April 23, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 17

Director's Corner

From a movement-building perspective, 15 is working

By Timothy Harris / Executive Director

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It’s amazing how fast things can change. Just two years ago, conversations were barely beginning as to whether the time was right for a minimum-wage fight. The recession was beginning to lift. Occupy had recently put inequality on the table. It seemed like the right direction, but, looking around, there were few examples of successes. It all felt very uphill.

And then, the SeaTac Initiative passed. Seattle elected a socialist with a $15-an-hour platform, and 15Now came out of the gate like a supercharged rabbit lure at a greyhound race.

Less than six months later, the Vote15 Charter Initiative has been filed. The proposed amendment calls for employers with 250 or more employees to immediately start paying workers an hourly wage of $15, while small business owners will get a three-year phase-in, starting at $11 an hour. The campaign says it’ll mobilize 1,000 volunteers to collect the more than 50,000 signatures the measure realistically needs to qualify.

Twenty other communities across the United States have started 15Now campaigns of their own. A national 15Now conference, to be held here on April 26, had more than 500 registrants last week. Something big is happening.

Big, like, 1999 WTO big, and once again, it’s starting here. It’s like the Northwestern ghosts of our Wobblie (Industrial Workers of the World) ancestors are calling out from the ground.

There’s been a lot of back and forth as to whether 15 is the right number. I’m starting to think that’s the wrong question. The right number is the one that enlarges our sense of the politically possible.

From a movement-building perspective, 15 is working.

I’m not smart enough to know where all this will go. The mayor’s advisory committee is deadlocked over the issues of total compensation and tip inclusion, and it’s unclear whether a majority opinion can emerge. If not, Mayor Murray says he’ll push through a proposal of his own.

If that’s not good enough to make the proposed charter amendment look like mere quibbling, that effort will likely go forward, but it won’t be easy. Industry has already formed OneSeattle to take the measure down with an avalanche of money and lies. Vote15 says it will counter with grassroots power. It’s gonna be a dogfight.

There’s already rumor of a counterattack being planned by the restaurant lobby for next year: a statewide initiative that would set a $12 hourly wage and limit the ability of localities to set anything higher.

Seems like worse things could happen.

Social movements are mysterious things. It’s sort of like the definition of art or porn. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know it when I see it.

Organizers don’t plan movements into being. We don’t have that kind of power.

They happen when a lot of things that have been bubbling for a long time finally come together. Then things catch fire, and change suddenly becomes possible in ways that are new and unprecedented.

When the pendulum of history swings in our direction, our job is to push it as far and fast as we can, because eventually, this moment will pass. It always does.

For every action, there is reaction. It’s just physics.

This week, we’ll see what comes out of city hall. We’ll see 15Now’s response, and we’ll see what OneSeattle’s got. After that, may the best dog win.

As for me, I’m with the folks who are pushing our sense of the possible. That may not be where we land, but for right now, it looks like the right place to be.



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