Monday, February 16, 2015

The Prairie Seattle?

Kick off for City-wide $15 an Hour Minimum / Living Wage Campaign in Minneapolis

Last night, a group of 200 workers and activists at the Minneapolis Labor Center heard Kshama Sawant and a group of local workers, community activists and Minneapolis City Council members speak on the need to raise the minimum wage in Minneapolis to $15 an hour.  Sawant is the history-making socialist who won a council seat in Seattle, Washington, which helped move that city to a $15 an hour minimum wage, the first city in the U.S. to do so.  SEATAC, the airport south of Seattle, had approved a $15 an hour minimum wage earlier.  These events are what helped trigger the movement at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International airport for $15, which has led to several demonstrations at the airport (more planned).  It also led to the firing of Kip Hedges by union-busting, Atlanta-based Delta Airlines.  Hedges is baggage handler and long-time labor activist at the airport. 
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune did not cover the event, based on a scan of the on-line paper today.  This is typical for a paper that serves the interests of Minnesota’s capitalist elite. However, there is a lead story on a scandal involving a 'stolen' routine by a dance team from Faribault, Minnesota. 

The rally was hosted by Ty Moore, who ran for City Council in the 9th Ward of Minneapolis as a member of Socialist Alternative, supporting $15 an hour and against evictions.  He pointed out that this movement was also going on in cities across the country like Los Angeles, Boston and Portland. 

1. The first speaker was a representative of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), an organization dedicated to fighting the large ethnic income gap in Minneapolis/St. Paul.  NOC is primarily based on economic points – opposing wage theft, getting sick time for workers and the $15 an hour minimum wage.  

2. The next speaker was a fast food worker and activist from the Latino organization – Centro de Trabajores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL).  As was pointed out several times, it has been fast-food workers who first sparked the protest and strike movement for $15 an hour.  He spoke of not being able to live on fast food wages, even with several jobs.  This is the situation millions are finding themselves in, something also noted by Kip Hedges in his talk related to workers at MSP Airport.  3. A North African woman from Seattle also spoke on the impossibility of surviving on the present minimum wage, as two-bedroom apartments were going for $1,200 a month in Seattle. 

4. Kip Hedges spoke about Delta Airlines finally telling him that the internal appeal of his termination was over and was rejected, based on his alleged ‘poor working habits’ or some such rot.  I paraphrase, but they wrote that they hoped he would be ‘successful in his future endeavors.’  He promised a federal case, backed up by witnesses at the airport over his so-called poor work performance.  As anyone knows, the capitalists will terminate ‘at will’ employees for any reason at all, especially cooked-up ‘performance’ issues that somehow never existed prior to that moment.  Airport workers in St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have all won a $15/hr minimum wage, according to Labor Notes. Another demonstration at the MSP airport is planned for the near future.

5. The city council member representing the Northeast Ward #3 gave a slick speech, but said he needed more information over the economic impact of $15 an hour.  6. The oddest moment of the evening came when Alondro Cano and Moore embraced/shook hands.  Cano defeated Moore for the 9th Ward spot this November.  Cano gave an enthusiastic speech endorsing $15 an hour in Minneapolis.  As a Democrat she defeated Moore with a combination of real estate industry money and robo-calls by DFL luminaries like Al Franken.  It has been noted that Cano’s real base is Latino businessmen.  But she said that she would fight for low-wage workers, who are mostly Latino, Somali and African-American. 

7.  Lastly Kshama Sawant spoke, a speech most people had come to hear.  Sawant indicated that the $15 an hour campaign was not just some isolated, stand-alone movement, but a transitional demand that would put the working class on the offensive and unite various organizations and sectors of the class to continue a fight against other aspects of capitalism.  She said this several times.  Essentially she drew a more clear picture of the ‘two America’s’ beloved of Democratic Party politicians when they are running for office. – something they forget the minute they are in power.  She painted it as the corporate capitalist 'bosses' on one side and the working class on the other.  She didn’t use the term ‘class war’ or ‘class conflict’ to describe the $15 an hour campaign, but she might as well have.  Sawant described the opposition to $15 an hour in Seattle in some detail.  Seattle, like Minneapolis, is a one-party town run by the Democratic Party.  Monster corporations like Starbucks suddenly were pretending to represent the independent corner coffee shop.   Establishment politicians lied about the $15 an hour movement, claiming that there would be a ‘tip credit’ and tipped workers would not get the basic wage.  This was absolutely untrue and tipped workers became some of the strongest supporters of $15.  In Seattle an exception was carved out for small businesses so they would have more time to adapt.  Sawant made it clear that small business should not exist at the expense of poverty-stricken workers and low pay.  Sawant pointed out that if more Democrats had supported the effort, the law could have been much stronger.

Sawant and others reminded the crowd that 90% of the economic gains since the Great Recession have all gone to the top 5% of the population.  Not to mention the losses since the late 1970s before that.  I would wager that the other 10% went to the next 5%.   A recent report from DEED shows that the living wage in Hennepin County where Minneapolis is located is $17.90, so even $15 an hour is not enough, or unreasonable.  The $15 Campaign is aware of this. Minneapolis/St. Paul have the highest concentration of fortune 500 companies in the cities of this size. 

Missing was Cam Gordon, Minneapolis City Council member whose Green Party has had $15 an hour on its platform for years.  Cam told me he was invited, but was not able to make it. So there are actually 2 people on the city council in favor of $15.  There were no official representatives of any union body, though the audience had many union members in it, including members of SEIU.  The reason why was not clear.  This might reflect the state of our present union movement more than anything else, or perhaps invitations were declined.
Working America, CTUL, NOC and $15 Now will have a meeting on Saturday, February 28th at 2:00 PM at 911 West Broadway to plan this campaign in detail.  Volunteers are urged to attend to build the campaign. 

Red Frog
February 16, 2015

PS - Today is President’s Day in the U.S.  Washington was a revolutionary and Lincoln was the leader of a 2nd American revolution.  Now the U.S. is a counter-revolutionary country, turning into its opposite.  Time to correct that. 

PPS:  - Liberal Democratic Party Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges publicly puked on her blouse on Friday by announcing that she did not support $15 an hour.  This statement will come back to haunt her.  It is interesting that when the actual Left rises, the Democrats' pro-capitalism is exposed. The thing they most fear is not Republicans, but an actual left that can affect them - and replace them.


Anonymous said...

By the way, here's another report on the event from the St. Paul Union advocate:

Red Frog said...

Thanks. Good the Advocate covered it.