“We are ready to fight! Housing is a human right!” rang throughout Washington Hall as people chanted to kick off the first ever Tax Amazon Action Conference in Seattle. Around 300 people representing a whole host of socialist, labor, environmental, and community organizations participated in this grassroots democratic discussion and debate on the way forward for a bold campaign to tax the wealthiest Seattle corporations – not working people, not small businesses – to begin to address the deep crises facing our city.
Kshama Sawant, the recently re-elected Socialist Alternative member of the Seattle City Council, opened the event by highlighting the scale of the problem: “We have one of the most severe housing crisis in our country and a global climate crisis threatening our lives.”
The for-profit housing market has failed Seattle, with rents that most workers can’t afford and tens of thousands forced into homelessness. In addition, while global warming threatens the whole world, politicians (even in so-called progressive cities like Seattle) have not stood up to the fossil fuel industry or proposed any serious plans to address the crisis. Sawant emphasized that regular people are fed up with the complicity of the political establishment and ready to take action.
The conference discussed and debated what the movement will fight for – a $300-500 million annual tax on the city’s biggest businesses to fund a massive expansion of social housing and a Green New Deal for Seattle.
In the breakout groups, participants discussed the concrete details of how to build a winning movement. Many people emphasized the importance of highlighting how a corporate tax would create a massive annual revenue source to fund thousands of union jobs on projects solving the problems facing our communities. Ironworker Logan Swan noted that the money raised by this tax could fund the equivalent of two high rises worth of construction jobs each year! This framing helps address a key priority of our movement – winning over workers in the building trades unions whose leadership opposed the Amazon Tax in 2018.
Another major theme of the discussion was the strategy that will be needed to win this campaign in the face of bitter opposition from big businesses and the political establishment. Eva Metz from Socialist Alternative talked about the lessons from the 2018 effort to Tax Amazon, in which the movement’s demand of $150 million tax was whittled down to $47 million in back-room meetings with local power-brokers. This attempt to appease big business and their political representatives failed completely. The majority of the council eventually caved to pressure from Amazon and repealed the tax, even though $47 million is pocket change for someone like Jeff Bezos.
In stark contrast to the failed strategy of back room deals, after hours of discussion and debate the grassroots Action Conference voted with near-unanimity to approve a resolution. It calls for building the strongest possible movement of regular people to stand up to the threats and lies of big business and the corporate media by putting forward our own ballot initiative to Tax Amazon. This strategy ensures that we have a path to victory even if councilmembers again cave in to corporate pressure and oppose the tax. The resolution also asserts that all major decisions will be made on the basis of grassroots democracy in Action Conferences, while electing a Coordinating Committee to carry out those decisions in between conferences.
This inspiring event launched a movement that, if successful, will point a way forward for regular people to fight back against the Billionaire Class all across the world. As Councilmember Sawant stated, “This movement can spread worldwide so there is nowhere for Jeff Bezos to hide, except maybe outer space.”
Participants left with posters and flyers to build for the second Action Conference on February 9.