On Saturday, April 26, some 400 activists and socialists gathered in Seattle to participate in the national “15 Now” conference. They came primarily from Seattle, but also from all over the country, including from as far away as Mobile, Alabama.
The conference and Socialist Alternative’s 15 Now campaign should be considered in its context. For decades now, there has been a general mood of resignation within the US working class – a feeling that nothing can be done to reverse the general course of things. This ranges from the most obvious issue of income levels and economic security to other issues like poisoning of the environment. In 2012, one of the first warning signs of a new movement sprang to life in the form of the Occupy movement. According to one person I talked with here (who is not a member of any socialist group), Socialist Alternative was really the only socialist group that was very present in Occupy Seattle and consistently sided with the left wing of that movement. Most prominent of the Socialist Alternative members in Occupy was Kshama Sawant, and that played an important role in Socialist Alternative and Sawant winning a base among the radicalized youth.
It is also clear that Sawant’s election victory has helped the consciousness here in Seattle. For instance, I was in a coffee shop here and got to talking with a young mother sitting next to me. This was a pretty middle class woman, but she was definitely aware of Sawant (she liked her “passion”) as well as the issue of the fifteen dollar minimum wage. She had some doubts about it, but those doubts were easily put to rest. (See this article.)
Although Socialist Alternative had been hoping for up to 1000 at the fifteen now conference, even 400 is not a bad outcome and would not have been possible had Sawant not won the election. (Probably close to 200 were Socialist Alternative members.)
Involving Low Wage Workers
However, the conference also showed that the campaign has not really made any major headway in breaking into exactly that sector who most need a $15 per hour minimum wage – single working parents, black and Latino youth, etc. From the outside, it is impossible to know for sure if this is because of the orientation of Socialist Alternative or because it is exactly these layers who feel the most depressed and abandoned.
Whatever the reason, it must be admitted that the orientation and strategy of Socialist Alternative – who run “15 Now” – does not help.
Mayor’s “Income Inequality Advisory Committee”
Sawant was elected partly through the support of a layer of the union leadership. Several locals endorsed her and the majority of the delegates to the central labor council voted to give a joint endorsement to Sawant and her opponent. Because her campaign for a $15 per hour minimum wage for all and immediately really hit a nerve, the newly elected mayor was forced to appoint an “Income Inequality Advisory Committee” to study the issue of the minimum wage. This committee, however, was stacked in favor of big business, but it had as a co-chair David Rolf, head of the SEIU local in Seattle. Clearly, the intent of the committee was to suck in the union leadership to give them the appearance that they had some real influence – “a seat at the table” as they say. That is nothing new.
What was new was the presence of Sawant. How would she relate to this?
We don’t know what she was doing for the first few months she was in office, but we do know that she had said she would try to “work with” the other city council members. What seems most likely is that this was coming from the union leadership. Although the composition of the committee made it clear that they would not come up with anything acceptable as far as a minimum wage proposal, Sawant and Socialist Alternative did not have a real strategy to combat them. The first mistake they made was to wait to file a ballot initiative until this late date. Even now, it was made clear at the conference that it was only filed to pressure the city council. “To pressure the city council, the threat of a ballot initiative has to be credible,” said Socialist Alternative leader Jess Spears. This sort of comment was repeated throughout the conference. Sawant, herself, said “If the council doesn’t do what 67% of their constituents want them to do, we’ll take the charter amendment (the ballot initiative) to the voters.”
Read More:15 Now conference report
Categories: Minimum wage campaign