By Jesse Lessinger, National Organizer for 15 Now
There has never been a better time to get active and help build the movement for a $15 an hour minimum wage. After decades of stagnating wages, declining union power and a race to the bottom, two imperialist wars, multi-trillion dollar bank bailouts, a foreclosure crisis, budget cuts, the empty rhetoric of “hope and change”, the erosion of democratic rights, skyrocketing student debt, the rise of the Tea party, record-high incarceration rates, unabated environmental destruction, and a level of wealth inequality never seen before in history, the victory in Seattle stands out as a beacon of hope.
It is a story of how working people organized, took a stand against corporate power and won. And now is the time to spread the success nationwide. At the center of battle was 15 Now, launched and lead by Socialist Alternative.
15 Now is part of the growing movement of low-wage workers to fight for better wages and working conditions. There have been strikes and actions in over 100 cities across the country but it was Seattle that raised the minimum wage to 15 because of bold plan of action developed by 15 Now. (reference to article here?)
The effect of Seattle is rippling across the U.S. There is now a proposal from a group of Chicago Alderman for $15. In New York the Speaker of the City Council recently stated she was in favor of a substantial increase in the minimum wage between $13-15. San Francisco is also debating a $15 an hour minimum wage, while the California State Senate passed a bill for $13 which would affect 7.9 million workers. Clearly, Seattle “changes the terms of the minimum-wage debate and expands the realm of the possible in setting new minimums.” (The New York Times editorial, Jun. 6, 2014)
Since Occupy first drew our attention to the unprecedented inequality in the U.S. our movement has now begun to turn the tide. But no victory is guaranteed and big business will resist as they did in Seattle. What we win depends on the strength of our movements. That’s why we need you to get involved with 15 Now today.
You can join an existing chapter or start a new one in your area. See 15now.org for more information. Below we’ve publish a few brief reports from local 15 Now organizers about the work of new 15 Now chapter around the country.
15 Now Philly
Median income in Philadelphia hovers at $31,000 per household or about $15/hr. With over 30% of the city living in official poverty and 12% in deep poverty, an increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15/hr would completely transform the city and region.
15 Now Philly launched in February with our first action on International Women’s Day . 15 Now Philly paved the way for a coalition with the SEIU fast food organizers at Fight for 15 and a statewide coalition called Raise the Wage PA.
Through April and May, 15 Now Philly hit the streets with a petition aimed at local and state politicians. This petition for 15 was met with tremendous enthusiasm and opened conversations with more than 1,500 community members laying the groundwork for a broad campaign.
At our first Open Assembly on Tuesday, May 20th we moved to launch three neighborhood committees in South, North and West Philly. These meetings will form the backbone of 15 Now Philly action groups and further strategy to agitate and organize.
The critical strength of 15Now Philly involves our diverse organizing committee including low wage workers from fast food, retail and home health aid industries. 15 Now has generated excitement across the spectrum in Philly. We’re ready for real change and a new way forward for working people.Now we can point to the success of Seattle to show people that it’s possible to win.
15 Now Massachusetts
The fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage is heating up in Massachusetts. Thanks to the workers who paused to sign our petitions, 15 Now New England has collected almost all the signatures required by the state to put a non-binding $15 an hour question on the ballot in six districts.
Our petitioning events have opened up a dialogue with our fellow workers about the minimum wage and the rising cost of living. Almost everyone agrees that the current minimum wage of $8 an hour is too low. In Massachusetts, there are several minimum wage initiatives, including Raise Up Massachusetts’s $10.50 proposal and the Massachusetts state senate’s $11 bill.
This would be a step forward but only small one. Neither of those figures represent a living wage. In a city like Boston, $15 is just the starting point for livable, and that’s cutting it close. Working people signing our petitions have mentioned this key point to us again and again: they agree with other minimum wage initiatives because any increase is good, but those initiatives don’t even come close to a living wage. That’s why low-wage workers all over the country are demanding 15.
To empower the working people of the districts we’re campaigning in and build the foundations of a movement. 15 Now New England has started monthly neighborhood meetings in Boston. Our first neighborhood meeting has been held in Dorchester. Neighborhood meetings in East Boston, Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury are scheduled for next month. We anticipate having some in Worcester and Lowell as well, two cities in which we are also collecting signatures.
These neighborhood meetings are open to the broad public. We encourage participants, especially newcomers to 15 Now, to lead the discussion and speak up about community problems. Seattle showed us that empowering working people to take matters into their own hands is the way we can win.
15 Now New York City
The 15 Now campaign is growing in New York City! After the victory in Seattle we quickly saw the Speaker of the City Council suggest she also supported $15. Yet Seattle showed that we can’t rely on promises from politicians but have to build pressure from below. With a movement we can push ‘Tale of Two Cities’ Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council to act.
We have held major interventions across the city. 15 Now marched in the “St. Patrick’s Day for All” Parade and we have held two energetic rallies and marches, joined by Green Party candidate for Governor Howie Hawkins who has made $15 a key demand in his race for governor.
On May Day, 15 Now organized a solid contingent in Union Square for a day of activities and took part in a noisy march shutting down parts of Manhattan. On May 15th, we joined striking fast food workers at high-energy, internationally publicized protests.
The response to 15 Now has been very positive in New York. Although the State of New York holds the power to set the minimum wage, in order to win the endorsement of the labor-backed, left-leaning Working Families Party, Governor Cuomo promised this would be changed. This represents a big opportunity for the campaign.
15 Now NYC plans to continue gaining petition signatures, gaining endorsements, and building a movement to demand $15. It is still the beginning of our NYC campaign but we look forward to building immense momentum over the summer. We think NYC will be a city that is truly inspired by the victory in Seattle.
15 Now Columbus, OH
15 Now Columbus held its first action three months ago on March 15, organizing a small demonstration in the fast-food district bordering the campus of Ohio State University. Some who took part drove nearly 100 miles to do so, and most met each other for the first time that day. To publicize the event during the preceding weeks, a volunteer rode city buses handing out leaflets and gathering contact information from interested passengers.
During the month of April, the Central Ohio Worker Center brought 15 Now volunteers and Socialist Alternative members together with numerous other organizations to plan the city’s most well-attended May Day event in many years. The theme was “Ohio Needs a Raise,” and large number of the 150 signs carried through the downtown streets on May 1 called for a $15 minimum wage.
Following the rally and march, the celebration continued at the Ohio Education Association (OEA/CEA) union hall, with speakers, tabling, conversation, and food. Many who attended demanded continuing action in support of a living minimum wage.
On May 15, 15 Now Columbus facilitated a meeting attended by 24 workers, activists, and union representatives interested in organizing support for raising the minimum wage to $15. Afterwards, several marched in solidarity with the international day of strikes.
The summer will be spent publicizing the movement throughout the city and at ComFest, where 15 Now will table and make several presentations onstage to the large audiences in attendance. 15 Now Columbus meets each month on the 15th. If you live in the area and want to get involved you should join us!
15 Now Portland (PDX), OR
15 Now Portland has been very busy this spring. Although he was not able to unseat 16-year incumbent Dan Saltzman, independent socialist candidate Nicholas Caleb ran for Portland city council on a platform based largely around the fight for a $15 minimum wage and got a great echo for his campaign.
Caleb’s campaign, along with the establishment of 15 Now and Socialist Alternative chapters in town, have brought the living wage issue to the forefront in Portland. 15 Now PDX has been holding weekly “Living Wage Wednesday” rallies outside of city hall calling on the council to take action to end poverty wages, and to embrace a $15 minimum wage.
On May 15 roughly 40 people marched into the downtown McDonald’s and read a letter aloud to the workers, customers, and bosses in solidarity with the global strike of fast food workers. Largely influenced by the 15 Now movement, and the Caleb for Council campaign, councilman Saltzman even announced that he is in favor of raising the minimum wage.
However, thanks to the restaurant lobby, since 2001 Oregon state law has preempted cities from raising the minimum wage locally. This means that any effort for $15 will require a coordinated statewide effort, or a repeal of the state’s preemption.
On June 11th, members of 15 Now PDX will give a brief testimony in front of the city council highlighting the need to raise the minimum wage, and to present them with 1,000 signatures in support of a $15 minimum wage. We know that real change doesn’t come from the top, it has to be demanded from below.
15 Now Madison, WI
In Madison, Wisconsin almost 45,000 people live below the poverty line. Statewide, we’ve got a 25% overall poverty rate, 35% for African Americans, 24% for Latinos and 39% for single mom households. Yet in 2011, even before Governor Walker’s vicious anti-worker policies took effect, the top 1% in Wisconsin raked in an average income more than 18 times that of the bottom 99%.
We have already collected hundreds of signatures for a $15 min wage and we are gearing up to boost our efforts. We have won endorsements from the UW-Madison Teaching Assistants Association, Wisconsin Professional Employees Council (AFT-4848), Doug Leikness (president of UFCW Local 538), the Wisconsin Green Party, Progressive Dane and more. On June 7th we are organizing a city wide petitioning blitz followed by a BBQ celebration of the victory in Seattle.
We face a difficult challenge in Wisconsin due to undemocratic and pro-corporate restrictions on local government capacity to pass minimum wage increases, signed by former Democratic Party Governor Jim Doyle. Nevertheless we are pushing forward to get the City Council and/or the County Board to pass a resolution in favor of $15, which will change the consensus on what constitutes a living wage in Madison.
It can serve as a great tool to raise the confidence of Madison workers for campaigns to pressure specific groups of employers to pay higher wages and improved working conditions. We will also fight to overturn the state ban on local wage ordinances.
15 Now Los Angeles
15 Now Los Angeles is just getting started but it’s part of a growing movement in the Southern California seeking to bolster community awareness on income inequality. We hope to foster a shift toward a higher value placed on work done by hundreds of thousands low wage workers and bring about a $15 minimum wage in the City of Los Angeles.
On May 15 our organizers came out for the the union-lead global fast food strike and rallied with some grassroots blood, handing out literature debunking the myths behind raising the minimum wage as well as leaflets outlining the strategy and victories in Seattle.
We collected contact information from over 60 different activists ready to continue to build the movement in LA. We aim to continue collecting signatures and officially launch 15 Now LA in the middle of June.
To build support, our core organizers are taking to the streets during the week, walking up and down Venice Beach Blvd. in our bright red 15 Now shirts getting people informed, involved and invigorated to make 15 Now a reality in Los Angeles California. Peace.