Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Awakening in Seattle

SOCIALIST candidate thanks supporters.
SEATTLE has a tradition.

 OBAMA'S win was not the only result worth noting in the United States elections. In the north-western state of Washington, in King County, which includes the city of Seattle, a State House of Representatives candidate standing for the Socialist Alternative obtained an impressive 27 per cent of the votes, not enough for victory (this was not an English council election) but sufficient to put her second to the sitting Democrat, House speaker Frank Chopp.

This was a vote for real change and one that genuine socialists in this country and many others can only envy and admire.
 King county election result

The candidate Kshama Sawant is an economics professor at Seattle University and Seattle Community College and a supporter of the Occupy movement. Besides the Socialist Alternative party she had the support of the alternative newspaper, The Seattle Stranger for her state house candidacy, and of Local 587 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the union of the city's bus and transit workers, and of the Technology Workers union Local 37083.

Individuals endorsing Kshama's candidacy included Green party presidential candidate Jill Stein and anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan.

Kshama's campaign opposed Seattle SWAT team's early morning raid on the Occupy Wall Street movement,as well as taking up issues of concern to trade unions, students and the women's movement. The Freedom Socialist Party also supported her campaign.

The Seattle area and King County have a name for socially liberal Democrat politics though some parts are more conservative. But it also has beneath the surface a distinctly radical working class, even revolutionary tradtion.

Back in 1919 the different strands of this - trade union, co-operative and political - came together in a general strike reflecting both local conditions and the influence of the Russian revolution.

A few weeks after the November 1918 armistice ended World War I  unions in Seattle's shipyards demanded a pay increase for unskilled workers. In an attempt to divide the ranks of the union, the yard owners responded by offering a pay increase only to skilled workers. The union rejected that offer and Seattle's 35,000 shipyard workers went on strike on January 21, 1919.

Controversy erupted when Charles Piez, head of the Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC), an enterprise created by the federal government as a wartime measure and the largest employer in the industry, sent a telegram to the yard owners threatening to withdraw their contracts if any increase in wages were granted. The message intended for the Metal Trades Association, the owners, was accidentally delivered to the Metal Trades Council, the union. The shipyard workers responded with anger directed at both their employers and the federal government which, through the EFC, seemed to be siding with corporate interests.

The Seattle Central Labor Council, representing local unions, polled members on a general strike. It was due to begin on February 6, 1919, at 10:00 am. Some workers were ex-servicemen who came on picket in their uniforms. A cooperative body made up of rank and file workers from all the striking locals was formed during the strike, called the General Strike Committee. It acted as a "virtual counter-government for the city."

The committee organized to provide essential services for the people of Seattle during the work stoppage. For instance, garbage that would create a health hazard was collected, laundry workers continued to handle hospital laundry, and firemen remained on duty. Exemptions to the stoppage of labor had to be passed by the Strike Committee, and authorized vehicles bore signs to that effect.
Army veterans created an alternative to the police in order to maintain order. A group called the "Labor War Veteran's Guard" forbade the use of force and did not carry weapons, and used "persuasion only."

Eventually the strike was crushed with the help of Federal troops and marines, as well as the retreat of some union leaders fearful of what they had started. The more radical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was hit by mass arrests, and the closure of its halls. A secret committee of businessmen and police directed operations against the strikers, and the American Legion was formed into posses. Armed provocations, combined with propaganda about "Bolshevik atrocities", did the rest.

But the tradition of revolt and the vision of workers' power.creating the basis of a just and equal society, could never quite be extinguished. Now it seems capable of being revived!   Congratulations to Kshama and her comrades! 

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