As we mentioned in our coverage of last Sunday's rally for a $15 minimum wage, there seems to be a nascent division between traditional labor lefties who are more open to compromise (a phased-in approach, a lower-than-$15 minimum, or an exemption for the smallest businesses) and those who, inspired by Socialist Alternative city council member Kshama Sawant, demand an immediate increase to a $15 minimum and reject any delay or compromise.
The latter camp was well represented at Sunday's rally, where audience members yelled "shame!" in response to mentions of the Democratic Party and where speakers insisted on immediate action, not compromise, to the now-familiar chants of "What do we want?" "15!" "When do we want it?" "Now!".
The hard-left side of the $15 movement has made clear that if Mayor Ed Murray and the city council don't give them what they want, they'll go to the ballot with an initiative. Sawant has given Murray's business-and-labor-led minimum-wage committee until April to come up with a proposal. At that point, she said last month, she'll "review the balance sheet, see where we are, and if necessary put it before the voters."
One notable outlier at Sunday's rally was King County Labor Council executive secretary Dave Freiboth, who cautioned the crowd against alienating more traditional liberals and labor movement activists who may be sympathetic to the minimum-wage cause but who aren't comfortable with the socialists' anti-government, anti-Democratic Party views.
Noting that "this room was built for you by the labor movement," Freiboth told the largely red-shirt-clad crowd that "We could blow it, and we have—the left has blown it in the past, and the biggest challenge, of course, is our internal divisions."
"It's time to step back from that internal criticism and build support amongst like-minded individuals, regardless of party, whether it be socialist or Democratic."So our One Question for Freiboth is: How do you think Sawant and the 15 Now crowd should adjust their strategy, and is it possible for the socialists and labor Democrats to reach a consensus on Seattle's minimum wage going forward?
I’m not sure she needs to change her strategy significantly. I think it’s more of a recognition that the left includes a large portion of the Democratic Party, and in order for us to make the kind of change that seems so imminent, we’ve got to scale back the rhetoric that alienates like-minded people.
She's been criticized by the far left, and that’s not helpful. She has criticized labor, [when she said we were] tied at the hip to the Democratic Party. There’s enough criticism to go around for everyone at this point. It’s time to step back from that internal criticism and build support amongst like-minded individuals, regardless of party, whether it be socialist or Democratic. We’re now in a position where we can make significant social change.
We cannot make pot shots at each other or we'll fail. That’s fine when you’re talking to your base, but at some point it’s counterproductive. We’ve had situations in the past where we thought it was imminent, where we were on the cusp of a big change, but we weren’t disciplined in how we treated each other, because of minor differences in terms of tactics, and it divided us enough that we weren’t able to deliver.
I’m thinking of the national legislation on workers rights—the Employee Free Choice Act [which would have made it easier to form a union and prevented employer sanctions for labor organization efforts]. It was labor folks that weren’t working together effectively. By the time the pushback came, we weren’t able to deal with it.
I think taking pot shots at the Democrats is counterproductive. When you consider that this has got to appeal to folks in the middle, and a lot of those folks view themselves as Democrats, calling them names and making fun of them isn’t going to work.
Socialist Alternative seems to be pretty sophisticated when it comes to the electoral process. They don’t seem to be getting consumed by their ideology. That’s the prob with activist movements—they deal with utopia. I’m cautiously optimistic that this is a little different. What’s going to drive [the $15 campaign] is the clear failure of trickle-down economics and the deregulated marketplace. This seems to be the only organized alternative to deal with it—if we can get beyond our differences.