The War for Quadrant Two

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Archive for May, 2014

► A Tug on the Leash for the 15 Now Campaign – [WQ2.14.05.25]

Posted by Ben Seattle on May 25, 2014

A Tug on the Leash for the 15 Now Campaign

Seattle, May 25 — The 15 Now campaign was initiated in the mood of euphoria which prevailed shortly after the victory of Kshama

Sawant, who openly campaigned as a “socialist” and, in a historic victory, was elected to the Seattle city council.

At first, it appeared to many that all Seattle workers would soon be making at least $15 an hour.  Both mayoral candidates in the November 2013 election had supported $15.  The city council was favorable also.  And the city’s hip, cool Stranger newspaper (which had worked so hard to get Sawant elected) and the powerful trade union bureaucrats were backing the $15 campaign to the hilt.

More than this, Sawant’s Socialist Alternative organization, which created the “15 Now” organization in January, had a foolproof “back-up plan” if the promises of the Mayor and city council turned out to be empty: a city charter amendment that could be taken to the voters in November and which could harvest the overwhelming popular support for a big hike in the minimum wage, as reported in a poll announced by the Stranger.

What could possibly go wrong?

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It turns out that all the usual things could go wrong.  The proposal backed by the mayor and the city council is widely known for having “more holes than swiss cheese”, and growing new holes daily as the mayor and city council scramble to get approval for the plan from the corporate moneybags who really runs the city.  Instead of 15 Now, the current plan is more like 14 in ten years, and may not even apply to things like “training wages”—which would be widely applied in the fast food industry—which typically has a 90 percent annual turnover in its workforce.

How about the back-up plan?  Well it turns out there is a problem with that also.  15 Now avoided collecting signatures until recently, in order to avoid offending the mayor and trade union bureaucrats—who complained that launching such a ballot initiative would amount to “class war”.

At this time it is unclear if the 15 Now organization will even be able to collect the 50 thousand signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot.  And even if enough signatures are collected—it appears likely that the 15 Now leadership has little stomach for a serious fight against corporate interests this fall—which would challenge the ballot measure with truckloads of money.

And the poll results breathlessly announced by the Stranger showing overwhelming support for $15 hour?  It turns out the poll was not based on realistic conditions.  More realistic would be to first subject people who answer the poll to dozens of hours to slick, lying TV, radio and newspaper ads (such as we would be bombarded with this fall) that dramatically describe how a higher minimum wage would wreck the economy and cost the poll-taker to lose his job, home and family.

There is another, more important reason that the 15 Now organization is unlikely to go forward with a ballot initiative: their “allies” would desert them in a heartbeat.  The trade union bureaucrats, whose entire careers are based on their ability to sell out workers, have made clear that they oppose the ballot initiative and will side with the mayor.  Here is the revealing quote, by a commentator at Al Jazeera:

David Rolf, who co-chaired the mayor’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee, which drafted the initial plan, and is the president of Service Employees International Union Healthcare 775NW, told me he stood by the “delicately constructed” deal but would support a ballot initiative if the current bill were “watered down further.” However, even after the latest changes — the training wage, weakened enforcement and loophole for franchises — Rolf responded in an email, “We fully support the ordinance submitted by Mayor Murray to the city council and encourage the council to pass the ordinance as is.”

It would be great if 15 Now, against the internal logic of everything they have done so far, went ahead with a ballot fight this fall.  Win or lose—an open fight would raise the consciousness of a large number of people and open up space for independent work in favor of a higher minimum wage.  That is what I am hoping for.  But I expect to be disappointed.  We must recognize, on the basis of political sobriety—that 15 Now is more likely to settle for the crumbs they can get from the Mayor and city council.  They could still call it a big win.  Here, again, is Al Jazeera:

Observers expect the bill to pass by the end of May. If it passes, the win — though imperfect — will validate Socialist Alternative’s approach, swell its ranks and crack open more space for socialist politics in the United States.

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It must be said that “socialist politics in the United States” are increasingly looking to be indisguishable from good, old-fashioned social democracy.  One might think (and this author certainly does) that the ruling bourgeoisie in the U.S. got frightened by the independence and militancy of the Occupy movement, and has decided to experiment with opening up a little space for social democratic trends which are nominally independent of the Democratic Party—as long as they are well-trained and well-behaved.  What we are witnessing right now, imho, is the process of training.

— Ben Seattle



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