Introduction

The Seattle Solidarity Network (SeaSol) is a small but growing workers and tenants’ mutual support organization that fights for specific demands using collective direct action. The organization was founded by five members of the Industrial Workers of the World in December of 2007 who wanted to find a way to contribute to rebuilding a revolutionary working-class social movement by winning tangible victories despite having only a small number of supporters. As members of a revolutionary union they had little interest in organized labor in and of itself. Ultimately, they were interested in the potential of unions to serve as a mechanism to one-day overturn capitalist social relations entirely. However, more urgently, they wanted to find a way to put their anarchist ideas into practice by organizing people to take collective direct action to immediately improve their lives. As their idea of forming some sort of mutual support network began to take shape in late 2007 they decided that they should also include tenants’ issues in their project. Their class politics prompted them to view tenants’ and workers’ issues as inextricably linked and they hoped that by engaging with both tenants and workers they would be able to ensure a broader level of activity for their new organization.

SeaSol’s first few members knew from experience that it is simple for an employer to refuse to pay a worker’s wages or for a landlord to fail to return a tenant’s security deposit. They also knew that the existing legal remedies to these problems are tedious and ineffectual. SeaSol was formed to bring working-class individuals together to combat employer and landlord abuses of this kind using collective direct action instead. Despite the revolutionary ambitions of many of its members, SeaSol does not base its day-to-day activities on any grandiose vision of the future and does not have any official political program. SeaSol exists to achieve immediate material gains for low-wage workers and tenants in the here and now. Since its formation five years ago, SeaSol has successfully used direct action (picketing, posting leaflets, etc.) to resolve approximately thirty-five specific housing and job-related issues while growing to one hundred and twenty five members. In the absence of effective legal remedies and strong workers’ or tenants’ unions, SeaSol members try to protect one another when an employer or landlord abuses any given member of the network by carrying out escalating campaigns of public protest.

SeaSol’s approach is especially notable because it defies prevailing ideologies surrounding social justice by operating outside the paradigm of progressive organizations today: SeaSol is all volunteer, has no explicit political ideology, does not rely on lawyers or other professionals, does not involve itself in electoral politics, is not a legally recognized non-profit, and is funded exclusively by small individual donations. This article shows how working-class people do not necessarily need to depend on lawmakers or non-profits to improve their lives. In Seattle, they are coming together as equals to directly improve their lives using only their own collective power and imagination. SeaSol’s present activities are limited, but the wider implications of the organization’s strategy for social transformation are boundless. This article uses historical comparisons and interviews with SeaSol members to examine what is unique about the organization, why it is succeeding, and how its members are politicized as a result of their participation in SeaSol.

Comments

eric.edge
Jul 6 2013 08:14
Quote:
...the wider implications of the organization’s strategy for social transformation are boundless.

I‘d love to hear someone elaborate on this.