Seattle Organizers Taking $15 Minimum Wage Battle to the Ballot
Glen Ford talks about the recent “Fight For 15” conference in Seattle and says most voters there want a $15 minimum wage hike
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of The Ford Report.
Now joining us is Glen Ford. He is the cofounder and executive editor of the Black Agenda Report.
Thanks for joining us, Glen.
GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Oh, thank you for the invitation.
DESVARIEUX: So, Glen, you were at the 15 now conference in Seattle because over there in Seattle they’re fighting for a $15 minimum wage. Can you just get us up to speed? Who were the principal organizers, and what kind of workers were in attendance?
FORD: Well, as you know, the $15 an hour minimum wage demand has been out there for a little while. It was raised by fast food workers all across the country. But the focus of that demand is now Seattle because the socialist party, Socialist Alternative, their candidate, Kshama Sawant, won the city council seat there last year on the strength of that demand. And so Socialist Alternative basically has gathered all of its forces. It’s a small party, but it’s numbers doubled since the victory in Seattle to bring together people to decide how you actually go about implementing the $15 minimum wage.
And it’s really more complicated than people think. They’ve decided that because so many folks in Seattle who wouldn’t usually support such a minimum wage, certainly one not that large, now say that they do. They are going to try to raise 50,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot, so that the city council doesn’t water down the bill. Virtually every member of the Seattle City Council and the mayor claim that they support the $15 an hour minimum wage. The problem is, some folks want to bundle all kinds of benefits into the $15 wage. People want to keep tips out of the equation. Big business has created an astroturf organization called Seattle /wʌn/ that really run fronts for big businesses’ interests but has been able to field picketers who do come from some unions.
There is some union, if not opposition to the $15 an hour proposal, that have questions about how it affects their contracts. For example, UNITE HERE–that’s the restaurant workers union–already has a contract in which, as they tell it–and they came and spoke at the conference–they bargained with their employers over the common pile of money, and then the workers decide how much of it goes to benefits and how much goes to salaries. And they’re worried about the integrity of their contract. So Socialist Alternative is finding that actually the actual details and nuts and bolts of this $15 an hour proposal are rather complex.
DESVARIEUX: So what was your message for the conference?
FORD: Oh, my message is, of course, right on. You know, I don’t know how helpful I was at that conference. They wanted me to be there. I tried to provide a broader perspective on what this fight in this corner of the United States in Seattle has to do with the whole neoliberal capitalist project in the world and to give it some perspective that went.
DESVARIEUX: Let’s turn to a recent poll of Seattle voters by DHM research in Portland, Oregon. It showed that support for a phased-in $15 an hour minimum wage dropped from 68 percent in January to 45 percent in April. Did you get a sense from the conference as to why there was such a huge drop in support, Glen?
FORD: Oh, it’s quite clear why. In the initial poll, the question was asked just in simple terms of would you favor a $15 an hour minimum wage. In the next surveys, they phrased the question this way: would you favor socialist city councilwoman Kshama Sawant’s proposal for a $15 an hour minimum wage? And once you put the word socialist into the question, it lost about 20 points.
DESVARIEUX: Okay, yeah, that S word, you know, us Americans, we cannot handle.
Let’s turn. And I want to ask you, Glen, about those who say that this $15 minimum wage will alienate the political forces that are already willing to accept the Democrats’ $10.10 minimum wage bill. So I’m going to present the counterargument here. Shouldn’t workers be asking for incremental gains, like a $10 hourly wage from $7, instead of doubling, you know, the federal wage and asking for $15? What’s your take?
FORD: Well, as the organizers point out, if we were talking about keeping the minimum wage up with inflation, the minimum wage compared to what was in the ’60s would now be about $15 an hour. You can’t live–and every worker will tell you–in an expensive city like Seattle for less than $15 an hour. And the workers aren’t put off by the prospect of such a big increase. What scares them and what Seattle /wʌn/–that’s the front group for Amazon and Starbucks and other big businesses–what scares them is the propaganda that any increase in the minimum wage automatically leads to people losing their jobs, that is, to layoffs. That does scare people and the big business propagandists are /ˈpænɪŋ/ that for all they’re worth.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report, thank you so much for joining us.
FORD: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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