By putting a measure on the ballot (Initiative One) that is really for a $15/hour minimum wage now for almost all workers in Tacoma, 15 Now Tacoma has created a bit of a stir. They certainly have shaken up the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce: After seeing the speech of Mike Ladd of 15 Now Tacoma on May Day, the Chamber jumped to it, contacted Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland and got her to set up a commission to come up with something that they hope will short circuit Initiative One. They also shook up the would-be junior partners of the Chamber – those union leaders who think that it’s impossible to go toe-to-toe with big business and win and are therefore unwilling to even try. And they also shook up 15 Now nationally and the “controlling partner” (one could say) inside that group – Socialist Alternative.
Well, maybe it’s not quite correct to say they were shaken up. They simply toed the line that their senior partners – the union leadership – has set. While publicly they and 15 Now nationally are simply ignoring 15 Now Tacoma, in private they’ve argued that the Tacoma chapter should drop the ballot initiative, approach the union leadership and go with whatever the union leadership is willing to support.
One wing of the union leadership in Tacoma has supported 15 Now Tacoma by both endorsing it and giving some money. Others, however, seem only willing to support what the Chamber of Commerce won’t fight tooth and nail. This means conceding to the Chamber in practice. Ironically, those union leaders who take this position “represent” the members who would benefit the most from a $15/hour minimum wage, such as janitors, grocery clerks and home care workers.
Argument to Fall in Line
The argument goes like this: If these union leaders won’t support it, and the unions as a whole won’t really get behind it in a big way, it can’t win, and a defeat will set back the movement. Why devote time an energy to an election campaign that is going to crash and burn? Haven’t we gone down that road before with other causes?
Initiative One Can Win
In the first place, it’s by no means certain that it can’t win without the union leadership. It’s not easy to get a measure on the ballot, and the fact that 15 Now Tacoma was able to do that with small forces says a lot. Of course, the lack of support from Socialist Alternative and their Seattle city council member Kshama Sawant makes it more difficult, but even then it’s still not doomed.
Building a Wider Movement
But the main point is this: Are we just trying to win a few more dollars on some workers pay checks, or are we raising the issue of the minimum wage to build a wider movement of working class people, one that is independent of big business and all their representatives, including the Democrats (which includes Bernie Sanders)? Isn’t it the latter really what’s needed? And, in fact, isn’t it by building a wider movement that it will be easier to win the immediate reforms?
Union Leadership and Collective Bargaining Opt-Out
What will the entire union leadership be willing to really support?
First and foremost, they are committed to opposing any sort of campaign that opposes the Democrats or threatens labor’s dependence on them, nor will they support anything that is opposed by all wings of big business. This means they will not support a campaign to bring minimum wage workers up to $15/hour now.
Then there is the “collective bargaining opt-out” (CBO) clause. The CBO exempts unionized employers from having to pay the new minimum wage. This was written into the SeaTac airport minimum wage ordinance. It was demanded of 15 Now in Seattle by the hotel workers union leadership (and supported by Socialist Alternative). It was written into the hotel minimum wage bill in Los Angeles. It’s not a far stretch to imagine that at least some of the union leadership would want it in any Tacoma minimum wage bill.
The CBO exemplifies the union-management “partnership” that these leaders live by (or one could say live by in the dream world they inhabit). As David Rolf, president of SEIU 775, explained it, it means “offering the olive branch to employers of good conscience.” (When Rolf finds such employers, we hope he lets us know.) What he really means is offering the white flag to any employer who doesn’t oppose letting Rolf and his type collect dues from that employer’s underpaid workers. If the likes of Rolf were willing to take a pay cut down to the sub-$15/hour wage that their members try to live on, we could at least take them seriously. They’d be mistaken, but at least they’d be for real. Their real attitude is best seen in the comment of another top officer of 775, Adam Glickman, who is quoted as calling Proposition One “divisive”. It’s true, it is divisive: It clarifies the division between the working class and the employers and their politicians. (Note: We tried to talk with Glickman to clarify his position, but he didn’t return our calls.) As it is, they’re demanding sacrifices that they’re not willing to make. There is a word for this.
Imagine how the workers feel when they’re told, “you are taking a pay cut because you’re a union member.” That is not exactly calculated to increasing the support for unionism. It’s not going to increase the fighting spirit of workers in the least. And even on what amounts to an anti-union position (the CBO), Socialist Alternative has no opposition. They want 15 Now Tacoma to concede even to this, as they themselves did in Seattle.
There is no way to use the issue of a $15 minimum wage now to build a wider movement with this approach.
Instead, imagine if 15 Now Tacoma took Proposition One directly to the union members who are currently making less than that amount, starting with the courtesy clerks in the unionized grocery stores. Imagine if they urged them and helped them organize to get their union to back Proposition One. That would include not only financial support, but getting their local to really organize their members and their members’ families to campaign for it. Imagine if 15 Now Tacoma were able to get some of these members to make the link between this and the need for a real, fighting union – one which organizes and fights for its members every day on the job (and off). If they are able to accomplish that, then even if Proposition One fails at the ballot box, it will have won.
As for those who still aren’t convinced, those who want to wait and wait some more for a $15/hr minimum wage for all: Then the least they could do is change their slogan to “15 Sometime”.
Categories: Minimum wage campaign