As the coronavirus pandemic shuts down normal life, millions of working people faced with lost hours, mass layoffs, and no safety net are left wondering how they will pay for food, rent, mortgages, student debt, medical bills — the list goes on and on. While cities and states – and even the federal government – have begun to accept certain demands for emergency relief, it’s clear that much more is urgently needed to support working families and marginalized communities.
After slashing corporate taxes by $1.5 trillion two years ago, Trump is now calling for massive bailouts of the airline industry, hotels, and other corporations with no strings attached. We need to bail out workers, not billionaire investors! Trump is also proposing cash payments to working families, but these proposals fall short of what is needed.
In this context, progressive funding to meet the emergency needs of our communities and invest in ongoing public works programs is more crucial than ever. In Seattle, the call to Tax Amazon to fund coronavirus relief, affordable housing and Green New Deal programs provides an example of the type of demands needed at this historic moment.
Victory for our Movement – No State Ban on Taxing Big Business
Big business’ determined efforts to have the Washington Legislature pass a ban to block Seattle from taxing them have failed! On March 12th the legislative session ended with no ban even coming up for vote- a big blow to big business and a big sigh of relief for the affordable housing movement. However, the legislature also failed to pass any new progressive taxes on big business to fund urgently needed housing or public health measures to combat the COVID19 epidemic.
With a series of bills in Olympia, big business had been ready to agree to grant King County the authority to tax big business up to roughly $150 million in exchange for inserting the poison pill of a ban on Seattle raising any taxes on big business. Relying on backroom deals, many Democratic Party politicians indicated their openness to accepting the ban as a necessary compromise to authorizing progressive taxation at the county level. However, $150 million is far too little to address the scale of the housing crisis in King County even before COVID19.
While we welcomed any advancements on progressive taxation, Tax Amazon made crystal clear that any bill which also included a ban on Seattle taxing big business would have been a historic selling out of working people in a state which already has the nation’s most regressive tax structure.
Our movement mobilized to State Legislators’ offices and Town Hall meetings, organized a 400-person march to the Amazon Spheres, and collected over 3,000 signatures on a petition for elected officials to stand with working people and publicly commit to vote against any bill which includes a state ban.
As a result, we saw a number of state legislators publicly come out against any form of ban or preemption. The bill’s sponsors – caught between the pressure of big business who would only support legislation that included a ban and the pressure of working people who were mobilizing against this historic threat – could not get enough support to move their bill forward and it died without a vote.
Our movement proved that when working people get organized and fight back, we can win. It’s unfortunate that politicians in Olympia chose to negotiate with big business instead of stand and fight with us for progressive taxation without a poison pill- we could have won, and we still can.
COVID-19 and the Necessity of Taxing Big Business
In solidarity with our movement, and in response to the urgent need for emergency assistance generated by the coronavirus outbreak, Seattle City Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales introduced a petition to raise $500 million in an Amazon Tax on the city’s largest corporations for emergency COVID-19 funding. Immediate services that would be funded include cash assistance to compensate for lost income for working people, urgent funds for testing and treatment, tiny house villages for homeless neighbors, and relief for struggling small businesses.
The COVID-19 public health emergency has exposed the fragility of the global capitalist economy as well as the inherent dangers of extreme income inequality. While the richest 1% have been accumulating record amounts of wealth, the capitalist system is completely unprepared to care for the 51% of working Americans who are one missed paycheck away from financial ruin. In the midst of this public health and economic crisis, the urgency of taxing corporations to fund social programs for working people has become more apparent than ever.
Crucially, the legislation introduced by Councilmembers Morales and Sawant calls for the tax to continue after the crisis has ended as a yearly revenue source to fund a massive expansion in affordable social housing and green new deal services. Working people need more than a one time relief package – we need to address the root of the crisis with a fundamental shift away from the failed for-profit market.
The Task Ahead: To the Ballot!
Our movement welcomes the proposal from Councilmembers Morales and Sawant and we intend to do everything in our power to fight for its passage. However, we don’t have illusions in Mayor Durkan or the majority of the City Council who clearly see no urgency in taxing big business.
That’s why our growing coalition is prepared to take the Tax Amazon fight all the way to the ballot in November should City Council refuse to act. As a vital tool for our grassroots movement, a ballot initiative enables us to run an independent campaign to bring a vote on the Amazon Tax directly to the working people of Seattle.
The next big step for our movement will be to collect the 30,000 signatures needed to get our tax on the ballot. This would be no small task under normal circumstances. In the context of a pandemic, we will launch a social media campaign to demand that the State allows us to collect signatures online. Not doing so would be both a threat to public health and a restriction of voters’ democratic rights. We will also collect signatures by mail in case the State refuses to recognize online signatures.
If Seattle were to win a strong Amazon Tax, it would be a significant victory for working people in Seattle who are currently experiencing the brutal failure of both the private healthcare system and housing market. We urgently need healthcare and housing to be run in the interests of working people and the environment. Our movement to tax big business to provide relief to workers during this crisis could spread across the country like our fight for $15 an hour.
Our fight has the potential not only to win a historic tax on big businesses in Seattle, but to inspire the growing layer of working people who are being radicalized around the failures of capitalism to move into struggle and fight for a socialist transformation of society.