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Victory for $15 campaign in Seattle
"We did this. Workers did this. Today's first victory for $15 will inspire people all over the nation," said socialist Seattle city councillor Kshama Sawant.
She was speaking after the 2 June meeting of the city council which voted to adopt a minimum wage of more than double the federal US rate. $15 an hour (about £9) will raise 100,000 low-paid workers in the city out of poverty.
What's the difference between Seattle and the other cities in the US where workers have also been fighting heroic battles demanding $15? Mass campaigning built support for $15 and elected Kshama, a member of Socialist Alternative (co-thinkers of the Socialist Party in the US) last November. This was a turning point.
A Guardian website article reports: "Kshama Sawant, the only socialist city councillor in the US, whose election campaign last year became a driving force behind the minimum wage legislation in Seattle, hailed the vote at a boisterous meeting before a packed council chamber as a 'historic victory' for working people."
Kshama exposed and opposed how big business weakened the legislation but she voted for $15. She said: "We'll come back to the questions of tip penalty, the long-phase in, the training wage. What was lost through corporate loopholes is a reminder to us that outcomes are determined by the balance of forces... we need to continue to build an even more powerful movement strong enough to overcome the counterattacks from business."
And Kshama explains: "My organisation, Socialist Alternative, was the backbone to this struggle. We have provided analysis and strategy, first to win this important seat in City Hall for a socialist and then immediately to turn it into a tool for organising."
The 15 Now campaign set up by Kshama and Socialist Alternative established neighbourhood committees across the city which organised rallies and meetings. Fast food workers had protests and strikes demanding $15. Kshama pointed out: "This was not won at the negotiating table, it's not a result of the generosity of the Democratic Party - it is a reflection of what workers won on the streets."
The historic victory in Seattle shows what can be achieved when workers fight back. It shows the strength given to a movement when representatives of that movement are elected to political office and use their position to drive home its aims. This should be an inspiration, not just to workers in Seattle and the US, but to working class and poor people, socialists and trade unionists internationally.
As Kshama said after the vote: "$15 in Seattle is just a beginning. We have an entire world to win."
- See socialistparty.org.uk/issue/813/18706/04-06-2014/us-how-seattle-won-a-15-minimum-wage and www.socialistalternative.org for more
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