Monday, May 12, 2014

Seattle mayor Ed Murray's plan to derail the $15NOW movement

SEIU's Rolf and his "Teammates" Democrat Murray and Investor Wright
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The election of socialist Kshama Sawant to the Seattle City Council and her campaign for a $15 an hour minimum wage has made the debate on the minimum wage a national one. As this writer and others have stated in previous blogs, comrade Sawant, Socialist Alternative, and the broader grouping in which SA is a major force, $15NOW, should all be congratulated for their work on this issue.

Facts For Working People has also explained that success of this nature brings with it very real dangers. These dangers come from within as different elements in a broader struggle, liberals, the trade union hierarchy and others, try to influence the movement in a negative way; try to undermine the independence and militancy of the movement, and from big business, whose interests are hurt by an increase in the minimum wage.  The latter have confronted the movement with a campaign of their own in order to weaken and undermine it.

Their battle moved in to the political sphere when Seattle mayor, Ed Murray appointed a 24 member committee to work out a plan to implement a $15 minimum wage.  That this occurred at all is due to the Socialist Alternative/$15NOW campaign and Kshama Sawant’s election victory and of course, the fast Food workers who have been increasingly prominent.

The chairs of the committee, are, “…two men on opposite sides of the debate.” Writes Bloomberg BusinessWeek in its May 12th issue.  One is a major investor, Howard Wright, and the other is David Rolf.  Rolf is president of SEIU 775NW and a Vice President of SEIU International. Barring a rank and file movement from below, one doesn’t reach this level of the union bureaucracy without being safe. The truth is that these two are not on different sides of the debate.  Rolf, along with the entire top leadership of organized labor has the same world-view as Wright; he is an advocate of the Team Concept, the dominant philosophy held by the strategists atop organized labor that workers and bosses have the same interests.  As his SEIU bio points out: Rolf, “….is a leader in reaching out to build alliances with community organizations, employers, long-term care providers, the business sector, and both Democratic and Republican elected officials.” Any union activist or leader that was serious about changing the concessionary course the present leadership charts for our organizations would have to start by condemning the Team Concept.

At the moment, Rolf is a darling of many liberals, seen as an astute strategist who can build, the necessary alliances with business and the Democrats. Google Amy Dean if you want to get some idea of the history of types like this in the labor movement. They’re the labor hierarchy’s equivalent of the techie millionaires.

Rolf’s bio sounds nice.  The bosses and the mayor have an ally on their side that wants to build an “alliance”, wants unity. We all like the idea of unity but it depends with whom and on what basis. Rolf wants to work things out as the mayor has demanded. “If you want people to get here in the end, you need to bring them to the table,”, Murray tells Business Week. 

Speaking after the deal Rolf said, “Today, Seattle workers send a clarion call to all working people in America. Workers can achieve a share of the American Dream when we act courageously, spur unrest and then unite in action to elect leaders like Mayor Ed Murray.”  Rolf thanked the mayor for his leadership along with investor Howard Wright, and all the committee members as well as his “…brothers and sisters from the labor movement and the business community.”

The ideology that these words represent and the policies that flow from them lies behind the betrayals and class collaboration on the part of Rolf and his colleagues that has meant a catastrophic decline in workers living standards and organized labor’s influence.  The labor hierarchy sees the union as employment agencies with themselves as the CEO’s.

Business is delighted with the committee’s proposal as some workers will see it as a partial victory, better than nothing deal, and liberals and the union officialdom and its representatives in the $15NOW movement will reinforce that view. Business is overjoyed that it will be 2025 before all employers will be forced to pay $15 an hour. “A Minimum Wage Hike without the Fight” is the title of BW’s article on the subject. Elizabeth Warren recently pointed out that if minimum wage incomes had grown over the past period at the same pace as it had for the top 1 percent of income earners, it would actually be closer to $33 an hour although she doesn’t call for a grass root campaign for it. Who knows what it would look like in 2025 assuming Seattle is still there and not washed away by climate change.

This committee dominated as it is by big business interests, tested the, “…widely held assertion put forth by business groups that employers can’t afford to pay workers more.” Business Week explains, and that it is also “…an alternative to the confrontational battles employees have waged elsewhere, such as the coordinated strikes by fast-food workers in New York and dozens of other cities.”

Indeed it is such an alternative and it is exactly the alternative that should be challenged by the movement and all those involved. Murray explains that if the council tries to change it too much when it gets to the full body, “…the delicate compromise could collapse.” The problem is that this compromise is a compromise on the bosses’ terms.

Murray and Business Week (owned by Michael Bloomberg worth some $30 billion) are pleased that the compromise was accomplished without a fight but a fight is exactly what should be taking place. It was a mistake for comrade Sawant to accept a position on this committee and legitimize it. If any members of the campaign were to take a position on such a body it would have been appropriate to do so on the basis that they are doing so to ensure the demand of the campaign and what workers in the Fast Food Industry have been walking off the job for, a $15 increase in the minimum wage “Now” should be met. The purpose of this committee should have been made very clear, the deal will go through regardless but we must avoid the trap of the Team Concept at all times.

The mayor’s proposal with the help of labor officials like David Rolf will be used to temper the movement and weaken it. It will make it harder to build a powerful, independent movement that can force business to pay workers what we need as well as fight on all the issues workers are facing as a result of the capitalist offensive.

The city of Seattle should be polarized, should be divided in to two camps, those that support $15 now and those that don’t and if any negotiating takes place it should take place on that basis.  George Schultz, who held numerous posts in the US government including Secretary of the Treasury and of State, said of negotiations that,  Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table.”  In the Seattle mayor’s committee to introduce the minimum wage the shadow of power was not cast across the table.  And if it is not and our side is there, we should be there to expose the negotiation for what it is as we build that power on the ground.

Here are links to other commentaries on this issue on Facts For Working People.

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