Socialists Spearhead Victory on $15 in Minneapolis

Minneapolis is getting a raise, and becoming the first Midwestern city to enact a $15 an hour minimum wage. The proposal will benefit 71,000 workers, overwhelmingly women and workers of color. Winning $15 in Minneapolis shows another way cities can push back against Trump’s corporate-backed agenda.

In three short years, the fight for $15 in Minneapolis went from an isolated call from the left to become the central slogan of the Minneapolis labor and progressive movement. Socialist Alternative was the first to popularize $15 in Minneapolis back in 2013, when Ty Moore came within 229 votes of being elected to the city council.

Even after Kshama Sawant spearheaded a victory for $15 in Seattle in 2014, most in the Minneapolis political establishment ignored it. Unions and community groups took up the demand, but first tested the strategy of lobbying City Hall, which is dominated by Democratic Party politicians. There are no Republicans elected, so it seemed straightforward that City Council would pass $15 when the Democratic Party formally adopted it into its platform. Nevertheless, most city politicians refused to take any real steps forward.

Socialist Alternative and 15 Now Minnesota urged that the movement for $15 would not succeed if we limited ourselves to tactics that avoided a public clash with the local Democratic Party establishment. This debate over our movement’s strategy came to a head, resulting in a section of the coalition challenging the deadlock in City Hall by putting the question of $15 directly to voters as a ballot initiative.

In a coordinated grassroots effort led by Socialist Alternative, 15 Now Minnesota, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), and backed by the Minnesota Nurses Association and Communication Workers of America, we collected 20,000 petition signatures in just nine weeks.

A majority of city council members and the mayor were fiercely opposed to the ballot initiative, both because it prevented them from watering down the policy on behalf of their business backers and because it would set a dangerous precedent, giving social movements confidence that they could rely on their own strength to win progressive change. Eventually the Minnesota Supreme Court, dominated by Republican appointees, came to the aid of City Hall Democrats to block $15 from the ballot.

While losing the battle in court, the $15 movement had decisively won the wider war for public opinion. As a result of our powerful grassroots campaign, a poll showed 68 percent of people in Minneapolis supported $15. Conceding to public pressure, the City Council launched a formal process to raise the minimum wage, but did not explicitly set the target of $15. Despite previous disagreements, the wider labor-community coalition for $15 has been broadly united behind pushing $15 to victory this year and blocking attempts to impose a “tip penalty” or other big concessions to corporations.

The overwhelming public support for $15 has encouraged Bernie-inspired insurgent candidates to challenge anti-$15 incumbents in this year’s city council elections. In the end, most of the conservatives on the City Council either lost Democratic Party endorsement outright, or were blocked from getting the endorsement by pro-$15, left challengers.

After the experience of fighting big-business ties in City Hall for $15, I decided to run for City Council as well, though I chose to run independently of the Democratic Party. As my organization, Socialist Alternative, has consistently pointed out, the amount of support for our campaign, as well as the other pro-$15, left Democrats, shows that the Bernie mood for “political revolution” has in no way subsided, and that ordinary people are hungry for change at every level of government.

The most important lesson from the $15 minimum wage campaign in Minneapolis is this: working people cannot limit themselves to what is deemed acceptable by the political establishment and its ties to big business. We need to organize independently around our collective needs to get things done. This is how socialists fight for immediate reforms under capitalism in order to raise the confidence of working people to fight for more decisive change and ultimately to fundamentally transform society.

More articles by:
March 22, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Italy, Germany and the EU’s Future
David Rosen
The Further Adventures of the President and the Porn Star
Gary Leupp
Trump, the Crown Prince and the Whole Ugly Big Picture
The Hudson Report
Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons and Debt in Antiquity
Steve Martinot
The Properties of Property
Binoy Kampmark
Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Surveillance Capitalism
Jeff Berg
Russian to Judgment
Gregory Barrett
POSSESSED! Europe’s American Demon Must Be Exorcised
Robby Sherwin
What Do We Do About Facebook?
Trump Spokesperson Commemorates Invading Iraq by Claiming U.S. Doesn’t Dictate to Other Countries; State Dept. Defends Invasion
Rob Okun
Students: Time is Ripe to Add Gender to Gun Debate
Michael Barker
Tory Profiteering in Russia and Putin’s Debt of Gratitude
March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am a Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
John Pilger
Skripal Case: a Carefully-Constructed Drama?
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us