The War for Quadrant Two

Quadrant two will prove to be the quadrant of victory for the proletariat

► Hard choices for “15 Now” Campaign – [WQ2.14.04.20]

Posted by Ben Seattle on April 20, 2014

The 15 Now Campaign May Soon Be Facing Some Hard Choices

Hi Art,

This letter is intended to be a summary of what we learned at the “15 Now” organizing group meeting yesterday, as well as related observations we have made.

The key question that comes up concerns compromises.

The 15 Now campaign is strong only because it is propped up by their “allies” — a section of trade union bureaucrats, news institutions like the Stranger, and a section of the local Democratic Party machine. (Below, for example, is a photo showing the infamous Democratic Party hack Larry Gossett, one of their sponsors, representing them at the press conference where they announced that they were filing for a ballot initiative.)


The problem the 15 Now campaign faces is that their allies are dead-set opposed to the kind of clear-cut victory for the campaign that would inspire the working class locally, and in the rest of the country. Their allies, it appears, will only support a token, minimalist victory for the campaign–where the $15 minimum wage is phased in over years and subject to “carve-outs” (ie: where tips, health insurance, employee parking spots, and a pat on the head from the boss are all counted as part of their “wage”).

The three year phase-in: probably not that big a deal

So far the campaign has made concessions that are not too drastic (although some on the left, who tended to view this campaign with stars in their eyes, are objecting). The most significant concession, so far, is phasing in the wage increase over three years for “small businesses” with less than 250 workers. Most people probably tend to think of a small business as a Mom and Pop operation with 5 or 6 full or part-time employees. So defining a “small business” as being one with less than 250 workers is a stretch–and the first of what is likely to be a series of insults by the leadership to supporters of the campaign.

But at least the requirement of 250 workers does not apply to franchises: so the local MacDonalds or Subway will not be considered a small business–because regardless of their formal legal status–they are in reality little more than point-of-sale locations for mega corporations.

More important, the three year phase-in is not likely to be demoralizing to the working class–because this would still be preceived (correctly) as a huge victory. Even if the 3 year phase-in applied to every employer, regardless of size–this would still represent a huge victory.

Unfortunately, it appears to me that the 15 Now campaign may soon be considering further concessions–of a kind that would represent caving in to the insistence of their “allies” that there be no clear-cut and unambiguous victory for the working class.

Carve-Outs: A much bigger problem

The big problem will be “carve outs”, the so-called “credit” for tips and health insurance. Another big (and outrageous) carve-out concerns union contracts–where a worker would end up making *less* than the minimum wage because his or her contract was negotiated by a union. Yes: the trade union bureaucrats (TUB’s) want this. Some are insisting on this. To the treacherous TUB’s, the workers are a commodity, like cattle, which they sell to the bosses. They want to be able to tell the bosses: “deal with us, and get your workers cheap!”.

Carve-outs would represent a far larger concession than the three year phase-in for the simple reason that these carve-outs would have a far larger long-term impact on the wages of tens of thousands of workers. Combining the $15 minimum wage with these carve-outs could leave a big section of workers with only a little more than what they have now. Theoretically, some could even be worse off. And this is what the “allies” of the 15 Now campaign want: a marginal, token victory that “officially” can be called a “success” but which also makes it clear to their bourgeois masters that they are reliable underlings–and that they can continue to be trusted–to keep things under control–and to keep the working class demoralized.

We are fighting a conscious class enemy

We need to consider this from the perspective of “our” ruling class (ie: the ruling bourgeoisie, the one percent). They are experimenting with open (and nominally independent of the Democratic Party) social democracy in the Unites States. They know that social democracy has been a tried and tested means of cooling off and safely dispersing the anger of the masses that erupts when austerity is implemented (in the last few years we have seen this most prominently in Europe and Brazil). Our ruling class knows, in short, that we may be entering a period where social democracy is necessary if they intend to maintain the illusion that fundamental change is possible without all the scary and dangerous forces that will be unleashed when the masses rise up to overthrow bourgeois class rule.

But if our ruling class needs social democracy–they also need a social democracy that is reliable, cheap–and (above all) well-trained (see graphic below).


What we saw at the meeting Saturday

I do not believe it would be correct for me to directly quote anything anyone said at the meeting in this public blog post. The meeting itself had a public character, but I did not announce that I would be writing about it. More to the point, people who spoke did not view themselves as making public statements. However I believe it is correct (and necessary) to describe the subjective impressions we formed of the thinking of people around the campaign inasmuch as these things may shed light on events that may unfold in the near future. These events may become important to the movement and to the working class, and for this reason it is our responsibility to report on what we saw.

The most striking observation I made during the meeting was the extent to which a number of people around the campaign viewed the success of the campaign as being entirely dependent on support from the TUB’s. The basic view which dominated was that the campaign was weak on the steet–and could only reach large numbers of people if the TUB’s mobilized “their” rank and file union members. This is not reassuring inasmuch as this will probably not happen until hell freezes over.  The TUB’s have a well-known history, in thousands of struggles, of withdrawing their support at the most critical possible moment. That is what they do. That is their purpose on this earth, along with selling the workers like cattle to employers.

At this time the TUB’s have distanced themselves from the campaign on the grounds that the campaign is alienating potential supporters by filing for a ballot initiative and resisting carve-outs and so forth. The TUB’s are arguing that success requires a much greater margin of support–that can only be gained with further concessions. Where have we heard this argument before?

People around the 15 Now campaign were discussing various practical forms of independent work to mobilize the masses–which is good. But what is not so good is that supporters of the campaign (at least those we observed Saturday) argued that support from the TUB’s was decisive–rather than promoting a realistic attitude concerning what can be expected from the TUB’s–and were focused pretty much exclusively on winning back their support. The predominant view was that the withdrawal of support by the TUB’s was a temporary bargaining tactic by the TUB’s which is likely to last only a few weeks (and this is a possibility–see the graphic above). But no one thought it was important to discuss the possibility that the TUB’s may simply stand by their refusal to lift a finger to support the campaign if the campaign refuses to make deeper concessions.

What happens if the TUB’s refuse to blink?

What happens if the campaign loses the “support” of treacherous sponsors like Democratic Party hack Larry Gossett? What happens if the campaign loses support from the “Stranger”?

In that case–their ship could sink.

If the 15 Now campaign does not believe they can “go it alone” with the support of the working class but without the support of their treacherous and vacillating allies–then they may feel compelled to make bigger concessions.

This is the logic of their present situation.

But their problem is that if they make bigger concessions in order to secure support from their “allies”–they are likely to lose support from the working class–which may not be enthusiastic about a struggle which would, at best, produce a marginal result.

The campaign leadership has gone on record saying that they will not fall into this trap. But this may be what is called “conspicuous denial” (like when Richard Nixon said “I am not a crook”):

“Socialist Alternative completely rejects
the all-too-common mistake of endlessly
watering down our policies to pacify big
business and chasing after ‘swing voters,’
which only succeeds in demoralizing and
undermining our own base of support.”

Will SA and the 15 Now leadership stand firm or cave when the hacks stand like rock and refuse to budge? Again–for a clue to what is likely to happen–see the graphic above.

I hope I am wrong but my guess is that the 15 Now will cave. They don’t appear to be preparing their supporters to “go it alone” for a long fight–this is what we saw yesterday and is probably what we will see at their big conference on the 26th. They may see themselves as too weak (and be too weak) to stand alone without the hacks, without Larry Gossett and without the Stranger–which is what they are risking if they refuse to act like an obedient dog. This all flows from the simple fact that they may have little real ability to reach the masses and mobilize the masses without help from their treacherous allies. This is why they may be vulnerable (and have been vulnerable from day one) to this kind of blackmail.

What would happen, realistically, if they were to stand firm and refuse to give in to the blackmail of their allies? Would their campaign be crushed this fall when big business floods the airwaves with anti-15 propaganda?

Could be.

We recently saw how the big food chains swatted away the initiative to require labeling of GMO food. The rise of workers’ wage poses a far bigger threat to corporate profits than did a labeling requirement for breakfast cereal. And the corporate opposition will accordingly be far more vicious and powerful.

Get used to groveling and begging

On the other hand, if the ruling bourgeoisie is serious about giving their social democractic pets a leg up in this world–they have to give them *something*. But they don’t want to give them too much, too soon. They want them to grovel and beg. More than this–they want them to get used to groveling and begging.

We, of course, want the 15 Now campaign to be a success. It would be wonderful for the working class to have a clear and unmistakable victory–without a lot of carve-outs and other bullshit. But I suspect that is not going to happen because that is not the way the world works. The ruling class in the U.S. may be experimenting with social democracy, and they may recognize that, in the long-run, they may need social democracy. But they are also shrewd and experienced enough to understand that they do not need it instantly–and they do not need to overpay, today, for something that they can purchase at their leisure.

We need an independent movement of our class

We want the 15 Now campaign to be a success. But our ability to help make this happen is quite small. What we can do is work to understand what is going on: to give an analysis to other activists which helps them understand what social democracy is–and (most of all) the need to build a movement which is independent from social democracy–and which does have strength on the ground.

Building such a movement is within our power. But making this a reality requires sweeping away the dysfunctional thinking and practices that have paralyzed the left and reduced activists to having a choice between going passive and smashing their heads against a brick wall. Much of the thinking and practice that dominates our movement will need to be tossed in the trash as the need for politial transparency and theoretical clarity will increasingly make itself felt.

We can create a movement which can reach millions with (1) a clear analysis of the need to support every struggle, large or small, and (2) a clear and compelling explanation that no fundamental change can happen in this world until the working class overthrows the class rule of the bourgeoisie and runs the world itself. This will happen as a critical mass of activists with a critical level of consciousness comes together. Our job is to help to make this happen.

2 Responses to “► Hard choices for “15 Now” Campaign – [WQ2.14.04.20]”

  1. dreamsinsunshine said

    Was Larry Gossett necessary to get Kshama Sawant elected? I didn’t think so, but don’t know. He has his own house to clean up. He is responsible for putting no push back on the state for its ages old requirement for the county to create a juvenile detention center. Instead, he is responsible for just going along with what was asked for some many decades ago, … before it was clear that the numbers of juveniles needing a detention center had been steadily going down. He gave the capital hungry bond sellers put out a beginning $210,00,000’s worth for a new juvenile detention center. He claimed he didn’t know that the “excess beds” in the juvenile detention center, of which there may be as many as a hundred, will be used to “house” homeless children. Try to say that to people without hearing a gasp. He needs to retire. And there is nothing to lose by going for the whole $15 now since Murray et al are swearing they wanted a $15/hour minimum wage, and you know they want a phase in style. Why should anyone else give it put that package together for them? I’m for upping the amount to $20/hour to actually give people a chance to have a life.

  2. […] ► Hard choices for “15 Now” Campaign – [WQ2.14.04.20] […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: