public ownership and democratic control of the major banks.
  • No more layoffs! Take bankrupt and failing companies into public ownership and retool them for socially necessary green production.
  • Free, high quality public education for all from pre-school through college. Full funding for schools to dramatically lower teacher-student ratios. Stop the focus on high stakes testing and the drive to privatize public education.
  • Repeal all anti-union laws like Taft-Hartley. For democratic unions run by the rank-and-file to fight for better pay, working conditions, and social services. Full-time union officials should be regularly elected and receive the average wage of those they represent.
  • For a guaranteed living wage pension.
  • Shorten the workweek with no loss in pay and benefits—share out the work with the unemployed and create new jobs.

Money for jobs and education, not war

  • End the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Bring all the troops home now!
  • Slash the military budget.
  • Repeal the Patriot Act and other attacks on democratic rights.

Environmental sustainability

  • Fight global warming–Massive public investment in renewable energy and efficiency technologies to rapidly replace fossil fuels.
  • A major expansion of public transportation to provide low fare, high-speed, and accessible mass transit.
  • Public ownership of the big energy companies. All workers in polluting industries should be guaranteed re-training and new living-wage jobs in socially-useful green production.

Equal rights for all

  • Fight discrimination on the grounds of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, age, and all other forms of prejudice. Equal pay for equal work.
  • End police brutality and the institutional racism of the criminal justice system. Invest in rehabilitation, job-training, and living-wage jobs, not prisons! Abolish the death penalty.
  • Full legalization and equal rights for all undocumented immigrant workers.
  • Fight sexual harassment, violence against women, and all forms of sexism.
  • Defend a woman’s right to choose whether and when to have children. Publicly funded, single-payer health care system with free reproductive services, including all forms of birth control and safe, accessible abortions. Comprehensive sex education. Paid maternity and paternity leave. Fully subsidized, high-quality childcare.
  • Equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, including same-sex marriage.

Break with the two parties
of big business

  • For a mass workers’ party drawing together workers, young people and activists from workplace, community, civil rights, environmental and antiwar campaigns, to provide a fighting, political alternative to the pro-big business parties.
  • Unions and other social movement organizations should stop funding and supporting the Democratic and Republican Parties and instead organize independent left-wing, anti-corporate candidates and coalitions as a first step toward building a workers’ party.

Socialism and internationalism

  • Capitalism produces poverty, inequality, environmental destruction and war. We need an international struggle against this system.
  • Repeal NAFTA, CAFTA and other “free trade” agreements, which mean job losses and a race to the bottom for workers and the environment.
  • Solidarity with the struggles of workers and the oppressed internationally—an injury to one is an injury to all.
  • Take into public ownership the top 500 corporations and banks that dominate the U.S. economy and run them under the democratic management of elected representatives of the workers and the broader public. Compensation to be paid on the basis of proven need to small investors, not millionaires.
  • A democratic, socialist plan for the economy based on the interests of the overwhelming majority of people and the environment. For a socialist United States and a socialist world.

Socialist Alternative, November 6, 2013