We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Murky Politics of the $15 Minimum Wage

Click here to access article by Shamus Cooke from Workers Action. 

The politics of this campaign are murky, but I think murkier than what Cooke is aware of. 

Living in the Seattle area I am a bit disturbed by the popular $15 minimum wage campaign. Unfortunately, Cooke joins the effort by uncritically regarding it as a major achievement by worker-advocates as suggested in this article. 
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 across the country, city by city, the workers’ movement would be revitalized, as it is in Seattle.
Campaigns such as this could be used to educate people on the complexities of working for gains within the existing capitalist system, but I doubt that much effort will be expended to do this. Instead, I think it is more likely that advocates will not go further than their existing narrow focus on raising the minimum wage. This article is an example of that narrow focus.

Thus, we are led to believe that all we need to do is pass laws in support of working people; and to do this we need to support candidates and political parties that will work for such laws. This has gotten a lot of workers excited about, and spending a lot of time, working on this campaign. Meanwhile, the ruling capitalist class has hardly blinked at this supposed threat to their profits. I've also noticed that the campaign has gotten a lot of attention in mainstream media. (See this and this in major capitalist media.) Why?

Because it is essentially a wedge issue to split the 99 Percent. Proponents immediately discovered that small businesses and non-profits would be impaired and thus they have exempted small businesses (this is usually limited by number of employees--not sure what this is in existing proposals), and then there will be non-profits threatened with extinction if this measure passes in Seattle. Then there are other problems. Are part-time workers covered? Otherwise businesses will simply cut back on employee hours as many have done to avoid being affected by Obamacare, and some will cut employees by introducing more automation in the workplace such as self-check out counters at retail stores. Many large retail outfits are already closing stores, some of which plan to switch to online sales only. Others will relocate to other states with lower minimum wage laws. The city of Sea-Tac passed a $15/hr minimum wage and it was immediately ruled by a judge that it could not apply to airport employees because the airport was under a different legal jurisdiction (Port of Seattle). The measure if passed would have a big impact on city employees, and city government like all state and local governments in the US are revenue starved and cutting back services. 

The point is this: the law if passed will be a very mixed blessing for workers and it doesn't deserve the time and effort put in to pass it unless it is part of a larger effort to educate workers. But, I don't see this happening. For example, "Socialist" City Council Member Kshama Sawant appears to subscribe to the liberal view that laws can be passed within a capitalist system that can solve worker problems.

One campaign that is vital for the benefit of all working people is control of our own media, but do you see many people inspired by that? No. Such efforts don't get TV coverage. It seems that dangling $15/hour in front of our noses and plenty of coverage in mainstream media will get people activated. As long as we allow ourselves to be led like sheep by the sheepherders of corporate media to engage in such time-consuming political campaigns, we will never achieve any real progress. It is discouraging to see labor advocates like Shamus Cooke playing along.