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Seattle Workers Win $15 an Hour Minimum Wage
Photo: Seattle rally for $15 an hour minimum wage. Working class mobilizations and the election of a socialist city council member were key to making this victory possible.
Seattle Workers Win $15 an Hour Minimum Wage
by Steven Argue
Seattle workers have just won a $15 an hour minimum wage. Businesses with more than 500 employees will need to phase in the pay increase to $15 within 3 years, employers with under 500 employees will have 5 years to do it. After pay is raised, it is to be increased with a mandatory 2.4% pay increase per year, regardless of inflation. After 5 years, tips will no longer be counted as part of minimum pay and all employers will be required to pay the minimum wage, regardless of tips.
A strong movement mobilized in Seattle to bring this victory. Central to the victory was the recent election of Kshama Sawant, a socialist, to the City Council. She threatened to take the question to the voters in November if a compromise was not reached. Her referendum would have lacked any phasing in of the wage increases for big businesses and smaller businesses, with 250 employees or smaller, would have had 3 years to phase in the wage increases.
The increase will effect 102,000 workers in Seattle who are currently making less less than $15 an hour.
Kshama Sawant is a member of Socialist Alternative, a group I have many disagreements with. Yet, many of her platform proposals closely resembled mine when I ran for Santa Cruz City Council in 2000 and 2002. The Seattle Times wrote of her platform, "She shunned standard Seattle issues and lasered in on three platform proposals: a millionaire’s tax, a $15 an hour citywide minimum wage and rent control."
When I ran for Santa Cruz City Council I got 3,000 votes. This represented a respectable percentage in a much smaller town than Seattle. It was also respectable with me running against establishment Democrats whose backing by the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie made their budgets many orders of magnitudes higher than mine. In addition, I was slandered in the same corporate media that backed the establishment candidates. Among those establishment candidates was Mike Rotkin, a man who simultaneously claimed to be a socialist and at the same time was a Democrat opposed increasing the minimum wage, opposed rent-control, supported anti-homeless laws, supported laws against the homeless, and supported police repression and police brutality.
Mike Rotkin in fact answered my position that minimum wage should be doubled with a false air of authority saying municipalities cannot raise the minimum wage, and if they could, they on the Santa Cruz City Council would have done it long ago. This was proven a double lie when Mike Rotkin later campaigned against an increase in the minimum wage when it was put on the ballot. The measure was, unfortunately defeated in Santa Cruz, in part through threats from employers of firing workers if it was passed.
The fact that Kshama Sawant was able to win in the Seattle election reflects a growing change in the mood of the American proletariat and youth. All revolutionary socialists should take note of these development. As I've said, I have strong criticisms of the program of Kshama Sawant's party. Frankly, I do not think they are a party with a strong enough revolutionary and anti-imperialist program to transform this country to the degree that is needed. Yet, rather than the sectarian snarls common from certain groups, we should both be prepared to defend and criticize Kshama Sawant as necessary. This is not a moment for that criticism. It is rather a time to send out congratulations to the workers of Seattle for winning the highest minimum wage in this country, congratulations to Sawant for her role in that victory, and a time of applying the positive lessons of Seattle across the country. One of those key lessons is that the labor movement of Seattle broke from their traditional support to the capitalist and anti-worker Democrat Party and instead elected a working class socialist candidate. This was a key to victory.
-Steven Argue of the Revolutionary Tendency
I said Seattle workers won a higher minimum wage and technically in terms of legal formalities this is not true. My mistake was based on reports that negotiations had come up with the agreement I reported and had been announced by the mayor. I was not aware that those negotiations were of an advisory board appointed by the mayor. This was a handpicked body that contained big businesses like McDonald's and no minimum wage workers. Some negotiating bodies do make binding agreements, but I was mistaken to think this was one of them. This decision will still need to be approved by the Seattle City Council. Still, there should be little doubt that based on the decision of that advisory board and mayor the minimum wage is going up to $15 an hour, the question at this point is how fast. I was excited when I read this news and accidentally passed on mistakes contained in those early reports that I read. This was not due to any dishonesty on my part, but a mistake. I apologize for that mistake.
This decision of the advisory board and mayor is due to pressure exerted by socialist city council member Kshama Sawant and the movement for $15.
In addition, while I do think that the wage increase announced by Seattle's mayor is a major victory, there are people in Seattle saying this implementation is not fast enough. I say the faster the better, but was willing to support the increases proposed based on the fact that they are a major improvement and will serve as an inspiration across the country. I also support efforts to implement the increases faster. So I also have no problem with Kshama Sawant when she says implementation is not fast enough and pressure must be continued. I'll let Kshama Sawant explain her position: