FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Murky Politics of the $15 Minimum Wage

by SHAMUS COOKE

Seattle now resembles a mini-Venezuela. It’s not a perfect comparison, but like the average Venezuelan the people of Seattle are experiencing an explosion of political consciousness. Recently I took the three-hour drive from Portland, and although Seattle is only a couple of hundred miles away, it’s politically thousands of miles ahead of “progressive” Portland.

The “fight for $15” is the reason Seattle is in a political uproar. Unlike any other American city, all the Seattle politicians — including the Mayor and City Council — have publicly committed and are working to implement the $15 minimum wage, and Seattle workers now expect it. The coffee shop workers I talked to were eagerly looking forward to their big raises.

How did this happen? Kshama Sawant is the answer. The new socialist city council member won her recent election by relentlessly campaigning on a $15 minimum wage. Her campaign was devastatingly effective, using her Socialist Alternative organization to mobilize hundreds of volunteers who’ve collectively tilted the politics of Seattle and beyond (the Washington governor recently came out — under heavy pressure — in favor of a statewide wage of $13 an hour). No Seattle politician dares to come out against $15 publicly, the public debate has already been decided; a recent poll showed that 68 percent of Seattle residents now support $15 without exceptions.

And although Sawant has been assured by the Seattle mayor that $15 is a done deal, she’s warning the Seattle public otherwise. Sawant recently spoke at a conference organized by the coalition “$15 Now,” and blasted the intrigue of the mayor’s committee set up to implement the new wage. Sawant knows the inner workings of the committee because she’s on it.

Sawant’s speech warned Seattle that the Seattle 1% are plotting a counter-offensive, aimed at undermining $15 by adding a variety of exceptions, loopholes, and extending the implementation time. In response Sawant demanded “$15 now, no exceptions.” The “$15 Now” coalition is staying on the offensive, going into the neighborhoods to ensure that $15 is implemented — they’ve given the Mayor’s committee a deadline and are preparing to organize a ballot initiative if necessary.

The demand of a $15 minimum wage has crept into the national consciousness, beginning as a national campaign by SEIU to organize fast food workers under the demand of “$15 and a union.” And although SEIU has since pulled back from the $15 demand, Sawant and others are seizing the moment, having realized the inherently powerful potential of $15, which has become an inspirational rallying cry that the U.S. working class hasn’t experienced in decades.

Now another mayoral candidate, Dan Siegel in Oakland, CA, has wisely jumped on the $15 bandwagon. And just as his campaign was gaining steam, a coalition of labor and community groups sucked the air out his demand for $15: “Lift Up Oakland” recently came out in favor of a $12.25 minimum wage (?!).

Instead of using the Siegel mayoral campaign to boost the local labor movement, some unions chose to make concessions before they even got to the bargaining table; they didn’t wait for the 1% to try to water down $15, they took the initiative themselves. Either “Lift Up Oakland” doesn’t believe $15 is achievable — in which case they should visit Seattle — or there is another, even worse logic at play.

One key reason labor unions haven’t been able to inspire their members —let alone the broader working class — is their insistence on making demands that are acceptable to the Democratic Party. This pragmatic approach to politics has been suicidal for the labor movement, and forgets a fundamental law of working class politics: the vast majority of working people only became active in politics when they are inspired — $15 inspires, $12.25 now falls flat.

Even flatter was Obama’s flaccid attempt to head off the gaining momentum of $15 an hour on the national stage, when he took the “radical” action of issuing an Executive Order that decreed federal contract workers will get paid $10.10 an hour — on new contracts issued in the future.

The Democrats are now opportunistically preparing for mid-term elections by morphing into the party that wants to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. But they have zero intention of actually implementing it. Once these Democrats get elected they’ll simply blame the Republicans for blocking the effort, and since $10.10 is so bland, nobody will mobilize in D.C. to pressure Congress to act (nor will the Democrats ask people to mobilize). The whole sleazy ordeal will eventually fade from memory, like the pile of other promises Obama and the Democrats have spewed during campaign season that were left to rot afterwards.

With inequality already beyond comprehension and the labor movement suffering defeat after defeat, you’d imagine that unions would accept $15 as a gift-wrapped campaign sent from the heavens. Instead they’re hiding from this revelation, seemingly terrified.

If all workers made $15, the leverage of unions at the bargaining table would increase exponentially. If unions organized campaigns nationwide for $15 they’d win the support and admiration of the broader working class, who would then join unions by the hundreds of thousands — a labor movement on life support would receive a massive injection of oxygen.

Seattle has proved this demand is not only possible, but is a key demand to re-spark the labor movement. If labor and community groups around the country united behind implementing this demand, city by city, the workers’ movement would be revitalized, as it is in Seattle. As the debate over the minimum wage continues, watch closely to see who will stand behind $15 and who will stand in its way.

Shamus Cooke is an elected officer of SEIU 503. He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail