Is the push for a $15 minimum wage the right battle to be fighting?
Much of the political activism in Seattle now is centered on the establishing a $15 minimum wage. Activists associated with Socialist city council member Kshama Savant are making a big push for a $15 minimum wage. MoveOn Seattle chose to concentrate its activism on the issue at their December meeting. There’s a rally today (Sunday, Jan 12) on the issue. (See http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2014/01/11/you-want-15-an-hour-wages-then-you-want-this-rally-sunday.)
The fight for a $15 minimum wage is a worthy effort, which I support, but it has some risks.
What concerns me is that the issue of the minimum wage concerns mostly lower class voters, not the broad middle class and upper-middle class voters that need to be recruited to oppose Republicans and their anti-government and regressive tax message.
In fact, some middle class and well-to-do voters may resent having to pay (slightly) more for shopping at fast-food restaurants, grocery stores and other places that might be affected by a higher minimum wage. (They probably shouldn’t be eating the junk food and buying the junk stuff anyway!)
Significantly, the push for a $15 minimum wage won’t directly help the Democrats (or others) defeat the Republicans and conservative Democrats who are blocking progressive legislation in the state legislature. I’d like to see protesters target Rodney Tom, Andy Hill, Steve Litzow, and other conservative legislators. Indeed, Rodney Tom is on record as opposing the minimum wage hike; see Dems plan minimum-wage hike; Senate leader dumps on it.
But many of the activists supporting the $15 minimum wage don’t trust the Democrats and don’t want to stoop to get involved in Eastside politics. This division between the Dems and those further to the left is a central problem with lefty politics, since due to the Divided Left there aren’t enough progressives to reform the Democratic Party, and nor are there are enough Socialists or others to form a viable third party — except maybe in Seattle.
I’d like to see the noisy, colorful protesters from Seattle be willing to get arrested in protests against tax breaks for Microsoft and Boeing. I’d like to see them be willing to get arrested in defense of funding for Metro buses (under attack from Senate Republicans). I’d like to see them protest our regressive tax system that favors the rich.
Perhaps this is elitist of me. My concerns are transportation and education funding and the injustice of regressive taxes. Poor people in the city are more concerned with food, shelter, and medical care. Of course, there are poor people in the suburbs too, and they suffer from lack of transportation, pollution, and regressive taxes too!
Don’t get me wrong. I support the $15 minimum wage. Far better to pay workers a fair wage than to have them depend on government handouts. I’m just pointing out the forces at play.
I think the issues are regional.
The cities are gonna vote Democratic, or Socialist. People in the cities will support issues like a $15 minimum wage, gay marriage, marijuana legalization, and immigration reform.
The rural areas, though they are net takers of tax revenue, are probably going to vote Republican, at least until they realize they’re being screwed by regressive taxes. Certainly, they’ll have little interest in public transit — which partly explains why Senate Republicans seem eager to gut Metro bus funding.
The real battle for political control is waged in the suburbs. To me, the core issue is economic justice, especially fair taxation. Swing voters in the suburbs have to be educated about how they’re being screwed by regressive taxes and by tax breaks for wealthy corporations. They need to stop voting for Republicans and for conservative Democrats. The campaign for a $15 minimum wage — like the campaigns for marriage equality, marijuana legalization, and immigration reform — is unlikely to engage many swing voters, though it may excite some union members.
So, is the push for a $15 minimum wage the right battle to be fighting? Yes, it is right for the people affected. But it’s not sufficient.