One of these days, I'm constantly being warned by the serious people who know this sort of thing, Kshama Sawant and her people-powered Socialist-labled campaign will inevitably fizzle out. But not today.
An overflow crowd packed into the main hall at Seattle's Labor Temple this afternoon for a rally kicking off the launch of 15Now.org, a grassroots campaign dedicated to passing a $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle, you know, now! If the establishment types thought (or hoped) that both Socialist Alternative and the broader agitation for a $15 dollar an hour minimum wage had peaked in November, they couldn't be more wrong. Indeed, if today's rally is any indication, local support for this struggle is only growing and broadening, both among the grassroots and within the traditional Democrat power base that is organized labor.
"When we win $15 an hour, it will be because we kept up the pressure," SEIU 775's Sterling Harders told a cheering crowd, "and that is why SEIU 775 and Working Washington support 15Now.org." (Working Washington was the labor-backed group behind SeaTac's $15 minimum wage initiative.) "This is the most important thing that my organization will be working on," King County Labor Council executive secretary Dave Freiboth enthusiastically added. Anybody waiting for some irreconcilable wedge to be driven between Sawant and organized labor better be awfully patient.
- Goldy | The Stranger
- A lone Libertarian protestor pickets against Socialism outside $15Now.org rally: "Free markets for free people!"
It's an interesting hand that labor is playing. On the one hand, SEIU 775 president David Rolf co-chair's Mayor Ed Murray's committee tasked with writing a minimum wage ordinance—he's one of the grownups at the table with which the business community is negotiating. On the other hand, SEIU 775, the Labor Council, and other unions are backing 15Now.org, a campaign preparing to launch a minimum wage ballot measure "if the politicians fail," promises Socialist Alternative political director Phillip Locker.
And it's not just organized labor. Among the speakers were leaders from various immigrant communities (many of whom were integral to Sawant's election), as well as fast food strikers and Seattle's Transit Riders Union. Irish Socialist politician Joe Higgins was on hand to give another barnburner of a speech. And the list of official endorsers included celebrities like Dan Savage and Tom Morello. "All eyes are on Seattle," Morello said via a prepared statement, exhorting $15 minimum wage activists to "give 'em hell!"
Near the end of her own speech (which didn't start until more than two-hours after the first speaker opened her mouth), Sawant—who pledged on the campaign trail to keep only the average worker's income from her $120,000 a year council salary—revealed where at least part of her surplus salary would go: $15,000 a year in recurring donations to 15Now.org.
As someone who played a role in the birth of the progressive Netroots movement only to watch it dissipate from it's heady 2008 peak, and as somebody who covered Occupy Wallstreet with great sympathy and excitement only to see it gradually wither away via attrition, I know from personal experience how difficult it is to sustain a movement. And no doubt, that's part of what we witnessed in November with the surprising victories of both Sawant and labor-backed SeaTac Prop 1: The birth of a movement.
SEIU never really expected to have to go to the ballot with SeaTac Prop 1, and Socialist Alternative did not run Sawant truly expecting to win. But what they've both done during and since the election continues to impress. SEIU was quick to embrace Sawant once they understood what she could bring to the struggle. And Socialist Alternative has signed up hundreds of volunteers and new members since Sawant's election—300 more people to 15Now.org just this afternoon. Every movement peaks eventually, but thanks to the coalition they have created, this one is clearly still building momentum.
I've no idea how long this will last or how it will evolve. Perhaps through November? Perhaps longer? Perhaps Socialist Alternative will manage to make that difficult transition into an institution that plays a longterm role in Seattle politics and beyond? (Again, they're already off to a helluva strong start, and they continue to impress at every turn.) But what I do know is that Seattle's business establishment would be stupid to think that they are facing just a bunch of idealistic lefties or a disorganized group of occupiers.
There was something special going on at the Labor Temple today. Something exciting. Something smart. Something potentially much bigger than all the individual parts. So if I were Seattle's business establishment I'd negotiate the best deal that I can at Mayor Murray's table rather than risk the will of newly radicalized Seattle voters at the polls.