“We need a clear and fearless message that will inspire working people and community members to come out and get involved,” Sawant said in front of a packed crowd at the Central District’s Washington Hall. “We need a message that will sound as powerful in spirit for working people around the country, hence: Tax Amazon,” Sawant said.
Despite the freezing weather, supporters filled the 14th Ave venue to celebrate the decisive victory of the Socialist Alternative incumbent over Egan Orion in November. Orion was backed by an unprecedented $1.5 million in funding from Amazon, a “blatant attempt to buy City Hall.” The election backlash to the Amazon cash also helped Sawant secure key new allies — her fellow council members as the council’s two citywide representatives — Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena González embraced the Socialist Alternative leader and a slate of progressive candidates.
“Together we defeated the richest man in the world,” one of the emcees Eva Metz, Sawant’s campaign finance director, proudly declared.
Monday night’s event featured speakers from labor organizers, activists groups, and unions, all calling for a fight against big corporations, and echoing solidarity among movements. The event lasted more than two hours, beginning with Sawant being sworn in by Kaylah Williams, speaking on behalf of Sara Nelson, the International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA who was unable to attend due to illness.
Seattle lawyer, organizer, and People’s Party member Nikkita Oliver and Maurice Mitchell, national executive director of the Working Families Party, emphasized “people power” and a “mulit-racial populist movement” to make government answer to the people, not servile to corporations.
Susan Fitzgerald of Ireland’s Socialist Party congratulated Sawant, noting that her victory sent reverberations throughout the world, galvanizing people who are fighting for better working conditions everywhere. Big corporations have their billions, but workers’ movements have the people. Fitzgerald recounted some of her party’s wins for workers in Ireland, and noted that, “The essence of strike action is proof of the power that the working class can grind this whole entire system to a halt.”
John Burbank, executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, brought a compelling look at Amazon’s tax information. He noted that in 2018 Amazon doubled its profits to $11 billion, and got a federal tax rebate of $129 million. Despite the company’s staggering amount of tax breaks, Seattle taxpayers paid over $220 million for Amazon’s electric substation in South Lake Union.
In Sarah Nelson’s speech, read by Kaylah Williams, the AFA-CWA president conjured images of Seattle’s radical movements like the 1919 Seattle General Strike and 1999 WTO protests. Nelson advocated that “our real power is in solidarity,” and that “we must build a movement of working people-where the person next to you can be trusted to have your back.”
Sawant took to the podium among cheers and a standing ovation. In a “city that is deeply unequal, with historic and unprecedented degrees of inequality,” Sawant said raising a tax on Amazon would be used to build social housing, which is also a key component in a Green New Deal, along with funding education and infrastructure. She suggested raising the tax to “at least 200 to 500 million dollars annually with no sunset clause,” and clarified that Seattle’s Tax Amazon movement stands in solidarity with all Amazon workers everywhere trying to organize for better working conditions.
Two years ago, the council faced down public saber rattling from Amazon and architected an employee tax that passed in a compromise form to implement a $275 per full-time employee tax on companies reporting $20 million or greater in annual “taxable gross receipts.” That tax was to have begun in 2019. But seven on the nine council members reversed their support and joined Mayor Jenny Durkan in standing up against the new tax out of fear about the economic fallout and facing a reported wave of public opposition. But even as they voted to repeal it, Seattle City Council members at the time said that an employee hours tax was probably the city’s best route to creating an alternative, non-regressive revenue stream to combat Seattle’s affordability crisis.
Sawant, now with a new council, is “preparing legislation for an Amazon Tax in Seattle that the City Council can either pass as an ordinance, or it can be put on the ballot for a vote in November. Either way, our movement cannot just put our faith in City Hall and wait for them to act. Our movement needs to immediately prepare to fight a grassroots battle initiative.”
There are as of yet no drafts of the proposed legislation available but Sawant’s office says her proposal would would raise between $200 million and $500 million annually and would not have a so-called sunset clause that would end the tax after a set time that Mayor Durkan fought for in the previous rounds of the tax battle.
“I was asked why I was linking my inauguration to the launch to Tax Amazon,” Sawant said Monday night. “I said my council office belongs to the people and the movement, and what better way to demonstrate that by combining the events.”
Wanting to “strike while the iron is hot,” Sawant is organizing a Tax Amazon Action Conference scheduled for January 25th at Washington Hall.
— Tax Amazon! Join the Movement. (@TaxAmazonMvt) January 14, 2020