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Kshama Sawant Speaks to PSARA Membership Meeting

By Bob Shimabukuro 

Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant delivered a feisty, emotionally charged address to PSARA members at our semiannual members’ meeting, celebrating the victory of the $15/hr minimum wage in Seattle. She challenged PSARA members to keep up the pressure, not only on the $15/hr minimum wage, but on also a number of other issues important for working families.

PSARA members returned her enthusiasm, cheering often as Sawant outlined the steps that changed the “agenda of what we’re going to talk about.” We listened carefully as she cautioned about letting the corporate interests develop the “narrative of our empowerment.”

“History is being made not because smart politicians brought stakeholders together and hashed out a law, but because of the pressure we brought to the negotiations,” she said. “When we win against the corporate interests, it is not a measure of their kindness, it is a measure of our determination.”

Sawant said the pressure had been building since the success of the SeaTac $15 campaign, which made it possible for $15 to be the center of attention in Seattle for the first six months of the year. “Working people decided they had had enough, and with polls showing 74% in favor of $15, we pushed as far as we could,” she said.

“The momentum continues to build. $15 Now is spreading across the country. In San Francisco, Columbus, and New York City chapters have been formed. We want every $15 Now to be better than Seattle’s, that each movement gets better conditions. Our responsibility is to keep our eyes on the enforcement issues.”

Sawant also stressed the necessity of linking the $15 Now struggles with others: from Social Security (Scrap the Cap) and better college student funding programs, to housing injustice

–rent control and evictions. “Don’t think your job is done,” she added. “We need your voice for a state-wide tax on the wealthy and big business to finance education; we need to talk about public transit.”

During the question and answer period after her speech, Councilmember Sawant, in her reply to a question about why the “seven-year phase-in loophole” was left in the $15 minimum wage bill, summed up her thoughts (and the thoughts of most of the people at the meeting):

“We got [only] as much as we got, because we didn’t have enough power. The best way to make this happen is to become more powerful. Despite the loopholes, we accomplished a lot —which was recognized world-wide.”

Sawant and the Socialist Alternative party is not going to be sitting still in the near future. Sawant announced that Jess Spear, Organizing Director of $15 Now, is running for the 43rd Legislative District against 20-year incumbent and House Majority Leader Frank Chopp.

She called Chopp a corporate politician who led the passage of Boeing’s $8.7 billion tax breaks at the expense of working people.

This could be a very interesting race.

Bob Shimabukuro is Associate Editor of The Retiree Advocate and a member of the PSARA Executive Board. 

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