Update on Open Letter to Socialist Alternative and 15 Now PDX

A growing number of area labor activists have condemned the violent, misogynist attack on union members perpetrated on May 17 by Justin Norton-Kertson, the head organizer of $15 Now PDX and a prominent supporter of Socialist Alternative. Union activists and leaders, many of whom have substantial political disagreements with CSWP, have nevertheless recognized that Norton-Kertson’s attack on union members who dared to disagree with him at a public forum was a gross violation of the basic norms of workers democracy, unacceptable for a man who is promoted as a leader of the struggle against poverty wages.

As we noted in our May 21 open letter, other members of $15 Now and SAlt were present at the May 17 film showing and observed Norton-Kertson’s unhinged rampage. They did nothing to stop their comrade as he assaulted trade unionists, made vile sexist threats against women, and threatened to call the police to intervene in a meeting that included immigrant workers. These organizations remained silent until June 3, when we received an email from the “Portland Committee for $15 Now” requesting from us “evidence” of Norton-Kertson’s attack, alleging that there were “conflicting accounts” of the assault that these would-be investigators witnessed and allowed to happen.

We made it known to $15 Now/SAlt that if they need to be reminded of the facts of the assault that they witnessed and condoned, we were ready to present our evidence to them, including the Facebook posts by Norton-Kertson smugly bragging about it all – does that count as one of the “conflicting accounts”? And on July 20, we met with a purported investigative committee of three people, one of whom is apparently Norton-Kertson’s wife. As of the publication of this update, there has been no further action from $15 Now/SAlt.

But we have no confidence that these organizations’ “investigation” of themselves and their spokesman will yield adequate corrective action. As we emphasized in our open letter, “The fact that they stood by and said nothing at the time speaks volumes. If anyone associated with us had done anything half as vile as your supporter did, we would have stopped it instantly.”

Defense of democracy in our movement is a duty of the entire workers movement. The behavior of SAlt/$15 Now PDX spokesman Norton-Kertson has no place in our movement, particularly from someone who is promoted as a leader of the crucial struggle against low-wage super-exploitation. CSWP members are respected labor activists with decades of experience in the movement. We will continue to take the case to our respective unions and the broader movement that Norton-Kertson must be removed from all responsible posts.

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