By Doug Porter
I went downtown on Thursday for a media event inspired by the Fight for Fifteen movement. Representatives from unions, community and faith groups gathered outside City Hall to hail recent victories and rededicate themselves to continue the campaign.
In recent weeks the country’s largest county government (Los Angeles County) and one of the biggest public university systems in the U.S. (University of California) raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour. As fast food workers in New York were celebrating a win, Gov. Andrew Cuomo stood beside Vice President Joe Biden proposing $15 an hour legislation including an additional 3 million workers in other industries.
This news is bittersweet for San Diego activists. They held aloft signs with quotes from mayors of other cities around California who’ve supported successful drives to increase the minimum wage, along with a sign quoting Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s excuse for opposing a much more modest increase.
The World Knows San Diego’s Chamber Sucks
The local Chamber of Commerce, along with DC-based hospitality industry lobbyists, spent many hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting a “let’s put this to a public vote” measure which they then opposed when it came up for consideration by the City Council.
More than 170,000 local workers were (temporarily) denied a raise by way of this cynical ploy. Now grassroots advocates have adopted a strategy of not compromising and are seeking even higher wages.
The big money boys may have won that battle by delaying implementation (it’s still coming up for a vote in June 2016 and will pass easily) but they’re losing a lot more on other fronts.
Deals for expansion of the convention center and other big idea developments depend on building a coalition of interest groups, and those coalitions aren’t happening any more.
The Fight for Fifteen event at City Hall served as a reminder of the negative image for San Diego created by the Chamber of Commerce’s campaign.
It’s About Much More
Nationally, the retail industries dependent on a minimum wage structure are struggling to find excuses for why their brands are losing the value they once had. WalMart and Sam’s Club are struggling, while Costco (which pays real wages) is increasing sales.
A promise to increase hourly pay by the Arkansas-based retailer has turned into public relations nightmare as stories have emerged about employee schedules being reduced so store managers could meet company quotas.
McDonalds is desperately seeking redemption, even as the clocking is ticking towards a moment when their franchise business model collapses.
So this brings me back around to Fight For Fifteen.
The presumption being made in the media and by too many policy makers is that Fight For Fifteen is about a pay raise and maybe some union dues. If I see another story about the movement hasn’t met some other delusional metric (i.e., this or that union hasn’t gained a single member) I’m gonna puke.
Fight For Fifteen is a movement. No union owns it. No leader runs it. Yes, there are unions and leaders involved. But it’s nobodies baby.
While many workers will benefit greatly from a hike in the minimum wage, tens of millions of Americans will continue to struggle unless a much broader agenda is advanced to combat the truly staggering levels of economic inequality.
The movement is about shaping the terms of debate in the U.S. regarding the future of our economy. Corporations like McDonald’s and WalMart naturalized the idea of retail and service-sector work as low-wage and non-unionized in the postwar era. (We’re not supposed to think about how our tax dollars enable those business models.)
Take Me to Your ‘Leader’
If there is one lesson to be learned from the social movements of recent decades, it’s that high-profile leaders and tightly structured organizations cannot survive the kind of highly targeted (soft or hard) repression made possible with a pliable mass media and increasingly invasive surveillance.
Dr. Martin Luther King wouldn’t have lasted as a leader past his first year in the spotlight. What J Edgar Hoover tried to do with anonymous phone calls about the civil rights leader’s infidelities, Fox or Breitbart “News” can do with a keystroke. The letter sent by the FBI suggesting he commit suicide could be replicated a thousand times over by ideologically motivated trolls on Facebook and Twitter.
Movements are about ideas. And ideas are much more resilient than the people who advocate for them. $15 an hour seemed like a ludicrous demand just three years ago. Now even centrist Democrats like former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers are singing the praises of “inclusive prosperity.”
Discussions about economic inequality are no longer solely the province of left-leaning types like Sen. Bernie Sanders. The national conversation has shifted. The impossible has become possible. Far-fetched is becoming common sense. And Fight For Fifteen deserves credit as a catalyst for these changes.
The idea here behind Fight For Fifteen, Black Lives Matter and other movements that haven’t merited a hashtag yet is that neoliberal policies (ultimately replacing the nation-state with the market-state) are not the only or even a reasonable path to the future.
9/11: Back to the Future
September 11th is the United State’s “never again” reminder.
It’s been fourteen years since a horrible series of acts took the lives of thousands of people on this date in 2001. And tens of thousands of people in the US have suffered delayed consequences since then.
As congressional committees struggle to get publicity out of right wing stunts, the survivors of 9/11 are struggling to get heard.
Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart is leading a delegation on Capitol Hill in support of continuing a program that monitors thousands of people for health problems related to their work at Ground Zero.
The World Trade Center Health Program, which monitors 33,000 people for 9/11-related illnesses, is set to expire at the end of September, just over two weeks after the 14th anniversary of the attacks.
From the New York Times editorial:
Soon after the horrific destruction of the World Trade Center towers 14 years ago, bumper stickers abounded in parallel with the nation’s grief. “Never Forget,” one proclaimed with great resolve. “We Will Always Remember,” promised another.
Now that they have faded from sight, their underlying message is being put to the test in Congress. The nation’s lawmakers have nothing less than a moral obligation to renew the health care and compensation programs for the thousands of 9/11 responders and volunteers severely stricken by their long labors at ground zero’s infernal pile of devastation.
These selfless workers were home-front casualties in what politicians presented as a war on terror. More than 33,000 responders and volunteers have developed illnesses from their time at the 9/11 sites, including Shanksville, Pa., and the Pentagon. Some 3,700 of them, including about 1,000 from the New York Fire Department, have developed cancers attributed to toxins that suffused ground zero.
Other Things to Think About on 9/11
Tom Engelhardt’s Mantra for 9/11, is a list of all the other things, like that dumb-assed war in Iraq and the improbable world situation we now find ourselves in. It’s a first class rant, one that deserves to be read on the floor on Congress, even if you don’t agree with all his points.
At Jacobin, they revived an essay on the September 11, 1973 coup in Chile penned by the late Marxist sociologist Ralph Miliband. The subhead: How the reasonable men of capitalism orchestrated horror in Chile 42 years ago today, is just the start of a tale about the horrors of the era.
At Wonkette, they’ve revived a two-year-old post with a collection of quotes about 9/11 that we’re supposed to forget…
Bush listened to the briefing [Bin Laden determined to strike in US], Suskind says, then told the CIA briefer: “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.”
PS–For those of you wanting to write in with 9/11 conspiracy stories, please don’t waste your time. I’m (no doubt) part of the grandest conspiracy of all and will chuckle gleefully as I forward your emails, videos and tomes to the trash bin.
On This Day: 1897 – A ten-week strike of coal workers in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio came to an end. The workers won and eight-hour workday, semi-monthly pay, and company stores were abolished. 1959 – The Congress passed a bill authorizing the creation of food stamps. 1987 – Peter Tosh was shot and killed by robbers in his home in Jamaica.
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