Kshama Sawant: Workers Strike Back

Yves here. I hate to again be the skunk at the party but Kshama Sawant’s saber-rattling reform list falls well short of her ambitious aims. First, setting too many goals is tantamount to having no goal. And as we and many others have pointed out, having a strong emphasis on social interest goals, which often are divisive, is at odds with worker solidarity and making economic demands.

Second, her notion of choke points is questionable. Organizing at one super big Amazon plant? Seriously? Many companies, like Amazon and Starbucks, have set themselves up so that unionization is facility by facility, making union campaigns a long slog. On top of that, the process allows for employers to use procedural hurdles to considerably delay the actual creation of a union, as opposed to the first step of winning a vote to establish a union.

If workers are going to get anywhere, they need to show some real muscle. Since they lack the clout to go full France, they need to find a way to make cities and employers feel pain. That means large-scale strikes and sickouts. Any other suggestions appreciated.

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies

In an earlier piece (see “SV Bank and the Only Choice We Have”), I argued that the only recourse we have as citizens is to oppose with force the rulers who refuse to govern for our benefit.

If indeed…

  • The culture of the obscenely wealthy is “pathological” and predatory.
  • There’s one set of rules for the rich, another for the rest of us.
  • They will never stop asserting their right to profit and thrive at everyone else’s expense until they are forcibly stopped.
  • Anger against this predation has burned since the Obama Bailout of 2008.
  • The people’s anger is bipartisan. Republican and progressives alike, at the voter level, share the emotion.
  • Neither institutional party wants to save real workers. There are two bad choices — the Party of the Status Quo and the Party of Fake Rebellion.
  • There will always be enough Joe Manchins to sabotage progressive agendas. There will always be enough Hakeem Jeffries to keep most progressives from office. There will always be enough betrayals to keep workers in line.
  • Trump ran like a Sanders progressive in 2016, and betrayed every promise. Republicans are no more the party of the working class than I am your mother.

If all of that is true, then nothing will change until we make it change. The only question is, how to make it change.

Here I want to consider one of the ways, a proposal by former Seattle city councilwoman and present socialist Kshama Sawant.

Workers Strike Back

Consider this, from her recent interview with Chris Hedges. (Click here for a free audio version, or click either player above to watch or listen.)

Part of the title of Hedges’ post is “why the only hope we have left is the building of a militant labor movement that will use strikes to destroy the corporate state” — not to put too fine a point on it.

From his introduction:

Kshama Sawant, a socialist who served for over a decade on the Seattle City Council, has announced she will not seek reelection. Instead, she will launch a national coalition called Workers Strike Back this March in cities around the country. This coalition will organize for a $ 25 an hour minimum wage, build grassroots labor unions in corporations such as Amazon and advocate for a shorter work week without a cut in benefits and pay. It will also employ strikes when its demands are not met. It will work to build a massive green jobs program that can employ millions of workers in clean energy and prevent climate catastrophe, along with public ownership of the big energy corporations.

What they will push to achieve (emphasis mine):

Only the bosses profit from divisions among the working class, she notes. Workers Strike Back will be a united, multi-racial, multi-gendered movement of working people. It will battle anti-trans legislation and against all right-wing attacks on LGBTQ+ people. It will organize to win legal, safe, free abortions for all who need them. It will campaign to end racist policing, putting police under the control of democratically elected community boards with full power over department policy, hiring and firing. Her new labor organization calls for rent control with no rent increases above inflation, as well as a massive expansion of publicly owned, high-quality affordable housing by taxing the rich. We’re dying from unaffordable healthcare, she notes, as the pharma bosses and for-profit health insurance industry make money off of our sickness. She and Workers Strike Back will call for free, state-of-the-art, Medicare for All—owned and democratically run by working people.

That’s quite an ambitious list. Also a good list, and a well-sized one. After all, the best way to get nothing is to ask for everything. LTBTQ and trans rights, abortions, policing, housing and Medicare for All is a terrific set to start with.

How to Win

First, some comments about the interview itself, then the full transcript with highlights (mine) for easy jumps to the most important ideas.

Shawant emphasizes these important ideas:

  1. It’s possible to win if you pick strategic targets initially, emphasize growing the union membership, and attack “strategic choke points for the capitalist class.” For example, the Amazon Air Hub in Kentucky:

    The largest air hub of Amazon in the world … is located in Kentucky, near Cincinnati Airport. We are carrying out a union drive there. This is extremely important, because this is one of the choke points of the capitalist class.

  2. Today’s union leaders practice “business unionism,” which is

    trying to make peace with the bosses. Trying to make peace with the bosses goes hand-in-hand with trying to keep the peace with the Democratic and Republican establishment as well. So we need a real break from all of this, towards rank-and-file militancy, whether it’s unionized or not.

    She said, I think correctly, “One of the hallmarks of business unionism is preventing strike actions at all costs.”

  3. What’s needed instead is a “fighting strategy”:

    We feel that, at this point, after a decade on the city council, it is important for us to share the lessons of how we won this, and what it took to win these. What it took to overcome the dogged opposition of the ruling class, of the wealthy, of corporate landlords, of billionaires like Jeff Bezos. To take this message of a fighting strategy. How to build fighting movements to win victories for working people. We believe that it’s time to take this message national.

  4. The so-called left (my phrase) has let us down:

    We don’t have this kind of fighting politics virtually anywhere in the United States, and it’s unfortunate. Especially what’s striking is the absence of any fighting left politics in the US Congress.

  5. When asked about building a new political party, she answered:

    We are not going to get a new party of a working class, outside of building a rank-and-file militancy in the labor movement as well.

  6. She’s quite hard on AOC, Pramila Jayapal and other progressives in Congress. For one thing, lack of real leadership on the left leaves leadership of our national revolt (again, my phrase) to the false populists of the right.

    In the wake of the sell-out by Biden, some railroad workers feel like, “Well you know what? I’m going to just maybe end up voting for Trump next time. Because what else is there for me to do?” Trump came to power in the first place, because there was such massive anger against the betrayals by both the Democratic and Republican parties.

I think if there’s anything here of a useful revolutionary flavor, it’s that this is the kind of non-violent strategy that can actually work if it’s well led and vigorously pursued.

I’m not sure of much these days, but I do know, given her record, that this effort will be both well led and strongly pursued. Let’s hope she succeeds. And let’s hope that in her success, she doesn’t fall victim to one of those Establishment-friendly small plane accidents.

Full Interview Transcript

The following is a transcript of the full interview, with my highlights of her most important points. The source is the transcript published with the YouTube video linked above, with some editing. It starts after Hedges’ introduction. It’s provided only for your convenience.

Chris Hedges: So let’s begin with your tenure at the city council. I listed some of the achievements you and Socialist Alternative managed against fierce opposition, including a recall attempt to remove you from the council. What you managed to achieve. Why this break with local politics? Why this shift?

Kshama Sawant: As you recounted yourself, Chris, we have, in the near decade that I’ve been on the city council, we meaning Socialist Alternative and I have demonstrated a phenomenal example of what can be achieved when you have an elected representative in office that is unflinchingly tied to building movements of working people [Ed note: Their successes have truly been amazing], and the marginalized, and the oppressed, and understands that as a representative of working people, your job is not to make deals with the Democratic or Republican establishments. Not to make friends with your supposed colleagues in the halls of power. But instead, that your loyalty lies with the people who suffer under the system of capitalism, and through the policies of the parties of big business.

We have won numerous victories, as you were also talking about. We feel that, at this point, after a decade on the city council, it is important for us to share the lessons of how we won this, and what it took to win these. What it took to overcome the dogged opposition of the ruling class, of the wealthy, of corporate landlords, of billionaires like Jeff Bezos. To take this message of a fighting strategy. How to build fighting movements to win victories for working people. We believe that it’s time to take this message national.

As you also importantly noted, we don’t have this kind of fighting politics virtually anywhere in the United States, and it’s unfortunate. Especially what’s striking is the absence of any fighting left politics in the US Congress.

That’s happening in the midst of an historic cost of living crisis. Many young people have only known economic insecurity, and low wages. Unaffordable housing that gets more unaffordable every time the landlord jacks up rent. The statistics are just damning. To see how the bottom has fallen from under working people’s lives. Throughout the pandemic and its aftermath, working people have lost trillions of dollars worth of what was with them. Not only in terms of the recessionary effects of loss of jobs, but overall cost that they’re going to pay.

But it’s not happening in a neutral world. At the same time, billionaires have added trillions of dollars to their fortunes, during that same period of the pandemic.

So it really reveals how capitalism is a zero sum game. The wealthy are becoming wealthier, not because they have high IQs or because they’re creative, but because they’re siphoning off wealth from the vast majority of workers. Workers, that’s why, are falling further and further behind. This has resulted in huge anger among workers.

At the same time, what is conspicuously missing by its absence, is genuine left leadership, as I was saying before, and as you were saying as well. That’s why we are launching this nationwide movement, Workers Strike Back. Really it should be the labor leadership, leadership of the labor movement, that’s launching this, just like Enough Is Enough in the UK. However, that’s not happened, and we can’t hold our breath that they’re going to do it.

That’s why Workers Strike Back is being launched. As you correctly said, we are raising the demands of a real raise for workers, like $25 an hour. Good union jobs for all. We are also continuing to fight racism, sexism, and all oppression. Again, as you said, free healthcare for all, and quality affordable housing. Bottom line, this is very important, if we are to build a real force on the left for the working class, whose leadership does not sell out, we need a new party for the working class, where the rank-and-file of the party can hold its leadership accountable.

Chris Hedges: Is the idea to build a militant labor movement, and out of that build a political party?

Kshama Sawant: I think that that has to … I don’t know if we can lay out a blueprint schematic of the chronology of how it will happen. But absolutely, what you’re indicating is very true. Which is that the two things are going to go together.

In other words, we are not going to get a new party of a working class, outside of building a rank-and-file militancy in the labor movement as well. Those two things are going to go hand-in-hand.

At the same time, it’s not only about the labor movement as it is today. Because we also have to remember that the vast majority of young people, young workers, where there’s the strongest support for the politics we are bringing forward, most of them are not unionized. Workers Strike Back understands that.

We obviously want to specifically and consciously orient to the rank-and-file today, who are already within the labor movement. But at the same time, also begin helping to mobilize and organize the unorganized.

You mentioned Amazon. Absolutely, Amazon is a crucial, crucial battle. Right now actually, Socialist Alternative, my organization, and also Workers Strike Back, the national movement we are launching, we’re already in solidarity with a campaign that Socialist Alternative is leading in Kentucky. The largest air hub of Amazon in the world, which is located in Kentucky, near Cincinnati Airport. We are carrying out a union drive there. This is extremely important, because this is one of the choke points of the capitalist class.

So all of this has to go hand-in-hand with building the efforts to build a new party.

One other thing I’ll add here is, and then the reason also why these two things are so deeply interconnected, is that one of the key obstacles to building a new party for the working class, to actually have fighting politics that represent the interests of the working class, as opposed to those of the billionaires, is that the majority of the labor leadership has been, and continues to be, tied at the hip to the Democratic establishment.

That is not coincidentally existing on its own. That goes hand-in-hand with the primary strategy of the same labor leadership being of business unionism, which is trying to make peace with the bosses. Trying to make peace with the bosses goes hand-in-hand with trying to keep the peace with the Democratic and Republican establishment as well. So we need a real break from all of this, towards rank-and-file militancy, whether it’s unionized or not.

Chris Hedges: When you look at the rise of the Swedish socialist state, which the capitalist class managed finally to dismantle, but it was built through strikes. A series of strikes. Very high, I think over 70% of the Swedish workforce was unionized. They used that power to paralyze the country, and get what they want.

I’m looking at your movement essentially as embracing that tactic. That understanding, that the only real weapon we have is no longer at the ballot box, with the two party corporate duopoly, which blocks, I worked for Nader as you know, blocks any attempt by third parties to build a viable movement. But by mobilizing the working class, to cripple the billionaire class through strikes. Is that essentially where you would like us to go?

Kshama Sawant: Absolutely correct. I could not agree more with what you said. In fact, for Workers Strike Back and for building any kind of movement towards concrete victories for the working class, for any of that agenda, using the working class weapon of going on strike has to be an integral component. Without that, it’s not going to work.

In fact, this very much goes into the heart of the problem with business unionism as well, and why these ideas are ultimately not only problematic, but actually rotten, in the sense that they negate a very basic reality under capitalism. Which is that the interests of the billionaire class, the bosses, the major shareholders, the corporate executives, their interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of workers.

So when you have a majority of labor leadership that is married to the idea of business unionism, then you have a leadership that, for the most part, they consciously refuse to mobilize, activate their rank-and-file members. Because the whole idea of business unionism is that the tops of the labor leadership will quietly negotiate contracts with the bosses.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen the history. Often these are filled with defeats for workers, setbacks for workers, rather than what we feel should be class struggle unionism, which is actively organizing the rank-and-file. Not only just organizing them in general, but organizing for powerful and successful strike actions. Because class struggle unionism recognizes that the bosses will never concede anything, unless they’re forced to, because their profits and their position of power, and the system of capitalism itself, all of this is directly derived from underpaying workers. From stealing the value of the labor that workers produce.

One of the hallmarks of business unionism is preventing strike actions at all costs. Business unionists put their stress on the so-called bargaining process, because they fear antagonizing management by any real mobilization of workers, much less going on strike. In fact, often what you see is the majority of the labor leadership even refusing to carry out militant protest actions, much less go on strike.

In fact, not only is it going to be important in general, going on strike. But already, as the Guardian newspaper reported on just this past Sunday, that the bosses at corporations like Amazon, it’s not like they’re asleep at the wheel. They know the anger in society. They know that unionizing drives are starting to pick up. They know that young workers are especially angry. So what they are doing is, they’re beginning to counter all of that with fierce old school anti-union, or union busting measures.

So how will we push back against any of this successfully? It will not happen through business unionist strategy. It will require a class struggle approach, which is, as I said, rooted in the recognition that workers have to fight against the capitalist classes’ interests, not engage in the futile idea of wanting to morally persuade the boss, because they’re not going to be persuaded.

The reason we want the Amazon tax, or the $15 minimum wage, or the series of renters’ rights that we want, it’s not because we made moral arguments to the ruling class, the Chamber of Commerce, or Jeff Bezos. No, they fought tooth and nail against each such movement. Corporate landlords were absolutely against what we were calling for.

But we won, because we organized rank-and-file workers, renters, to go up against the might of the billionaire class. Class struggle unionism recognizes that worker power does not reside in the bargaining room, but outside it. In the workplaces, and on the streets.

As you said, throughout history, not only Europe, obviously in Europe the labor movement trajectory was much stronger historically than in the United States. But even in the United States, there was a powerful American-made worker tradition of militant strike action.

In fact, the New Deal and the creation of the measure of material standards of living that the middle class did get, that came not because of FDR’s beneficence, but because of militant strikes. General strikes, including in Minneapolis. These are historic, earth shattering events, that changed the course of history. But that happened because there were Marxist socialists, and other courageous leaders of the left, who understood that we have to have this fighting strategy.

Today, concretely, we need this strategy to unionize Amazon, and other prominent workplaces like that. Also coming up, the UPS contract is up for renewal. The contract of the long shore workers on the west coast, all the way from Washington to southern California. They are up for renewal.

These are, alongside the Amazon Air hub, these are strategic choke points for the capitalist class. So it is really crucial that we start educating. Have active discussions and debates inside the labor movement, and outside it, to discuss, how do we shut down the corporate money making machine of capitalism, and win over the wider working class, for the strike actions, and really win some real victories, and just really raise the consciousness, the political education of the working class?

Chris Hedges: Let’s talk about the Democratic Party. Biden calls himself a pro-labor president. Maybe you can mention what happened to the freight rail workers. But the Democratic Party essentially works hand in glove with the corporate community, to prevent labor unions, and most of all to prevent strikes. That’s what they did with the freight rail unions, which actually, that’s one of the few groups of workers that retained the right to collective bargaining. The Biden administration took it away.

Kshama Sawant: Yes, it was a deeply shameful moment for President Biden, and all the Democrats in Congress who went along with it, to carry out, as you said, historically shameful strike breaking action, by breaking the railroad worker strike.

In fact, to [sic] keep in mind how it’s almost Dickensian, this situation they were facing. On the one hand, you have billionaires like Warren Buffett, who are the main owners of the freight railroads. The railroad bosses. On the other hand, you have railroad workers who are facing very dangerous working conditions. Even facing loss of life, injury, repeated cases of injury. What were they demanding? Just basic paid sick leave. Here, in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country in the history of humanity, these workers are having to fight for these basic needs. What you saw was the complete betrayal by this so-called pro-labor president.

But we have to be clear. If we are going to be clear about the Democratic Party, then we also have to call out the role played by the so-called progressives. The Congressional Progressive Caucus, “so-called progressive” as I called them, the Congressional Progressive Caucus of the Democratic Party in the US Congress is 100 strong. The chair of that caucus is Pramila Jayapal. Again, another so-called progressive. Then you have all these members of the so-called Squad, who were elected with these high expectations that they will show courage in the face of Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer, and all the power brokers on behalf of Wall Street.

[Yet] What you have seen again and again is repeated betrayals of working people. The betrayal of the railroad workers, and the breaking of their strike, obviously was one of the starkest moments, and I think really crystallized for millions of people.

Obviously I am aware that there are many well-meaning people who still may have illusions. But it’s our duty to clarify to them that, “Look, this is what happened.” We can not just keep thinking that at some point, somewhere, something is going to change, and finally the progressives in the Democratic Party will do something for working people, because they are not. We are seeing repeatedly betrayals from them.

Now we are seeing the brutal consequences from the Democrats siding with the railroad tycoons. We’re seeing this apocalyptic scenario unfolding in East Palestine, Ohio. So the only way we can come out of this really tragic situation, not only in East Palestine, but all the living standards that have stagnated and slipped back for the majority of the American working class. A non-starter for us to change anything is if we continue putting our faith in the Democratic Party.

That’s another very dangerous component for the left failing to build a new party for the working class, and the Democrats continuing to sell out working people, is the threat of the growth of right populism is still hanging in the air. Because workers are angry. They’re going to be looking for alternatives. In the absence of a genuine left alternative, they are going to end up getting scapegoated by right populism.

In fact, in the wake of the sell-out by Biden, some railroad workers feel like, “Well you know what? I’m going to just maybe end up voting for Trump next time. Because what else is there for me to do?” Trump came to power in the first place, because there was such massive anger against the betrayals by both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Unfortunately Trump ran, he was a con man through and through. He’s a member of the billionaire class. But he ran with this idea, the false idea that he was going to represent ordinary people. Obviously he didn’t. But the threat of Trumpism and right populism, far from gone, is actually growing.

Then the other thing I think to note is, when we were calling, when sections of the left, and Socialist Alternative, and you and others were calling for, force the vote, the Squad members like AOC said, “You can’t do that.” Now we are seeing the right, and some of the most dangerous right wing Republicans, like the Freedom Caucus, not to mention the MAGA squad within the Freedom Caucus, they showed that force the vote can be done, except they showed it from the right.

I have to say, it’s really just terrible that in response to the left asking, ordinary people asking, “Well the right wing showed how to do force the vote. What stopped you from doing force the vote for Medicare For All?” Unfortunately, AOC’s response was that, “We can’t do that, because it will cause relational harm.”

Actually, I think that was a rare moment of political honesty. Because what she really means, and this is true, what she means is that it is relational harm. Meaning if your priority is to keep cozy relationships with Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, then you’re not going to fight for working people, because that will cause conflict between you and people like Pelosi and Biden. You will become public enemy number one to them.

But that is what is needed. We need leaders on the left for working people, who have the courage to become public enemy number one of the ruling class, and understand that actually, that is necessary in order to fight for working people.

Chris Hedges: I just want to throw in, that part of the contract negotiations for the freight railroad workers, was addressing the lack of safety. They warned precisely that because they had downsized or fired so many workers, and reduced crews to skeletal levels, and then were also not instituting even basic safety reforms, they completely predicted this horrific chemical spill we’ve seen in Ohio.

Kshama Sawant: Oh, absolutely. You’re totally right, Chris, that the demands of the railroad workers were connected with the actual conditions. This was a completely predictable and avoidable catastrophe that has happened in East Palestine, Ohio.

In fact, many of your viewers might know already, that these freight magnates, the billionaires, their agenda is so expand profits obviously. So they introduced a concept that they call precision scheduled railroading. It sounds something sophisticated. But that’s just, precision scheduled railroading, or PSR, is just corporate speak for, “Let’s make everything as crappy as we can get away with, for railroad workers and working class people as a whole, and take the maximum loot for the billionaires, the major shareholders, and the top executives.”

Basically what it meant was making the trains longer, reducing the staff, scrapping safety inspections, and lobbying the government to whittle down regulations. This is what’s happening.

In fact, that’s why it’s important also, just to highlight how we want to use Workers Strike Back as a nationwide movement, to raise the consciousness of working people, and also start building an alternative to the corporate parties, is that we are now launching a new petition, hopefully in collaboration with left railroad union leaders, and other progressive labor unions. Which is a petition, where the demands are that we need to bring railroads into democratic public ownership. Because the East Palestine derailment, and also what happened with the strike breaking, shows that we need to eliminate the profit motive from the railroads altogether. Because it’s only when it is owned publicly by workers, that we will be able to ensure safety measures, and stop these preventable tragedies, and not further enrich the billionaires through stock buy-backs.

This petition, in response to the railroad crisis, is also calling for free healthcare for all. Obviously this is an overall demand, that rank-and-file Democrat and Republican voters agree with. But most immediately, obviously we know that East Palestine residents will likely suffer serious, and even deadly health conditions, from this toxic disaster. We know that the railroad tycoons are attempting to evade any liability. So we need, as you said before, free state-of-the-art Medicare for all, publicly owned and democratically run by working people. Of course, again, fundamentally all of this is also still tied to the need for a new working class party.

Chris Hedges: Well let’s talk about strategy. Only about 11% of the US workforce is unionized. I think it’s about 6% are in the public sector. The freight railroad workers by law essentially can be blocked from carrying out strikes. The billionaire class itself has pushed through a series of measures, going all the way back to the 1947 Taft-Hartley act, that makes it difficult to strike. But Right To Work laws, very sophisticated union busting, units in large corporations like Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart. So let’s talk about where we’re starting from, and what has to be done.

Kshama Sawant: Yes, your point is very well taken. If you look at the proportion of workers who are unionized, it’s abysmally small. These are both historical failures by labor leadership, and also the fact that there has been a real concerted attack against the labor movement in the last 50 years, starting from the neoliberal era.

So the reality is that the majority of young people are not in unions. At the same time, the popularity of unions among young people is historically high.

We have to be very clear. If we are going to be building a national movement like Workers Strike Back, then it’s not only for people who are today members of the labor movement. It is also for young people, and other workers, who are trying to organize a union in the workplace, but they don’t have a union. It is for all working people who want to get organized to fight back.

[And] Not just on workplace issues. It’s also, whether it is a housing struggle for rent control, or it is a struggle against oppression. You mentioned trans rights. In fact, just last week, actually last Tuesday, our office, alongside Socialist Alternative, and many South Asian activists, and also union members, we were able to win the nation’s, and in fact outside South Asia, the world’s first ban on caste discrimination. Caste oppression is one type of oppression. We have to tie the struggles of workers related to workplace issues, to these other struggles as well, because the cost of living crisis, and the crisis around discrimination and oppression, affects all of us in the working class. So we need to build a united movement of that kind.

At the same time, we also want to keep in mind that the struggles inside the labor movement also, even though at this moment encompass a minority of workers, if we can build rank-and-file militancy within some crucial unions, sectors of unions and sectors of industry, and win some out-sized victories through powerful strike action….

I don’t mean to in any way inadvertently suggest that it’s going to be easy. This is going to be a real struggle, and we’re going to have to go head to head against the rotten business unionist ideas inside the labor movement. There will need to be very patient political education also being carried out. Because many workers are not familiar with labor history, so we have to have respectful debate and discussion inside labor. This is going to be a difficult process, but a necessary process.

But the point I’m getting at is that, if we can get to a point where we can build major strike action in some crucial sectors of industry, and win out-sized victories through that process, then that will have, again, as you would say, it will punch above its weight.

The effect it will have will boomerang throughout the working class, and especially young people will pay attention to it. That is why it’s important for us to both keep in mind that there are non-workplace issues where struggles will break out, like Black Lives Matter. At the same time, there are very strategic workplace situations that we have to pay attention to. That’s why I was mentioning also UPS. I think that is upcoming. That’s the most urgent dialog that we need, with UPS rank and file.

Chris Hedges: So talk a little bit about how it’s going to work. Are you going to try and build chapters in various cities? What are you going to do?

Kshama Sawant: Yeah, we do want to build chapters in various cities.

Undoubtedly, we’ll need to have people who are watching shows like this one, to contact us and let us know that they would like to do it for the beginning process.

In Socialist Alternative, we are launching Workers Strike Back in various cities. In Seattle for example, on Saturday, March 4th will be our official launch. You are going to be part of that obviously, Chris, and some other leaders, including leaders in left labor. So the launch is going to be on, as I said, Saturday, March 4th, at 12:00 Noon Pacific time, at the University of Washington. If you are watching this, and you are in Seattle, you should definitely join us.

Regardless of where you are, if you find this message exciting, please look us up on workersstrikeback.org, and get in touch with us.

Just to give you a sense of what we’ve already done, as I said, we fought for this past legislation. We also are launching, as I said, this petition in solidarity with railroad workers, and with the people in East Palestine.

But aside from that, we are also helping build this union drive at the largest Amazon Air Hub, which I mentioned before.

Then we are also helping to organize a network of undergraduate support for unionized graduate students at Temple University in Philadelphia, who are fighting for a living wage.

We picketed alongside American Airlines employees demanding a fair contract.

We’ve stood with nurses calling for safe staffing.

We joined over 200 union journalists in a walkout against retaliatory firings at NBC.

So all of this shows, these early initiatives show that we can build a real solidarity in action and class struggle. So I really hope that thousands, tens of thousands of workers and young people, take up the mantle of Workers Strike Back, and build branches in various cities across the country.

Chris Hedges: That was Kshama Sawant, on her new organization, Workers Strike Back. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team, Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, David Hebdon, and Kayla Rivera. You can find me at chrishedges.substack.com.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. nathe

    sawant is intelligent, passionate, often successful in action, and inspiring. but her prescription of stronger unions being the answer to the increasing wealthy right wing
    takeover is way insufficient. in a nation where old line unions often collaborate with the huge conglomerates and corrupt city and state leaders to shaft their own workers (an example playing out now in nyc where sellout unions bosses are leading the shift from functioning medicare access for 250,000 city retirees to a medicare disadvantage plan that will ultimately deny them long term care (admitted in the deal) and including many other bankrupting and life-threatening elements) to the complete sellout of almost the entire democratic party (one example mentioned today in “links”: democratic senator ossoff proposing to lower farmworkers salaries in georgia) to the wealthy) the window for success in those areas is remarkably small and even if possible would take decades to become widespread enough to make a difference.
    the only possibility i see is a charismatic intelligent passionate plain speaking seriously left version of trump, someone so immediately sensible and strong that s/he appeals to the populists of all (or most) persuasions, someone whom the nytimes and cnn wouldn’t be able to ignore because of how colorful and winning the arguments are. medicare for all is supported by 84% of republicans and over 90% of democrats. housing, big pharma, social security, all subjects that most voters are on one side of, where almost everyone agrees.

  2. mrsyk

    The long list is entirely self defeating. As soon as you say LGBTQ (for example) you’re losing some other population component. It’s the big tent all over again. Identities getting in the way of commonality. We’ve already seen that bust. Do a google image search for “Paris garbage” this morning if you want to see an effective means of communicating to those who are hard of hearing.

    1. Samoan

      Exactly this. Red vs Blue at this point is just a proxy for cultural issues like LGBTQ or abortion. Putting these issues front and center is a sure fire way to divide people and get them siloed into voting for these two ineffective parties. This is why there is no effective left wing movement in the US right now.

      On the other hand being pro-LGBTQ might be a pragmatic way of gaining support among youth, but is also self defeating in that it alienates a large chunk as well. I’m not sure if this would be a net positive or negative. You’d need to somehow be ambiguous or at least place less emphasis on cultural issues to ensure broad support. You could easily get dem or republican voters to agree to workers rights, anti-war, anti-imperialism and other leftist causes if you can get them to stop bickering about wokeness for 3 seconds.

  3. funemployed

    This reminds me of an episode of South Park where the underpants gnomes’ business plan was

    1: steal underpants
    2: ???
    3: Profits!

    It doesn’t seem serious because the discussion sidesteps the entire problem of building the actual institution that can do the things they propose, and considering the practical processes of doing so.

    Firstly lets be clear about what we’re saying here instead of talking around it to avoid the potentially violent implications. This isn’t about a bunch of nice policies firstly; it’s about taking power, with a group of humans (the ones without enough stuff/power), from another group (the ones with too much). Step 2 isn’t make a few posts on social media or talk about some strikes on twitter than have a labor movement. It’s building institutional support to make such a thing possible or it’s a bunch of hot air.

    Lets start with some basics: communications infrastructure, conflict resolution/institutional decision making processes, sourcing and deploying capital and labor, strategies for/responses to law enforcement actions, strategies for media and public relations.

    Communications infrastructure: Are you dependent on facebook, twitter, youtube, substack, literally any internet based communication without elite level security (and even then, the most important discussions will always need to be offline)? Well, that will create impossible information asymmetries, allow your communications to be prioritized according to your opponents and have literally any conversation destroyed by bad actors. Non-starter. Can’t solve the problem without mentioning it first though.

    Conflict resolution/institutional decision making processes: This is a very difficult question that anyone serious about starting a national organization in particular needs to consider. Not going into those weeds here but there are many instructive cases with recent and less recent histories to look at. How to avoid the fate of BLM, the DSA, the environmental movement du jour? Will you share everything with everyone, or will decision making be delegated? How will authority be delegated? How will you identify and reject bad actors? What is your strategy for the genuinely but well-meaning and resource having but hopelessly naive and entitled people who flood your organization glom onto positions of authority like leeches to a warm body the moment you reach a certain critical mass? How will you work to actually bridge the massive communication/worldview gaps among your constituents? Who exactly even are they? All these questions, of course, are dependent on an actual communications infrastructure (a national one if that’s what we’re starting with).

    Sourcing and deploying capital and labor: Not much to explain here. Consider the Tea Party though, then imagine it without all the money and physical capital it had access to. How to get stuff without being corrupted? How many people are salaried? How much can you actually ask sick working people to volunteer?

    Law enforcement and media will undermine you. If Dr. King and Jesus reincarnated together to march singing children across the water to Rikers Island in 2023 we’d hear about how Russians created a mass hallucination to disguise islamic terrorism, and the prophets would be tossed in jail and never heard from again. What’s your strategy? Also, you will need lawyers, good ones, and not just for whack-a-mole but for robust preemptive legal strategizing.

    Countering information asymmetries: If you are serious about this political project, than you are trying to seize power from people who will not give it willingly. That means you are inviting political conflict that will play out in a great many specific power struggles. Many times the outcome will hinge on who knows what and when about the specific sites of conflict. This is, IMO, an ideal role for a national organization to play, provided they’ve come some way in addressing the above problems. But how far is away is the discussion above from even considering providing that?

    In any case, the closest I can think of institutionally is something like a mutual insurance/support organization, or a national resource for building local mutual insurance/support organizations; with an explicit emphasis on countering power asymmetries re: law, tactical and strategic info, media, and political decision making processes. This would, of necessity, require building parallel communications infrastructure and material power bases (e.g. community clinic, local labor law office providing free services to members who pay a sliding fee based on ability to a locally rooted, mutually run, and nationally supported aid org).

    Regardless, the question of where to get the resources to get an adequate start looms. If I was a 500 billionaire I could probably get a good start on something like that, til I got plane-crashed or heart-attacked anyhow. But I’m not, and they all play for the other team.

    p.s. From an institutional organizational standpoint, I strongly recommend learning about the Jehova’s Witnesses. Any member will answer any questions you have if you’re not sure where to start. They have their own independent communications infrastructure and international mutual aid system and both are very, very effective.

    1. funemployed

      I once heard the term “coordination goods” used to describe the things China controls to keep democracy in check in spite of all the lovely capitalism. I think that’s a good catch all term for what I think a national organization would need to be able to provide to be useful/effective re: the goals stated here.

        1. funemployed

          I’d buy democratic control of coordination goods as a pretty good indicator of actual democracy in a society.

    2. David B Harrison

      Excellent well thought out post. Years ago I realized that change would only come if you built an infrastructure to enable it. Solidarity and fellowship have to be the foundation. If you want social change you have to start with yourself because being anti-social and unwilling to compromise is not going to cut it. You have to be practical and self disciplined. You have to use creative thinking not dogmatic thinking. And yes an army of lawyers is a good place to start.

  4. S

    I work for the City of Seattle. Our union coalition was offered a 1% COLA in our ongoing contract negotiations. Not one word from Sawant. She is no friend of labor.

  5. Chas

    I like Kashama Sawant. She’s smart, articulate, she’s got the fire in the belly and she’s working class through and through. I’m not going to second guess her. I’m going to give her all the support I can. She’s the best hope we have.

    1. mrsyk

      Thank you. I like this comment because it takes in the reality of our surroundings. I too like her and I wish her all the best. I worry that the solidarity required will not be found until the weaponization of identity has been socially recognized as the tool of oppressors. That’s a big ask of society, because pride is most/all we have left and it’s easily manipulated.

    2. funemployed

      Second guessing leadership is the essence of democracy. Good leaders appreciate it. It is not mutually exclusive with “all the support I can give.” In fact, it is a critical part of it. I only commented here this morning because I have deep respect for both Sawant and Hedges. I would not so criticize them if I didn’t consider them strong potential allies.

      Beware those who would turn political struggle into a popularity contest. There is more to this game than finding the “right” leader and backing them unconditionally

    3. playon

      Yes, in spite of Yves’ remarks, at least she is trying and has a track record – she’s not perfect, who is?

  6. Eclair

    Report from on the ground in Seattle:
    On two mornings this past week, I pulled back the curtain on the window of our fourth floor flat, and saw columns of smoke rising in the south, in the direction of The Mountain, or Tahoma, to say its original name.

    The first fire was an ‘encampment’ burning, and the Seattle bourgeoisie knows that’s shorthand for the garbage-strewn (that’s what no weekly trash/recyclables/compost pickups result in, as the French well know), drug and disease-ridden (according to the evening news channels), raggedy tent cities of homeless people, that spring up by the Interstate, on downtown sidewalks, and, regularly, on the grassy medians next to ‘nice’ homes. Where the inhabitants can gaze on yet another 30-story block of luxury condominium towers rising towards the heavens. But, no social housing yet, although we voted for it, and Sawant pushed it. Don’t hold your breath.

    Yesterday morning, the smoke arose from a burning marina on Lake Washington, during the course of which scores of expensive boats were incinerated. (I did a little happy dance; I am ashamed.). A source tells me that local wanna-be yachtsmen, who over-leveraged themselves to indulge their fantasy, finding their available liquidity diminished, the yacht reseller market gone kaput, and their hefty slip fees eating up their cash, are quietly burning their boats. This fire got out of hand and the police have arrested a suspicious person.

  7. Oh

    I feel that Kshama is a tireless champion of the working class. Instead of criticizing her it would be nice to help her with good ideas that would advance the cause.

  8. Daniel Raphael

    I am again impressed with this site & the substance both of its chosen topical exemplars & the quality of its critical analysis–typically, very good to excellent. This article is no exception. Sawant is one of my few living heroes, right there with my longest-running fave, Eugene V. Debs. She lives her principles, & without exception or apology, fights for us–the 99%, the commoners, the working class & the oppressed. She shows by her lived example what politics & politicians *could* be. She is our “Red Rosa.”

  9. KD

    The weak point is the global supply chain and logistics. Most things come by ship and travel by truck, so shut down the ports and hold a general trucking strike, and make a bunch of impossible but popular demands, and something will happen. Probably mass repression, but that will just delegitimate the ruling class even further. The good thing about everything being uniformly bad and getting worse and the complete inability of the political system to respond to the concerns of real people is that more and more people will conclude that they have nothing to lose in joining a general strike.

  10. KD

    Biden is the true American Man of the People. Even the Gipper let the aircraft controllers strike for 2 days before calling them back to work. Biden didn’t even let those railroad workers get started, and they obeyed. In the old days, the workers would have gone on strike anyways, and you’d have to sic a legion of “politically moderate” Blackshirts on them to get them to stop.

  11. spud

    now some of this stuff can be good. but i only skimmed the article because i saw no reality of the situation. organizing and sustaining a service economy is not doable. the inflation that was and still will be encountered, is from free trade. plus free trade is a safety valve against unionism.

    so even more of whats left of manufacturing will go off shore, leaving americans trying to unionize and sustain selling things to each other. i do not see this as sustainable.

    on top of that, shutting down the country, france seems to be having trouble getting the free traders that run the country to listen.

    so the infrastructure that bill clinton and others made, will mean the macrons of the world are backed by oligarchs all over the world.

    so if we stick with free trade, unionize service, and import prices keep going up, driving up prices on almost everything, how is that going to work out?

    repeated monthly strikes?


    “When Bernie discussed this provision, he said that in the “competitive” global economy, the world has changed. The appeal to “competitiveness” concedes that globalization and capital mobility will continue, that there’s nothing we can do about it, that all we can do is tinker around the edges to make the present situation more livable. This is not a political revolution. It’s the same kind of argument Joe Biden would make.

    The Protect the Right to Organize Act is valuable, but big, powerful unions failed to check globalization in the 70s and 80s, when global competition wasn’t as fierce as it is today. Why would unions succeed now, in an environment where even Bernie Sanders thinks there is no alternative to the “competitive” global economic order? “

  12. rivegauche

    Excellent info from funemployed in response to the also excellent news in the NC post. Coincidentally, was having a brief debate earlier tonight with a SC DSA member on this topic. Don’t see how it can be done in the US without all the infrastructure in place to support workers’ strikes.

    1. spud

      yep, how can wages and standards of living be increased under free trade? we have no leverage at all under free trade. anyone who ignores what bill clinton built, is either naive, or a fool.

  13. fred

    My advice to Kshama Sawant – take a leaf out of Lenin’s playbook – It’s both – the ballot and the streets

Comments are closed.