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Kshama Sawant on taxing Amazon to solve Seattle’s housing crisis

In an exclusive interview, Councilmember Sawant outlines the stark economic inequities in Seattle and across the country.

Freddie Stuart Aaron White Kshama Sawant
7 July 2020
Kshama Sawant speaking at an affordable housing town hall, Seattle WA, April 23 2015
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Public Domain

This interview is part of ourEconomy’s series on the US election.

Kshama Sawant is a socialist member of the Seattle City Council.

Elected in 2013, Sawant has championed increasing the minimum wage, taxing the city’s largest corporations, and guaranteeing affordable housing for all Seattleites.

In 2018, Sawant was one of only two voices on the City Council to vote in favor of a head tax, which would have seen Amazon pay the city $11 million annually to fund public housing and homeless services.

In response, Amazon spent an unprecedented $1.5 million to defeat her reelection bid in 2019. Sawant ultimately beat this exorbitant campaign and is currently serving her third term in office.

This week, the Seattle City Council approved a JumpStart tax – obligating Amazon to pay 2.4% for employees making over $400,000. This progressive tax will generate upwards of $200 million a year which will be allocated for Covid-19 relief and affordable housing.

We spoke with Sawant several months ago about the intersecting crises of homelessness and healthcare in Seattle and across the US.

The full interview is available below, as well as on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Soundcloud.

How do we work after coronavirus?

The pandemic has profoundly changed our working lives. Millions have lost their jobs; others have had no choice but to continue working at great risk to their health. Many more have shouldered extra unpaid labour such as childcare.

Work has also been redefined. Some workers are defined as 'essential' – but most of them are among the lowest-paid in our societies.

Could this be an opportunity?

Amid the crisis, there has been a rise in interest in radical ideas, from four-day weeks to universal basic income.

Join us on 5pm UK time on 20 August as we discuss whether the pandemic might finally be a moment for challenging our reliance on work.

In conversation:

Sarah Jaffe, journalist and author of 'Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone', due to be published next year.

Amelia Horgan, academic and author of 'Lost in Work: Escaping Capitalism', also due to be published next year.

Chair: Alice Martin, advisory board member of Autonomy, a think tank dedicated to the future of work.

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