15 Now in Seattle has filed a ballot initiative (more than one, actually, for legal reasons) to increase Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 per hour starting January, 2015. The increase would apply immediately to some but not most workers and would be phased in over 3 years for nearly all. If it wins, this will mean a significant improvement in the standard of living for workers in Seattle. It will also help set the standard for workers elsewhere, and therefore all workers everywhere should support it.
The initiative does have some weaknesses, however, the main one being that workers for employers of less than 250 workers and non-profits, including hospitals, will not see the full benefits for three years. These workers compose a decisive majority of Seattle’s work force. It was evidently determined by the Socialist Alternative leadership that these concessions were necessary to give the initiative a chance of passing. Writing from here in Oakland, it is impossible to judge that, although it does appear that this decision was based as much as trying to win over a sector of the union hierarchy as it was based on convince workers in Seattle.
If that is true, then this is a mistaken orientation. The main basis for decision making is what will be most likely to help build a wider movement of workers and youth.
The initiative does come down on the right side of an even more decisive question: Whether workers who are working under a union contract will be exempted from this initiative. Such an exclusion is in the minimum wage initiative passed for the Sea Tac (Seattle) airport area. Initially it was not clear at all that this would not be in whatever initiative 15 Now campaign filed in Seattle. However, it seems that the major unions which have workers working at under $15 per hour (service workers and grocery workers) are not backing the initiative. It is exactly the members of these unions who stand the most to gain from the initiative. Therefore a campaign amongst these workers to help them organize to get their unions to back the initiative should be part of the overall campaign.
The other question is whether the campaign for 15 Now will link up with other workers’ struggles in Seattle. This includes the struggle of immigrant workers, especially immigrant youth, against deportation; the struggle for better pay for all workers; and the struggle for decent jobs for all.
Hopefully, the initiative will pass. However, if nothing else comes out of this campaign but helping the low wage union members organize to change their unions, as well as linking up these different but related issues, then this will be a real step forward.