Kshama Sawant: America’s highest profile socialist won’t seek re-election

Kshama Sawant, America’s highest ranking elected socialist, has announced she is not seeking re-election.

The 49-year-old, who often went head to head with companies such Amazon in what she said was a fight for higher wages and better condtions for ordinary people, said she will not seek a fourth term on Seattle City Council.

Rather, she said she would put her focus on helping build a nationwide union movement, and help people in companies such as Seattle-based Starbucks win the right to organise. Her campaign website said it would push for “rank-and-file campaign organising in our workplaces and on the streets against the bosses and their political servants”.

“This is now the tenth year I’ve had the honour to serve as an elected representative of Seattle’s working people,” she wrote in an essay for The Stranger, on Thursday.

“Workers in Seattle, through getting organized alongside my socialist City Council office, and my organisation, Socialist Alternative, have won historic victories, from the $15/hour minimum wage to the Amazon Tax to landmark renters’ rights.

She added: “These victories have set a powerful example that has had a national and even international impact.”

At an event on Thursday morning, Ms Sawant, a member of Socialist Alternative, a party that describes itself as a “Trotskyist socialist political party in the United States”, said she believed her group’s resources were better used in working to build a national union movement, than to represent the constituents of Seattle’s District 3.

She said by the time her current term ends in December, she will have spent 10 years on the council.

“By the the time I end my term, it will be a whole decade that we would have been in office,” she said.

“And what stands out, what is astoundingly remarkable about what we have accomplished, is that we have won elections and also become the longest serving member, not on the basis of going along to get along politics, not on the basis of wine and cheese with the Chamber of Commerce, but by being part of the fight again the Seattle ruling class. That’s what stands out.”

Ms Sawant has served on the city council since 2014, and a number of her challengers have received the support of major companies in the city, among them Amazon, which she frequently condemned and said should pay more taxes.

In 2019, the company founded by Jeff Bezos controversially threw itself into Seattle city politics, spending $1.5m in support of a number of candidates for the city council it considered “pro-business”.

Among them was a challenger to Ms Sawant, yet despite its efforts. she was re-elected for a third term.

In 2021, she narrowly won a recall election, after she was accused of misusing official resources for a ballot measure. She admitted having done so but said at the time she had not wilfully disregarded any ethics rules.

Earlier this week, business owner Joy Hollingsworth said she was running for the city council and was hoping to to win the seat currently held by Ms Sawant.

Ms Sawant said that in March she will launch a new campaign, Workers Strike Back. Its website says the campaign will be a “rank-and-file campaign organising in our workplaces and on the streets against the bosses and their political servants”.

Ms Sawant will switch her focus to union activities (Twitter)
Ms Sawant will switch her focus to union activities (Twitter)

“We take our inspiration from the hundreds of thousands of workers fighting to unionize at Amazon, Starbucks, and workplaces everywhere; the movement to defend abortion rights in the US, the Enough is Enough working-class campaign in the UK, and the ongoing struggles of workers and young people to stop climate catastrophe and fight for a different kind of society,” it adds.

Ms Sawant was asked if she felt she could not achieve that from the council.

She said she felt the need to build a national movement for workers rights, something that the like of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had not chosen to do.

She said she had won historic victories in Seattle and wanted to try and take then nationwide.

“So this is the beginning,” she said. “And we hope that rank and file workers and young people across the nation will feel inspired to join us and begin this fight.”