In a stunning act of political courage, on Wednesday evening the Martin Luther King County Labor Council decided to adjourn its monthly meeting rather than choose whether or not to endorse Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant for re-election in District 3.
The issue will likely be taken up again at the council's meeting next month, but many members see neither Sawant nor her challenger, Egan Orion, earning the votes necessary to secure the labor endorsement this cycle. And since no member made a motion to endorse in District 4, the council also won't play in the race between Democratic Socialist Shaun Scott and anti-Sound Transit guy Alex Pedersen, either. So, it looks like the arguably influential labor council will spend their resources on other candidates this year.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the 43rd District Democrats voted to endorse Sawant after having endorsed Scott, creating a somewhat wild reality wherein local Democrats are backing socialists while labor is handing out hall passes to Chamber of Commerce candidates funded by union-busters.
Before the motion to adjourn last night at the Labor Temple, several union members took turns at the mic variously praising and denouncing Sawant. Sawant's labor haters rehashed familiar arguments that focus on the socialist's perceived procedural violations rather than her dedication to the movement.
A member representing IBEW Local 77 called Sawant's opposition to Seattle's police contract and her decision to side with the majority of Teamsters who opposed a UPS contract a "betrayal" of her brothers and sisters. Sawant's vote, of course, didn't stop the city council from approving the police contract, and a federal judge ultimately ordered the city to fix it because it was too favorable to cops who kill.
One delegate from the building trades criticized Sawant for being "impractical" and supporting policies that may lead to less development. That member might be comforted to learn that Sawant voted for all the upzones, and she also supports the construction of public housing across Seattle.
On the other side, Sawant supporters highlighted the candidate's long history of literally standing with workers.
"We need a fighter who has stood with many of us on our picket lines," said Emily Myers, a scientist and former D4 candidate whose support from labor couldn't get her into the general.
A couple of union members I spoke with before the vote anticipated this result, citing divisions between conservative and more progressive factions within labor. Ahead of Wednesday's decision not to decide, those members and over 300 others from rank-and-file and leadership positions signed a letter asking the MLKC Labor Executive Board to endorse Sawant. The members also expressed a "deep concern for the future of our labor movement and the unity of this Council."
Though they could understand some differences between members in the primary, they called the general election "a fundamentally different race."
The signers pointed out the large number of notoriously anti-union executives and operatives who have maxed out in donations to Orion, including Richard Hedreen, Craig Shafer, Tim Ceis, and Ryan Bayne. They also mention Orion's support from "wealthy Republicans" and corporate PACs.
"As we all know, he who pays the piper calls the tune," the members wrote. "The long experience our movement has had with corporate-backed candidates has shown their election-year promises to be hollow. Orion says he will listen to everyone, but his actions, were he to be elected, would be guided by his corporate sponsors, not by our unions."
Labor council executive secretary-treasurer Nicole Grant declined to comment on the letter, though in a phone interview last month she said voters in this election will have to "make a decision about whether they want corporations to run Seattle in a really naked and direct way" or not. As of right now, many of her fellow members are begging for those corporations to crush them.