Minimum wage campaign

What is happening to our cities?

Here (http://darkarethedays.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/capitals-image-of-seattle/) is an excellent study of how Seattle has changed, how it has become gentrified. In describing Seattle, the writer (Jordan Martinez, a member of Socialist Alternative in that city) is also describing what has happened, or is happening, in many other US cities. What he explains leads to some practical conclusions for socialists and others who want to change things (for the better). Or, as Karl Marx said: “Philosophers before me have only tried to interpret the world. The point, however, is to change it.”

In the past, these cities were industrial centers. Following WW II, we saw the “white flight” from these centers. Now, in many areas, they are reflecting a shift in the US economy – away from industrial production and towards finance, on the one hand, and high tech on the other. Together with that shift, we are seeing a reversal of that “white flight” and towards gentrification. This is what Jordan describes in his article, which could as well have been written about San Francisco (where that process has been pretty well completed) or Oakland (where it is just starting to get underway.)

What this means for socialists

What this means for socialists: Jordan notes that “the Seattle left” was generally absent from the protests about the police killing of the young Latino man, Oscar Perez Giron. As he notes, the politics involved were complicated by the fact that it seems Oscar had pulled a gun, but there were all the surrounding factors, including the fear of being deported. And in the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, there were no such complicating factors, and yet the socialist left was just as absent.

The producers of this blog site believe that capitalism is at the root cause of the crises that we all face. This includes the question of racism, or, as Malcolm X put it: “you can’t have capitalism without racism.” In the 1960s, this idea was widespread, as Malcom X’s comment shows, and many young people were dedicated to building a movement that would resolve all these issues by overthrowing capitalism itself. This included thousands of black and Latino youth. But things were a lot more complicated than many of those youth (of all colors and backgrounds) thought at that time, and partly because of this, the ideas of socialism were thrown back.

Now, those ideas are starting to get a new hearing, but we have to be honest with ourselves: Most socialist groups are made up mainly of white, college-educated people who work in professional or semi-professional jobs. That is not a condemnation of those groups; it’s just the way it is and it is caused by a variety of factors, many of which are beyond the control of these groups. But we have to be very conscious of this shortcoming – not in the sense of feeling guilty or “inferior”, but simply aware that the experiences of a large sector of the working class does not fully penetrate the thinking and activity of our different socialist groups. But yet it is exactly their thinking and consciousness that makes those most oppressed layers the most potentially revolutionary in US society.

Campaigns

Some socialists might claim that campaigns like that for a higher minimum wage, or the campaigns around fast food build the links with these most oppressed layers. But that is not true as they have been run. “15 Now” in Seattle, for instance, did precious little to actually draw in minimum and low wage workers, such as grocery clerks. And the present SEIU-run fast food campaigns suffer from the same lack. In how many cases have the fast food workers at some McDonalds or KFC actually gone out on strike to shut down their work place?

Something to offer; something to learn

Conscious socialists – those who have devoted their adult lives to this cause – of course have something to offer. But they also have a lot to learn from those whose lives have been so different, especially those living in the margins of US society.

 

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