One thing I believe after having done the reporting for this month's Seattle Met $15 minimum wage feature is this: Getting the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21 on board with his deal was the key play for Mayor Ed Murray.  

Heading into the talks late last year, the city's left wing wasn't happy that Murray had knocked out incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn. UFCW, one of the city's hard left unions, compared to the more mainstream Service Employees International 775, had endorsed McGinn. And they'd given McGinn $50,000 during the campaign to boot. 

It was a big deal that the McGinn fans at UFCW were even on Murrya's committee in the first place; we noted this when Murray first convened the committee last December, writing that socialist city council member Kshama "Sawant may have been the special guest Murray's team was boasting about after the press conference, but for our money, having die-hard McGinn supporters like UFCW, which backed McGinn largely because of the living wage issue, says the most about Murray's encouraging rollout today."

So, it amounted to nothing short of an existential win for Murray during the precarious talks to get UFCW to sign off on the deal itself, which he did by taking tips out of the base wage and eventually phasing out tips in total compensation altogether. 

Having the UFCW on board pulled the rug out from under Sawant’s 15Now initiative threat. Without potential financial backing from the likes of UFCW, Sawant had nowhere to turn. SEIU 775 leader David Rolf was co-chairing the committee. Moreover, Rolf's union had endorsed Murray; he was too invested in a compromised win to peel off with Sawant.

Financial resources are definitely an important aspect of activism and how much, how long, and how well the movement is able to fight for itself does come down to the number of people who are willing to put in their time, and financial resources. 

There was a lot of play-by-play drama to cover in my Met piece, so the subtle, but important, UFCW turn got more of, well, a subtle aside (in parens even). 

After explaining the tip compromise (which will temporarily count tips as part of the total compensation that counts toward  the $15 minimum wage), I wrote:

"'You’re not able to count tips against the minimum wage,' explains IIAC member United Food and Commercial Workers policy director Sarah Cherin, 'And that was critical.' (Cherin’s buy-in was also critical, and an existential win for IIAC; without financial backing from a hard-left union like Cherin’s UFCW, Sawant would no longer have anywhere to turn in her ongoing fight against a compromised plan.)"

I interviewed Sawant about this interpretation, asking her how significant it was for her when UFCW got on board with the compromise. But her answer got left on the cutting room floor during the editing process.

Here's what she had told me:

Financial resources are definitely an important aspect of activism and how much, how long, and how well the movement is able to fight for itself does come down to the number of people who are willing to put in their time, and financial resources.

But I wouldn’t look at it in that way, because that sort of misses some of the other important points to this whole story. The strategy has not been to be dogmatic or rigid about what tactics we would use. Tactics have been flexible. We have been extremely principled about how we fought for things, but at the same time we understand that it is important for the movement to claim whatever gains are possible at a given moment, and use that energy to continue to build future movements, whether it’s on fifteen dollars an hour, whether it’s on other electoral campaigns, or it’s on transit or on housing justice or whatever.

Would it have made sense to go ahead with the charter amendment or an initiative? I think that’s a question of what is the consciousness of the vast majority of workers in Seattle who have said very clearly they support fifteen dollars an hour. But in their eyes, is this a huge victory? Absolutely. What does that mean in terms of how many people fight for even more right now? That’s a real question that needs to be asked. And when 15Now asked that question, when activists were asking that question to themselves, the most clear decision coming out of that was we need to claim this as a victory and move on to other victories.

I think the most important conclusion to be drawn is that after what we’ve been able to accomplish here, the momentum is very much on the side of working people. It’s been a sea change, just globally it has had a huge impact. I know that it’s made the front page news of newspapers all over the world. We’re also showing that this is nothing unique to Seattle. We can win this everywhere. But it is important that Seattle went first. The movement in Seattle took the heat from big business, but by succeeding we have shown that there is an open door, we can knock it open completely, and we’re shown that the movement, if it builds anywhere else, it has to be principled and it has to have a sense of responsibility to get it right.


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