On December 10, over 300 people packed the Redeemer Episcopal Church in Astoria to discuss the deal to bring Amazon to New York. The main message of the meeting was that working people can beat Amazon with a movement. Below is the speech given by Keely Mullen of Socialist Alternative. She explains the lessons of the Tax Amazon campaign in Seattle, led by Socialist Alternative and our City Council Member Kshama Sawant.
My name is Keely and I’m a member of Socialist Alternative — the organization that went head to head with Amazon in Seattle this past spring.
Jeff Bezos, is the richest man in the world and in the first half of this year he was making $11.5 million dollars an hour. That means he was making more in ten seconds than the average Amazon worker makes in a year!
In a time where the majority of us cannot afford a medical emergency, where rents steadily increase every year, and where wages are stagnant — Jeff Bezos and Amazon represent the deep inequality that plagues our society.
In Seattle, where Amazon has called home for ten years, Socialist Alternative helped lead a grassroots movement of socialists, housing activists, the homeless community, Amazon workers, healthcare workers all standing together demanding that Seattle pass a tax on Amazon that would go toward funding high-quality, permanently affordable public housing.
This tax was put on the agenda by Socialist Alternative’s City Councillor Kshama Sawant who, as an independent socialist, does not fear going toe to toe with billionaires. Because she understands, as all of us here do, that change does not come from a handful of politicians — it comes from the movements of people from below!
During this struggle in Seattle we occupied City Hall, held speak outs and press conferences, packed City Council meetings, and marched on Amazon’s headquarters, held town halls, and set up tables in the community
While this battle was heating up, Jeff Bezos issued a threat to the city of Seattle. He said that if this tax was not defeated — he would halt construction on a new Amazon tower, threatening the jobs of hundreds of union construction workers.
The essence of this threat was that: you can either have housing or a job — but no one is guaranteed both. The fight for jobs was pitted against the fight for housing and the Democratic Party Mayor immediately bowed to these pressures — standing against the Amazon Tax
However the movement continued, ordinary people in Seattle did not bow out or back down!
We fought until what we thought was the end, when we won a $48 million a year tax on Amazon to fund affordable housing. That day a ballot measure was put forward by a who’s who of Seattle’s big businesses to defeat the tax.
The movement was determined to fight this ballot measure tooth and nail, to knock on thousands of doors and talk to ordinary people in Seattle about the need to tax the rich to fund basic necessities.
But rather than giving us the chance to do this, just 17 days later, the entire City Council except ourselves and one other councillor, shamefully voted to repeal the tax entirely.
Despite this disgraceful decision by the majority of the City Council, this whole struggle proved that despite the crushing weight of giants like Jeff Bezos — we can still win.
Under capitalism, a system that puts profit over people, there’s no guaranteeing that any of our victories are permanent — which is why at every stage we need to strengthen our resolve to fight and press on!
Regardless of the outcome of this struggle, anywhere Amazon does land will need to intensify its struggle and fight for a tax on Amazon that funds housing, transit and education.
We need to fight for a union for Amazon workers. We need to launch a battle to take on not just Amazon but Wall St. too!
Wall Street has turned NYC into a playground for the rich, developing the city in the interests of the few not the many. We need to flip that on its head!
We do need development, we need better trains, we need high quality public affordable housing, we need sturdy and safe schools that don’t have lead in the pipes. But that is not the type of development that Amazon or the wealthy represent.
As we learned from the fight in Seattle, Amazon will use everything in its power to crush a movement, so we will need to use everything in our power to resist that!
Our movement here in New York needs to bring in as many working people as possible. Our movement also needs a strategy!
We need sustained actions, protests, sit ins, occupations! This deal can be stopped! But it will not be easy. It will require mounting the most pressure on the politicians in New York to take a stand and use whatever they have in their power to block the deal.
I want to end with a message from Kshama Sawant who sends her solidarity today. She says, “there is a lot and stake and I hope the people in queens know they are not alone. Our power lies in mass movements on the street.”
Socialist Alternative looks forward to standing with you all in this struggle and bringing the lessons of Seattle here to New York City!