Low-Wage Workers to Target Republican Debate in Milwaukee
15 Now’s Ty Moore explains why fast-food workers and supporters are striking nationwide on Tuesday, and also discusses the impact of a phased-in $15 minimum wage in Seattle and the recent reelection of socialist councilwoman Kshama Sawant
SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
Fast food workers are going on strike on Tuesday. They will be demanding $15 an hour as a minimum wage. This is expected to be the biggest minimum-wage strike to date, with many protests culminating in 500 city calls across the country. The protest in Milwaukee will target the fourth Republican debate, being hosted by Fox Business News Tuesday evening. They will be joined by low-wage workers across the country in sectors such as home care, child care, and other underpaid workers to demand that elected officials nationwide stand up for the $15 minimum wage and their union rights. They will also be joined by other, higher-paid workers in solidarity with them.
To discuss all of this, I’m joined by, from Seattle, Ty Moore. Ty was the national organizer for 15 Now, and now he is the organizing director for 15 Now in Minnesota.
Thank you so much for joining us, Ty.
MOORE: Yeah. Thanks for having me on.
PERIES: So, Ty, let’s begin with what is it exactly you’re hoping to achieve tomorrow. And how will we, the ordinary people, be affected by this strike?
MOORE: Well, 15 Now works as part of a much wider coalition under the umbrella of the Fight for 15. And across the country, organizers, with our organization, with SEIU, with a number of worker centers and low-wage worker organizers across the country, have been spending months going to fast food restaurants, going to other low-wage employers like Walmart, retail workers, and explaining that united in struggle, through organizing with a common day of action, that we can win gains both in the workplace, but also increasingly through the political process, by pushing the idea of a $15 an hour minimum wage.
So, as you said, we expect this to be the largest day of action, day of strike action, this country has ever seen (in recent memory, anyway) for low-wage workers, the biggest yet in this fight for 15, which is nearing its four-year anniversary next month.
PERIES: And how will we be affected by this strike tomorrow?
MOORE: Well, I think a lot of fast food restaurants, low-wage retail employers, others will see some of their operations disrupted. So of course that’ll impact some customers. But I think more broadly the impact for the vast majority of Americans who have come out in support of 15, in support of these low-wage actions, will be to change the conversation and change the political debate. It’s opened up the possibilities of winning a 15 minimum wage in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and lower wage hikes in other cities across the country. So the biggest impact on most of us will be positive, in that it will begin to open up a discussion of how do we close the widening gap between the rich and the poor, how do we begin to take some of the power back from corporate America that has concentrated so much wealth and power in their hands in the last decades.
PERIES: So part of this strike nationwide is also focused on the fourth Republican debate, which is being hosted by Fox Business news. And that is in Milwaukee, but obviously this movement wants to have a national impact. And what is the conversation like, at least as far as the Republicans are concerned? And who is the best candidate when it comes to the $15 minimum wage as far as Republicans are concerned?
MOORE: Well, I don’t think it’ll come as a surprise to most of your listeners that the Republican politicians leading the charge at the state level, at the federal level, have been overwhelmingly opposed to any minimum-wage hike. Now, there are some voices of dissent within the Republican Party, but the dominant corporate-controlled wing of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party alike have done everything in their power to oppose the fight for 15. And I don’t think we’re going to see anything changing that in the debate. They adhere to these neoliberal policies that say laissez-faire economics, free-market capitalism, that’s going to be the best way to create jobs.
But I think the last decades, particularly the last five years of the Great Recession, have proven them wrong on that. Most Americans are moving in the opposite direction of wanting to see more government action to ensure that the least fortunate among us, working people who are being driven into poverty even when they work two and three jobs, will see a wage hike. That’s what most people want.
PERIES: Okay. And so now you’re in Seattle, and you’ve been trying to get a candidate there elected. Tell us more about that particular struggle and where you are at with the minimum wage and $15 fight there.
MOORE: Well, yeah. Here in Seattle, I had actually just traveled out here in the last week to help reelect Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant. She was a socialist City Council candidate elected in 2013 pledging to fight for a $15 minimum wage, this at a time when that was not really on the radar screen in virtually any city across the country. She won in 2013 in a major upset election and led the fight that within six months made Seattle the first city to see a $15 minimum wage. And that has begun to be rolled in, starting last April. We’ll see–Seattle workers will see another wage hike in January. It’s going to lift up over 100,000 workers in Seattle. Some project it’ll reduce poverty by 25 percent once fully implemented. Now we’ve seen the ripple effects of the Seattle victory, with wins in San Francisco, wins in Los Angeles. The governor, Cuomo, in New York, who previously came out against a 15 minimum wage just a couple of months ago, switched his position and said he was in favor of a state-wide minimum wage hike to 15.
So we’ve seen the whole national debate transformed since our victory here in Seattle in summer 2014. And I think the reelection of Kshama Sawant, despite the restaurant industry, Alaska Airlines, Amazon, everybody who opposed 15 poured hundreds of thousands of dollars in to defeat her–but a major grassroots campaign, the same people who fought for 15 here, came to her defense and we won another victory in reelecting her.
And I think the struggle to end inequality will continue. Fifteen is just part of a wider movement that includes the fight for rent control, affordable housing, and end to racist police practices, etc. I think that’s what’s so exciting about the 15 movement is it’s come to symbolize a more generalized struggle against inequality, against racism, against the inequality between men and women in terms of wages. Low-wage workers are disproportionately made up of people of color and women. And so we’ve seen sort of a synergy of these different movements, Black Lives Matter, coming together around the fight for 15. And I think we’ll see that in the streets tomorrow.
PERIES: And when does it go into effect in Seattle?
MOORE: Well, it’s phased in over a number of years. It’s different between smaller employers and larger employers. The first phase of increase happened in April. The next will happen in January. And overall, some workers will see 15 in five years; others, it’ll take a little bit longer for the smaller businesses.
PERIES: So you’re not really calling for a $15 minimum wage tomorrow, you’re saying that over a period of time it’ll be phased in, because a lot of people think going from $7.25, which is the current minimum wage, to $15 is a big hike if you are a smaller business, for example.
MOORE: Well, yeah, that’s understood. I mean, 15 Now was founded on the idea that the McDonald’s, Walmart, big retailers like Target, etc., they can afford to pay 15 tomorrow. They can afford to pay 15 now. And our demand is, yes, that we want the big corporations who’ve seen fabulous profits, whose CEOs are making often 500 times that of their lowest-paid workers, we want to see a rapid transformation of them implementing 15 and more.
The political reality is when we fight for this against politicians who are often funded by these same corporations at the local and national level, is that, yes, when we get to policy levels, we’ve had to make compromises. Fifteen now was disappointed in the slow phase-in process in Seattle. Of course we have to take into account the situation [incompr.] small businesses, longer phase-in times, or giving them tax subsidies or other methods to make sure that workers see a $15 raise as quickly as possible, but not at the expense of small business. But overall, the bulk of workers in this country work for major employers who could afford to pay 15 yesterday.
PERIES: And 15, if you work a full 40 hour week, is only about $30,000, and after taxes it’s more like $24,000 a year. That’s $2000 a month–not a lot to live on when you have a family.
MOORE: That’s absolutely right. Here in Seattle, for example, an average one-bedroom apartment is now going for $1,500 a month. So you do the math–$2000 a month for a full-time worker, that’s simply not enough. I mean, we’re not saying $15 is a living wage. And, in fact, if you ask most supporters of the 15 Now movement, they would say, yeah, it’s just a starting point. It’s achieved a symbolic significance because fast food workers pioneered the demand. But in most cases we’re saying that’s just a starting point in a wider struggle to make sure that nobody in this country needs to live in poverty. We live in the richest country in the history of the world. Wall Street has hoarded trillions of dollars in offshore accounts, etc. If we had a powerful enough movement that could reset the priorities of this country, there’s no reason we couldn’t eradicate poverty completely, we couldn’t pay everybody a living wage who works a full-time job.
PERIES: Alright, Ty. I wish you a lot of luck tomorrow. And we’ll be following this story. So stay tuned to The Real News Network. And thank you.
And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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