On July 6, City Council voted for a big business tax that will raise over $200 million each year to fund affordable housing. Contrary to the narrative that corporate media outlets like The Seattle Times are determined to peddle, this historic victory over Jeff Bezos is entirely due to the strength of our Tax Amazon movement, with the threat of taking our initiative to the ballot if City Council failed to act.
For years, Seattle’s working class has been in a pitched battle with big business and the corporate elite for the very soul of our city. With rents skyrocketing, shockingly rapid gentrification has emptied out entire districts of working-class people, particularly in the Central District and Capitol Hill areas, neighborhoods that were historically the home of Black and LGBTQ communities.
Seattle has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country, but despite declaring a homeless “state of emergency” five years ago, the Democratic Party establishment has completely failed to address the crisis.
Socialist Alternative and our City Council Office of Kshama Sawant first launched the movement to Tax Amazon in 2018. While our coalition successfully pressured City Council to unanimously pass a $47 million tax, unsurprisingly, this came under heavy attack from big business. Shamefully, Democrats on the City Council voted to repeal the tax just a month later. As we said at the time, we don’t win by backing down to corporate bullies!
In round two of the Tax Amazon struggle, Amazon and big business unleashed unprecedented sums of corporate cash during the 2019 City Council elections, directing the brunt of their fire against Councilmember Sawant. Our re-election victory served as a sharp rebuke to the ruling class.
Round three launched with a powerful rally of over 500 people at the start of this year. Together, Socialist Alternative and a coalition including UAW 4121, 350 Seattle, Seattle Democratic Socialists of America, Transit Riders Union, share/wheel, Nickelsville, Working Families Party, Seattle People’s Party, WFSE 1488 and rank-and-file Seattle Democrats, built a democratically-organized, grassroots campaign.
We faced many obstacles in this struggle, but we persevered to overcome the Democrats’ attempts at a statewide ban, an unprecedented pandemic that prevented canvassing and a relentless onslaught of lies and attacks from the corporate media and political establishment. We stand here victorious because of the determination of working-class people to fight. Our movement’s ballot initiative, for which we gathered 30,000 signatures, was crucial in forcing the City Council to finally take action. Our unstoppable momentum led the political establishment to do damage control and bring forward a smaller version of our Amazon Tax.
This tax is a tremendous victory, raising over four times as much as 2018’s Amazon Tax. Still, we did not win everything we fought for. As we have seen again and again in Seattle, what is won in City Hall is based entirely on the strength of our movements — ultimately, on the balance of power between the working class and the ruling class. Now that a big business tax exists, we can fight to expand it to build far more affordable housing and to stop budget cuts to education, transit and social services.
We also need to prepare for the threat of a big business repeal referendum. While we will not submit our signatures for our ballot initiative now, we will hold onto them. If big business does launch a repeal campaign, our movement can choose to file our signatures and initiative against that referendum, to fight for greater funding and a stronger Amazon Tax.
We need to take this victory’s momentum to support the Black Lives Matter movement: Defund the Seattle police by at least 50 percent, release all protestors without charges, and create a democratically elected community oversight board with full powers over the police. We also need to spread this victory across the country, like we did with the $15 minimum wage. Our Tax Amazon movement can set a powerful precedent for working people to go on the offensive in a time of austerity and budget cuts.
Absolutely key to this victory was that we named the real power pulling the strings: Amazon. While many argued that we should not “antagonize” big business and instead try to broker a deal, we know that our power comes from the self-organization of the working class and the oppressed, not from negotiation with the elite. The key lesson of Tax Amazon is the same as so many of our past victories: Class struggle is what gets the goods.
Eva Metz is a lead organizer for the Tax Amazon ballot initiative and was the finance director of Kshama Sawant’s 2019 campaign.
Read more in the July 15-21, 2020 issue.