Washington State Democrats: Labor-Punching Corporate Vassals, or Less Bad Than That?

Elisa Catrina
May 25, 2017 · 6 min read
Settle for Dems, oh darling, settle for Dems~

I feel like the chief export of Seattle right now is Kshama Sawant editorials. Here’s an excerpt from her latest, Seattle’s Union Members Don’t Have to Settle for Democrats:

It is no secret we disagree with the long-standing policy of the majority of union leaders of supporting the Democratic Party, whose leadership is thoroughly pro-corporate. Here in Washington State and Seattle we have seen again and again Democratic Party politicians side with the interests of big business against unions, people of color, and the environment. In our opinion, this cautious policy of supporting corporate-friendly Democrats seen as most likely to win has meant workers keep losing. Thousands of Boeing workers have lost retirement benefits, public workers have been furloughed, our public schools are illegally underfunded, and meanwhile Washington State is home to some of the most astronomically wealthy individuals in the history of the world.

Okay, this is a lot.

Let’s momentarily set aside the language about “settling” (we’ll come back to it) and take this point by point.

Democrats: Labor-Devouring Corporate Lapdogs with Teeth for Eyes??? Or Something Not That??

That said, roll tape!

Environment: The most divisive recent environmental issue that comes to mind in Washington state politics is I-732, or the carbon tax. Smart people were for it; smart people were against it. The state Dems came down against it, and it’s worth noting that POC-led environmental groups also opposed the measure, on process grounds: they didn’t feel that they had the opportunity to offer crucial input. Read the big, messy, thorough breakdown on Vox.

How are the state Democrats on fossil fuels? Here they are opposing TPP fast-tracking in 2015. Here’s Reuven Carlyle (D) sponsoring a bill to fund education by reducing tax loopholes for oil companies. And here’s Jay Inslee proposing cap and trade in 2015! This cynically symbolic executive order was bolstered by an introduced house bill with senate companion, though the Democrats moved forward with a capital gains tax proposal instead of cap and trade during a messy mire of special sessions. Ultimately, Democrats caved to oil industry pressure by passing an emissions cap in 2016.

Here’s the state Democratic party on a list of opponents of the libertarian-backed I-933, which would have favored real estate developers over preservation of natural resources. And here’s Washington Conservation Voters’ lifetime ratings of every WA politician: The lowest-scoring Democrats get 62% and 69%; every other Dem scores 80%+.

Also, vis-a-vis I-933, this is from the progressive group Eastern Washington Voters, not the official state Democratic apparatus, but did you know crop art is a thing?

It is a thing.

Public schools: Ooh, here’s the pro-corporate Democrats proposing to fund education through a tax on the 50,000 wealthiest Washingtonians. Is there anything these assholes won’t tax to pretend they want to fund education?

In case you didn’t know, we’re in a special session right now! YAYYYYY. The second special session, in fact, because one just wasn’t special enough. Also, the State Senate passed this nightmare along party lines (plus Fucking Tim Sheldon, D-Not-Really) and the House was like, nope, no thanks. I guess my question here is, what awesome negotiation techniques does the Socialist Alternative suggest for making Republicans amenable to non-punitive measures to fund education?

If you’re talking city-level stuff, we have secured funding for a number of programs via property tax levy. Why do we do everything through levies??? Well, it is currently illegal under the Washington state constitution to put non-uniform taxes on things. That is, progressive taxes are against the law.

So if you can’t get Republicans to stop railing against rogue dandelions (not making this up) long enough to talk about education funding, and you can’t voluntarily raise city-level funds except through regressive taxation, you have a pretty limited toolkit with which to enact progressive funding policies.

Boeing workers: This one was pretty bullshit. Basically, the state legislature gave Boeing some massive tax breaks that were intended to deepen Boeing’s investment in the workforce of Washington state. Not only did Boeing lay off tens of thousands of employees, the WTO has ruled the tax breaks illegal.

There are currently two bills (one from each party) aimed at rectifying this problem. So like I don’t know, if making some bad policy but then trying to fix it counts as “consistently pro-business” instead of “spottily pro-business,” I guess words have no meaning anymore.

P.S. Comment on Noel Frame’s Goddammit Boeing Bill and tell your legislator you want it passed! I did it! It took me literally 30 seconds. (SAD UPDATE: Jamie Pedersen’s office tells me this bill has died. RIP, brave little bill.)

Labor in general: Before I tackle this, can somebody tell me whether we hate unions or love unions? Ultra-progressive lefties seem to adore the abstract concept of labor, but dislike actual working people in unions and the choices they make. Which leads me to …

A sidebar about settling

After all, my Latino family voted straight Democrat. We could see the big picture. My strongly Catholic older relatives didn’t bat an eye about the Dems’ pro-LGBT record, even though they felt homosexuality was a mortal sin. When I asked my father at age 8 what the difference was between Democrats and Republicans, he replied with utterly uncharacteristic brevity, “Republicans don’t care about the poor.”

But Mark gently asked me to consider that maybe Texan Latin@s did vote their interests; they just didn’t define those interests the way I thought they should.

Which is to say, where’s the evidence that Seattle labor is settling?

I’m gonna need more than a snazzy musical number.

Are they cowering in fear of an anti-labor Democratic establishment that does things like oppose right-to-work legislation? Are they “settling” for council members who prefer to get something instead of burn something?

While Sawant cast the lone no vote against the alley vacation, Herbold joined the rest of the council, and voted to get the affordable housing dollars, green space, raised bike lanes, hill climb, street setbacks, and 1st Amendment-safe public plaza in exchange for an alley.

(Fun tidbit from this article: Sawant accuses council members like Herbold of being beholden to Amazon. Sawant has received more Amazon donations than Herbold.

Isn’t it sad that some Democrats are so corruptly pro-corporate that they can be bought for a lousy $750?)

By saying that labor unions and workers are “settling” for Democratic leadership without doing anything like quoting labor leaders or citing specific pieces of legislation, Sawant is putting words in labor’s mouth and feelings in their chests. (Gross!) In Sawant’s political landscape, disagreeing with her makes you one of two things: corporatist slime or battered proletariat.

This behavior is, basically, akin to saying your perfectly happy friend is “settling” for her partner just because you wouldn’t bang him. But it also sets a precedent that makes me genuinely uneasy, for what may seem like a complicated reason but is actually pretty simple.

It goes back to the naive question I asked my boss on that Texas summer day. When I asked “why don’t Latinos vote their interests,” it’s pretty clear that regardless of what I meant, my underlying assumption was that I was smarter and more enlightened than other Latin@s. Likewise, Sawant presumes she is smarter than unions — but she can’t credibly say that unions are anti-labor for disagreeing with her. Instead, she softens the condescension inherent in her appeal by implying that they’re “settling.” Rather than listening to working people and labor leaders who don’t share her views, she crafts an alternative explanation: they don’t truly understand their options.

That seems weirdly un-socialist to me.

Hey Seattle socialists … maybe you don’t have to settle for Sawant.