Why we fight: the battle for increased minimum wage
Labor Notes held its bi-annual conference from April 1 to 3 in Chicago. This conference brought together grassroots labour activists, mainly based in the United States, with high participation from other countries, namely Canada. The conference puts on dozens of workshops for roughly 1,700 participants, and is a chance to share front-line stories and strengthen the movement.
On Saturday, April 2, a panel entitled “The Fight for $15 across borders and industries” featured Seattle City Councillor Kshama Sawant (and What’s Left’s very own Roxanne Dubois). Sawant’s message is worth sharing more broadly, especially to those involved in fights to raise the minimum wage. She was elected to Seattle city council as a Socialist Alternative candidate in 2013 where she ran with a platform on increasing the minimum wage to $15. She got re-elected in 2016.
To those who are critical of $15 campaigns because they don’t go far enough, Sawant’s answer is simple. Increasing the minimum wage has the direct result of transferring, in the case of Seattle, $3 billion from the ruling class directly to working people. This is significant, especially when looking at the way inequality is still growing in the United States (and in Canada).
In addition to putting money into the pockets of workers, minimum wage battles are about building power for workers. Through mobilizing, the campaigns allow workers to engage others on a specific issue that most of them will agree with, for example, a $15 an hour minimum wage. This is in stark contrast with living wage campaigns, which are vague on what amount is a living wage, and which are too often focused on making a “business case” to employers about how they should treat employees. The fight for $15 campaign assumes that only by a show a force can worker-friendly policies be ushered in, not by depending on the kindness of bosses.
When she ran as a socialist city councilor, it was clear to Sawant and her team that they could not make political compromises on their demands. The pressure from the right-wing was hard and present at every corner, but only by sticking to their principles were they able to deliver a real win for workers. Anything short of that would have been concessions and watered down the end victory for working people. Despite early warnings from the establishment that she would never win a vote at council, the vote to raise the minimum wage to $15 ended up being unanimous. Sawant is a real-life example of winning $15 minimum wage, and her story can be an inspiration for many activists leading similar battles.
Exposing anti-black racism in Canadian media and politics
After ending a two-week occupation demanding accountability from Toronto police officers who killed black citizens, the Black Lives Matter-TO community received unprecedented media attention not over their principled demands but over a tweet. Right-wind media pundits lost no time to try and discredit the entire movement and its purpose after having dug up a tweet sent by BLM-TO co-founder months ago. Even Mayor John Tory could not resist exposing his blatant mishandling of the situation when he preferred to immediately comment on the tweet itself after having refused to respond to BLM-TO presence for two weeks. Through the noise, there are still voices of reason who have tried to put this into perspective, which shows the strength of the movement and its chorus.
Housing, identity and the Left
There has been a somewhat epic battle of the poles taking place between various lefty fellow-travellers and Walrus editor Jonathan Kay, who, for a moment last week, felt the need to lecture the Left on all of its ills. The spat began when Kay blamed “political correctness” and an identity politics focus on the left for undermining their impact on sensible solution to the housing market in Vancouver and Victoria. Much twitter outraged followed, and Kay invited rebuttals to his piece. We consider the following responses, in which various writers tear apart Kay’s argument bit by bit.
Songs of the revolution
Here we will share good progressive music. Each week we will provide a random sampling of some good progressive music - sometimes there will be a theme, sometimes not. And, of course, send in your suggestions.
This week is all about Bernie Sanders. This is a surprisingly deep field across the diversity of support that Bernie has. With some of the best gathered they include a Corrido and Trap Anthem. So enjoy.
Nuit Debout: the people of France fight back
On Saturday, April 9, marches were held all over France to contest Francois Hollande’s labour law reform with students and workers leading the charge. The marches were significant: 120,000 marched on Paris, and cities all over the country had organized actions. The marches were part of a movement started in March and gearing up towards national actions on May 1 for May Day.
What’s interesting is that in addition to the union-led, organized marches, some have started “nuit debout” actions where protesters simply decide to stay all night, and where demands are wider than the labour reform. These actions have been happening more and more, and will be interesting to follow.