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Kshama Sawant & Seattle’s corporate inequality pushback

Guest Opinion: Seattleites are fed up with growing inequality. Sawant is just one symptom of that.
As of Tuesday, Kshama Sawant was beating incumbent Richard Conlin by 41 votes.

As of Tuesday, Kshama Sawant was beating incumbent Richard Conlin by 41 votes. Photo: Bill Lucia

There are several reasons I voted for Kshama Sawant: She’s a fellow Indian-born immigrant and she volunteered for me at OneAmerica when she first came to town. She will be the first foreign-born Seattle City Council member in a long time – a major milestone in a city that values diversity.

But for me, Sawant’s victory is also about a larger Seattle sea change around growing inequality.

As Seattle has gotten more and more unaffordable, people of color have been disproportionately affected. As urban demographer Dick Morrill wrote in Crosscut after the 2010 Census, the new numbers told a story of the “continued gentrification of Seattle, with displacement of minorities and the less affluent out of the center of the city, especially to south King County and Pierce County.” Between 2006 and 2010, the percentage of foreign-born Seattle residents decreased by two percentage points, while the diversity of surrounding South King County increased substantially. 

Kshama Sawant’s $15 minimum wage platform and demand that we address Seattle’s growing inequality reflected the urgency felt by working people of all races across the city. Her lack of corporate money and her passionate grassroots campaign resonated with a voting public that is increasingly uncomfortable with the city’s lack of affordability and growing corporatism.

We see clearly that the rising tide is lifting all the yachts – not all the boats.

Sawant is not the only signal of this unrest. During a UFCW grocery workers contract negotiation last month, grocery store corporations put forward proposals that eliminated health care for some workers and cut benefits for the rest. The proposals would also have lowered wages, particularly for those at the bottom of the scale, and slowed ladders to get to the top of the scale.
But workers put their collective feet down, voting to strike instead of accept the contract. The community rallied around them, taking pictures of themselves with their favorite grocery store workers and filling a facebook page with messages to the companies. Two hours before the strike deadline, the corporations adjusted their proposals, providing a fair contract to the workers with no take-aways or cuts.

The SeaTac $15 minimum wage vote is another sign of this change. Against all predictions and despite hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by airlines, car rental companies and other airport businesses to defeat it, the initiative is leading by 41 votes. Washington’s minimum wage of $9.19 is the highest in the country, but still not enough. Studies from The Economic Policy Institute and The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago show that minimum wage earners use all or nearly all of their money just to pay their rent, buy groceries and clothe their families. In other words, all or most of it goes right back into the economy.

Raising the minimum wage in SeaTac, where 60 percent of the population are people of color and 33 percent are foreign-born, takes the fight to the bowels of inequality. Sixteen percent of SeaTac’s population lives in poverty and the median household income is $48,000 – well below the state’s median. The SeaTac campaign has engaged a new population of immigrants, working class and people of color in democracy.

The struggle between Boeing and the Machinists Union is another pin in the inequality cushion. At the same time that Boeing is recording record profits and paying its CEO enormous amounts, it is proposing taking away already-negotiated pensions, reducing health care benefits and making it an impossibly long wait to advance to higher wages.

If Boeing’s CEO retires today, he would get $265,575 a month. The current Boeing pension plan, which the company wants to eliminate, would provide $2,700 a month for someone who has worked for the company for 30 years. What’s wrong with this picture? And why do our elected leaders keep talking about sweetening Boeing’s pot to keep them when they should be telling Boeing that these workers are talented, loyal and worthy of a decent pension?

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Posted Mon, Nov 18, 4:44 a.m. Inappropriate

So what did Pramila and Kashama do as immigrants to the US to be successful in such a horrific corporatist environment? Could it be that they used the system and entered the country legally? Did they take advantage of educational opportunities? It should be clear they are both now members of the 1% ruling elite. They are what they protest against and about.


Posted Mon, Nov 18, 7:14 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle has a number of well-fed pet lefties who get column-inches (ink and digital) and some radio air time. The price all of them pay for their soapboxes? They must play stupid about the excessive regressive taxing the government heads engage in and plan more of.

Excessive regressive taxing is designed to widen the gap between the rich and poor. It harms those with the least financial means the most. It disproportionately impacts minority communities of color and single-parent households. It literally takes food off tables around here.

Why does Pramila Jayapal feign obliviousness to that social injustice issue, here and in her other writings for public consumption? She likes being on Ed Murray's transition committee (and similar gigs), and getting column inches in local media outlets, so she plays the role of the Seattle pet lefty. That includes the purpose of this column: framing the debates the democrats want Sawant to engage in.

Anyone think Dow Constantine will appoint Sawant to take Conlin's spot on Sound Transit's board?


Posted Mon, Nov 18, 1:52 p.m. Inappropriate

A very well writen ad hominem.


Posted Mon, Nov 18, 3:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Try re-reading it, Andy. It isn't argumentum ad hominem.

Pramila Jayapal's piece is political exegesis. It's an attempt to characterize Sawant's victory in a manner that doesn't reflect poorly on the party in charge. Jayapal also hopes to influence what issues Sawant addresses as a councilmember, what is reported about her by the local media organs, etc.

Sawant's success is unprecedented and dangerous. It makes perfect sense an agent paid by the party in charge would seek to frame it in safe terms right from the get-go.

Ever written anything about local politics you are proud of, Andy? Put a link to it here. I'd like to get an idea of your perspectives.


Posted Mon, Nov 18, 3:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Attempting to influence the terms of public and council debates is not "political exegesis." It's "Politics: Guest Opinion".

In order to figure out what you're really saying here: 1) Please define "the party in charge"; and 2) Explain why you think Sawant beating Conlin is dangerous (unprecedented as well if you want, but the other is more important). Reference to other posts would be fine--there's been so much blog spilled about Sawant it's hard to keep track.


Posted Mon, Nov 18, 7:31 a.m. Inappropriate

Both of the above commenters are spot on.
I sure would like to see Pramila's tax return, to see who feeds her.

And, all this humma-humma bout the $15 minimum wage? Anyone read the last few lines? It says UNLESS you are covered by a union contract.

So, this passes, the union goons come by and tell Mr. Businessperson, hey, you want to get $11 labor instead of $15? Sign this union agreement, you get to pay less, we get to collect dues, and everyone is fat, dumb and happy except those poor exploited workers everyone is wringing their hands over.

Thanks Pramila and Kashama! NOT


Posted Mon, Nov 18, 8:53 a.m. Inappropriate

I sure would like to see Pramila's tax return, to see who feeds her.

Part of her income is from the state, for giving "p.c.-per-local-democrats" lectures at the UW. Read the blurb about her following this piece.


Posted Mon, Nov 18, 8:24 a.m. Inappropriate

The election of Kshama Sawant has less to do with a resurgence of the left and more to do with the continuing political polarization of the country, particularly the leftward drift of urban areas versus the rightward drift of smaller suburbs and rural America. Jayapal and Sawant represent a late-blooming reaction to the TEA Party; call it the "LefTEA Party." They appeal to the same group of people that have made up left-leaning movements from time immemorial, the same folks that demonstrated against the WTO, the same folks who Occupied public squares around the country, and so on. And they threaten to do the same kind of damage to democracy the TEA Party has done, that is, discrediting the idea that governing requires compromise and practical solutions. I'll be watching Ms. Sawant for her ability to lead from the left while creating a coalition on the City Council that gets results. Otherwise, she's just another bloviator.

Posted Mon, Nov 18, 8:48 a.m. Inappropriate

"they threaten to do the same kind of damage to democracy the TEA Party has done, that is, discrediting the idea that governing requires compromise and practical solutions."

The real threat to democracy (U.S. and globally) is the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. You don't have to be a socialist to know that gross inequity of wealth and income is incompatible with democracy. Many on the populist right (e.g., Tea Party) rage against crony capitalism, but their analysis and solutions don't address the systemic flaws that create it. Instead they slide into various right wing "isms"--they are reactionaries. The message and analysis by the socialist left is much more consistent with reality, and thus resonates with an increasingly stressed middle class.


Posted Mon, Nov 18, 8:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Whining, snide commentary about "pet liberals," sneering at "socialists," and pseudo-befuddlement as to why Sawant won -- all this is so jejune and and boring Sawant supporters are "fed up and not going to take it any more." They registered and voted. Read George Packer's powerful book The Unwinding to understand more about why. Passing out fliers downtown we often were told: "I already voted, and I voted for her." Media-induced misunderstanding of Socialism helps to dig the Northwest and the nation into even deeper trouble. Stop digging, America! Sawant won mainly because youth especially students, wage workers, inner city people and ethnics other that Caucasian (60% of Seattle population, an unknown % of the registered-to-vote population)are determined not to keep digging the nation into a deeper hole..


Posted Mon, Nov 18, 8:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank for, Pramila, for so well framing the election of Sawant to the city council. May she be effective in getting the rest of the council to pay attention, get involved, and resist - or at least stop their complicity - in the big squeeze of working class and impoverished communities in Seattle. We desperately need the inclusive and diverse city we imagine it to be.

Posted Mon, Nov 18, 9:18 a.m. Inappropriate

One of the ways you can tell Pramila Jayapal is one of the co-opted Seattle pet lefties is her use of the misleading rhetorical question:

And why do our elected leaders keep talking about sweetening Boeing’s pot to keep them [sic] when they should be telling Boeing that these workers are talented, loyal and worthy of a decent pension?

Seattle's government heads use this device all the time. In fact, you can find misleading rhetorical questions in all their stories.

The democrats in charge of everything in this state don't "talk[] about sweetening Boeing's pot". They just adopted multi-billion dollar tax break legislation, exempting Boeing from business taxes and thereby shifting the burdens of those state and local tax obligations to the lower middle class here. This woman knows that, she's just playing stupid about it.

That's how Jayapal gets blessed and compensated by the democrats. She says and writes misleading pap that acts as a cover-up for how the party in charge abuses most people financially.

Hey Jayapal -- you lecture at the UW Law School. I want to discuss a legal issue with you. Do you know how to log in and post at Crosscut? Let's plumb the depths of your knowledge of the law in this country. Fair warning though -- it'll be on an issue that is disfavored by the democrats who hired you and sign your paychecks. You up for a conversation on a topic like that?

This woman is a tool of the party in charge, and it's a sure bet she'll decline my fair offer.


Posted Mon, Nov 18, 11:42 a.m. Inappropriate

One reason Boeing is going to get a tax break is the money they pay the IAM members who work for them more than makes up for it. Let's look at the raw numbers.

According to Danny Westneat of the Times, Boeing is going to receive $8.7 billion in tax breaks over 16 years, which works out to $543 million per year in public concessions. The 20,000 jobs connected to the 777X project would come from a union workforce whose average annual wage is $80,000, which comes out to $1.6 billion total to workers. I wasn't real strong in math in school, but that tells me more money would be going to the workers than coming out of taxpayers' pockets. At least, that would've been the plan until IAM members essentially decided to vote those jobs into local limbo last week.

Then again, Seattle has just elected a Councilor who preaches about income inequality while married to a Microsoft engineer who brings in six figures a year working for the world's richest man. Some might call that duplicity. I call it politics as usual.

Posted Mon, Nov 18, 12:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Can you right wing or whatever you are posters please stop the stupid "Sawant is married to Microsoft money" BS? It's really tired and it's not true. In any case, if you have problems with her policies, speak to them directly instead of working in an off topic slander.


Posted Mon, Nov 18, 11:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Ms. Jayapal's reference to the Boeing CEO's potential pension is about as relevant as Mick Jagger's annual tour profit. Valueless. What is of interest, however, is the typical 30-year employee's pension of $2,700 per month. Coupled to his/her SSA at $1,800 per month, it amounts to a gross of $54,000. You know, that is not exactly a poverty level rate. So really, what is the union and Jayapal beef? Converting to a 401K? With good investment advice and a broad investment strategy, that can be even better.


Posted Mon, Nov 18, 12:46 p.m. Inappropriate

That CEO's pension equals that of 59 of those employees. The outrageous compensation of corporate CEOs is a major problem and is very relevant to the issue of Boeing's decision making. Search for "Ratio of Average CEO Pay to Average Worker pay"--U.S. is somewhere above 350:1 by most analysts' calculations.

Basically, Greed is in control.

[edit to add] And here's a good explanation of why 401(k)s are a rip off: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/business-economy-financial-crisis/retirement-gamble/helaine-olen-why-your-401k-retirement-plan-is-failing-you/ And remember when Bush II tried to privatize Social Security; if he had succeeded, a lot more people would be poor now. The shift from defined benefit pensions to various casino accounts is one of the biggest screw jobs of working people in the past fifty years.


Posted Mon, Nov 18, 1:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Jayapal repeats the inaccurate claim that increasing the minimum wage boosts the economy.

Specifically, she writes:

"Studies from The Economic Policy Institute and The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago show that minimum wage earners use all or nearly all of their money just to pay their rent, buy groceries and clothe their families. In other words, all or most of it goes right back into the economy."

To be clear, the EPI study relies on the Federal Reserve study to make its arguments, so we are really dealing with just a single study.

The authors of the Federal Reserve study explicitly note that: "our estimates are silent about the aggregate effects of a minimum wage hike" on the economy.

Despite the warning, Jayapal makes the leap anyway. Furthermore, the same researchers have also found that the minimum wage increases prices and decreases employment.

More analysis on the study here: http://spectator.org/articles/54852/god-and-minimum-wage


Posted Mon, Nov 18, 9:22 p.m. Inappropriate

So many personal attacks here (questioning income source, patsy for the party, husband's employer, shared immigration status) on both Jayapal and Sawant that it makes me wonder: anyone care to address the content of Jayapal's piece?

Here's what I see as Jayapal's arguments followed by my take:

* Sawant election grounded in inequality unease: I agree.
* Seattle not becoming more diverse, but less: Didn't know, troubles me.
* Sawant's lack of corporate $$$ helped elect her: Convinced me!
* Yachts rising, other boats not: Unarguable.
* Grocery workers stood up: And won!
* Supports increased wages: Yippee from me!
* Boeing is greedy: Who can argue? Biggest plane sales ever...yesterday.

Oh, here is what has you GUYS all worked up: Jayapal says Sawant is "a talented and smart woman of color who is fierce about her beliefs." Now I get it. That and the fact that Jayapal claims Sawant just might bring the outside unrest--all this awakening to income and racial inequality and the role of corporations in same--smack into the center of local government decision-making has got some folks predictably nervous. And if one "talented and smart woman of color who is fierce about her beliefs" (Jayapal) is describing the path to electoral success of another such woman (Sawant), that might be threatening to some.

Jayapal didn't say this, but I will: Let's just give Sawant a chance in office to prove herself, or not, before we attack. Unless we're afraid of her...or what she represents.

Posted Mon, Nov 18, 11:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Repetitive attacks from Crossrip are tiresome. He hits at anyone and everyone who supports public policies that require funding by state and/or local taxes, which we all know are too regressive.

It's easy to sit in self-imposed anonymity and lob firebombs like he does. It's quite something else to work the system in Olympia to change tax policy so it's not so regressive.

Time for Crossrip to put up or shut up.

Posted Tue, Nov 19, 12:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Come on, people, she's under 51%. Among those are some number of basketball fans who are annoyed that Conlin voted against the Hansen/McGinn Arena proposal, some Roosevelt neighbors who are angry that they were sold out, some fans of plastic bags, etc etc. The other Socialists received less than 20% -- do their landslide defeats refute anything in this guest opinion?

It's always tempting to find in any election outcome a vindication of one's own agenda. It's all spin at this point. There is no polling nor analysis behind any of this -- the votes haven't been entirely counted and the precinct results not released.

Crosscut is not Cross-fire, we hope.


Posted Tue, Nov 19, 9:55 a.m. Inappropriate

Per the PDC, her husband makes $100K at Microsoft. I guess Socialist to them is only owning one Subaru and shopping at Whole Foods every two weeks rather than weekly.

Posted Tue, Nov 19, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

It's difficult not to be insulting in response to this same ignorant "fact" that keeps getting posted: Hello, anybody home? FYI, from over a month ago: http://www.votesawant.org/sawant_responds_to_conlin_attacks


Posted Tue, Nov 19, 1:15 p.m. Inappropriate

No matter how fierce she is, she is still just one person and it's easy to ignore one person, especially if she continues to sound like a broken record. So far all of her rhetoric is sound bytes. I've not seen a plan to move towards her dream utopia. Plus we don't know if a majority of people in Seattle share that dream.

When the voters supported council representation by district, that tells me "place/neighborhoods" is very important and the larger picture is secondary. Sawant won an at large seat and she is a big picture person, so she can continue to win at large elections for the next twenty years, but without other district council member's support, she's toast.


Posted Sun, Nov 24, 12:05 p.m. Inappropriate

I am a conservative high income 30-something white male that lives in Queen Anne, drives a pick-up, owns guns, attends church regularly, and works for a corporation. (Basically old-school Northwest).

I apathetically supported Sawant because I saw very little difference between her policy and Conlin's, and the City Council desperately needed fresh blood. Please do not read to much into believing that this election means the "proletariat" has somehow risen against evil white male Seattle corporate overlords.

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