Speeches as delivered by Kshama Sawant following the May 29th Minimum Wage Committee
The Seattle City Council’s Minimum Wage Committee just voted for $15/hr (click here for streaming video). On Monday, June 2nd, we expect this will be voted on by the Full Council, and passed into law.
Today is a historic day for low wage workers, for the labor movement, and for anyone who believes as I do that no one who works should have to live in poverty.
Protests and strikes of low wage workers, the grassroots campaigning of 15 Now, of the labor movement, and of many activists – all of us together forced business and Seattle’s political establishment to act.
We forced them to lift 100,000 low-wage workers in Seattle out of poverty – to transfer $2.5 billion to workers at the bottom of the wage scale over the next 10 years. This has come after decades of wealth being transferred almost entirely from the bottom up. As Occupy Wall Street said: “The banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”
We need to be clear about what happened here in Seattle that led us to this point. 15 was not won at the bargaining table as a sensible compromise between workers and business.
It was not the result of the generosity of corporations or their Democratic Party representatives in city government. What was voted on in the city council was a reflection of what workers won on the streets over this last year. Let this be our guide. Future victories will also depend on the organization of working people fighting for our interests. We must recognize, as has been on display these last months, that our interests are not shared by big business. At every stage of the struggle, business has sought to undermine our efforts.
Today we set an example that will encourage workers all over the US and around the world. There are a number of corporate loopholes in this legislation. I urged and fought hard, inside the council and outside, to close them – and I will continue to do so. Let’s be clear – it was our movement that brought $15 to the table in Seattle. Of course the Democratic Party establishment did also play a role – led by Mayor Murray, they brought business to the table to water it down.
We had to push back every day. We had to push back against the endless wish list of big business proposals.
You all were there today, you saw what happened. Despite all the pressure for a strong 15, Councilmembers watered down the proposal even further by introducing language for sub-minimum youth and training wages, and an unnecessary four month delay in implementation. This shows how important it was for us to have kept up the pressure, and the need to continue fighting.
We’ll come back to some of these issues in the near future:
- Getting rid of the tip penalty
- Shortening the decade long phase-in
- Getting rid of training wages
- And implementing a real enforcement mechanism.
But for the moment, let me stress:
The select committee of the Seattle City Council just voted to become the first city to institute a $15 minimum wage for all its workers.
It will be the highest minimum wage in the nation.
As the first socialist city councilmember in this city in more than 100 years, rallying for this demand in my election campaign and fighting together with so many activists in 15 Now, labor and community groups, I am proud to say: We’ve pushed hard for this historic step forward, and we made it happen.
My organization, Socialist Alternative, was the backbone of this struggle. It provided an analysis and a strategy, first to win this important seat for an open socialist in Seattle’s council and then to immediately turn it into a tool of organizing, launching the 15 Now campaign. Please go to www.socialistalternative.org and to learn more and join us in these struggles.
The whole process of the negotiations demonstrated that we can’t rely on the Democratic Party to push for workers’ interests – not even to push back against the Tea Party or Republican attacks. If we want working class interests represented in the political arena, workers and youth need a party of our own, an organized force for ourselves.
When business threatens to use their money to buy democratic decisions, we won’t win by appeasing them. We must educate and organize.
When we do so, labor is powerful. A glimpse of that was visible when finally the King County Labor Council unanimously voted to criticize the loopholes in Murray’s deal – and suddenly a counterweight was shown to all those attempting to water down the proposal. Using the resources of labor and community organizations to mobilize and activate – that’s what’s urgently needed.
Our victory today was not complete. Big business in the end did succeed in chipping away at our gains. We’ll discuss our strategy – united labor and community groups can come back to deal with those issues. But we should take this achievement as a new starting point. The measure voted on today is one of the greatest step forwards for the U.S. working class in decades. 15 Now, Socialist Alternative, and allies are already building on this victory, taking the fight for 15 all over the US. Already, we have 15 Now groups in more than a dozen states.
When fast food workers struck for $15 a year and a half ago in New York, they did so in part to register their outrage at this broken system. A system which maintains poverty wages in the richest country in human history. It’s likely that most of those protesting did not expect 15 to be thrust onto the national agenda or won in a major city less than 2 years later. But that’s what happened here today.
We did this. Workers did this.
Victory in Seattle is just the beginning. Winning 15 here today shows what is possible – it shows the power of working people. And we will be back for the rest of our rights. I encourage you to join us for a rally on June 2nd ordinance without the new loopholes that were introduced today, and then come testify at the council meeting at 2 pm (there will be a rally at 1 pm at 4th and James beforehand; please see the Facebook event for more details).