By Jim Miller
As Doug Porter did an excellent job reporting last week, the stage is set for a battle royal over San Diego’s minimum wage increase. Despite the fact that 63% of San Diegans support raising the wage, Mayor Faulconer vetoed the ordinance, definitively proving that he is more loyal to local plutocrats than to the people of the city, particularly those who work hard for very little.
Yes, with a stroke of the pen, Kevin Faulconer denied a raise to 172,000 people and took away earned sick days for even more local workers, a move that disproportionately affects women and people of color. Just as one could begin to feel good about the fact that our city did the right thing and stood up for those of our friends and neighbors who are most in need of a hand up, Mayor Faulconer struck them down.
When it was time to love his neighbors, he slammed the door in their faces. Rather than living with a more than reasonable compromise that will help rather than harm the local economy, he chose to declare war on the poor instead.
Thus, if the City Council overrides the veto as expected, we will have the joy of experiencing yet another petition drive to put another initiative on the ballot funded by big money to undermine the decision of our representative government. As Porter and I have both noted, this perversely ironic subversion of the initiative process to serve the interests of the powerful against the powerless is a real threat to genuine democracy.
When lie and buy replaces deliberative governance our city politics become a sick joke.
And make no mistake–the joke is on you.
While this is not a big surprise to anyone who has been paying real attention to San Diego city politics for any length of time, one hopes that it will open the eyes of those who fell sway to all the “one San Diego” baloney Faulconer dished out during his campaign.
Surely there is nothing reasonable or moderate about throwing the city into yet another political war over such an eminently moderate increase in the local minimum wage. Indeed, it smacks of precisely the kind of top-down class war politics I wrote about quite extensively here during the mayor’s race. There is nothing nice or neighborhood-loving about it. It’s simply the politics of bullying–blaming the afflicted and comforting the affluent.
Think about what we’ve seen from this mayor in his short tenure: complicity in the killing of a real affordable housing measure, shameless lying in the bulldozing of the Barrio Logan plan, naked favoritism in his appointments of donors and developers while a visionary city planner like Bill Fulton walks out the door, and a steadfast commitment to crush the hopes of low wage workers.
This is not the policy résumé of a mayor who is “bringing us all together”– it’s a guy elected by the local elite to do their bidding by any means necessary, screw everybody else.
Meet the politics of extremism in action.
And what kind of economy does Faulconer’s extremism promote? One that makes sure the poor keep sinking. As the National Employment Law Project notes, “A full-time minimum wage worker’s real annual earnings have declined by nearly one-fourth in the last 30 years.” And this is at a time when the bad news just keeps rolling in for American workers. A Common Dreams report from last week had another round of devastating news for ordinary folks:
As of June 2014, adds a new analysis of private sector wages, average American worker real wages have dipped 16.2 percent since 1972, their record high point.
Fabulously good times for the ultra affluent. Struggling times for most everybody else. This bifurcated reality has essentially become America’s “new normal.”
In addition to the Russell Sage Foundation Study, the Common Dreams story also breaks down a new working paper done for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that echoes many of the key points of Thomas Piketty’s work. More specifically, the OECD report notes that “Our world’s deeply unequal market economies have no automatic ‘self-correcting’ mechanism” and that our profound inequality “generates ever-growing social pressures for still more imbalance” but that “people within those economies can correct them.”
Simply put, the “one market under God”-approach that folks like Kevin Faulconer and company embrace represents a triumph of ideology over economic reality. Left to its own devices the market will not do anything to address the plight of low-wage workers. Instead it will create pressure for yet more inequality unless “people within those economies” correct the excesses.
The OECD report goes on to discuss much bigger efforts than the minimum wage such as a wealth tax. Nonetheless one of the clear takeaways from this study and so much of the new work coming out on poverty and economic inequality is that the belief that there are market driven solutions to inequality and poverty is deeply misguided. Doing nothing will just make things worse.
What the City Council passed here in San Diego is not a radical proposal. It is a very small step in the direction of establishing some basic fairness in our local economy, a necessary hand up for the working poor. Truth be told, it is not a magic bullet with regard to reducing poverty and inequality and there are many on the left who see it as falling short of what is truly required to raise up the working poor in our city. But rather than letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, it should be applauded as a much-needed start.
It will make the lives of those struggling to get by better in a real and tangible way. It is a basic display of human decency, the kind of thing that makes communities stronger.
The bottom line here is this: there is no credible evidence that a modest increase in the minimum wage will kill jobs or hurt the local economy. In fact, cities and states that have passed similar measures have seen none of the dire effects that critics predicted. Thus the fierceness of the opposition to doing something reasonable, fair, and decent for our neighbors is driven by a kind of blind market fundamentalism and the arrogance of those who think they own the city and can impose their will despite the desires of the public.
Hence, as predicted here, after campaigning against mythical union bosses and scaring suburban whites about brown folks taking their share of city services, Faulconer is trying to make sure that the resources stay at the top where his allies think they belong and that those at the bottom end of the economic spectrum don’t even deserve a small raise or the right not to work when they are too ill to do so.
What can we do about this? When you see the armies of signature gatherers with petitions for a “minimum wage,” decline to sign. Then tell your family, friends, and neighbors to do the same. Let’s not allow them to steal money from the pockets of hard-working San Diegans or make them show up sick to their jobs.
It’s time to put an end to Kevin Faulconer’s war on the poor.