by Bill Onasch
Protecting Those Who Did No Wrong
A Kansas City Star article recounted,
“For two months, the City Council has debated the merits of a grass-roots petition initiative that seeks to raise the minimum wage in the city to $10 per hour by Sept. 1 and to $15 per hour by 2020. Advocates for low-wage workers say an increase is essential to lift people out of poverty, while fast-food and other retail owners vow to fight the move in court, saying such a drastic change will only drive jobs and businesses out of the city. Among key elements of the revised plan the council discussed Thursday:
▪ The minimum wage would rise to $8.50 per hour on Aug. 24; to $9.15 per hour by Jan. 1, 2017; and then in 65-cent increments annually to $13 per hour by 2023.
▪ The wage would apply to all employers with more than 15 employees and more than $500,000 in annual gross revenue, although [Mayor] James said that definition of small business may change.
▪ Failure to comply could result in Municipal Court prosecution with a maximum fine of $1,000.”
As noted in the WIR at the time, at an April 15 mass rally of low wage workers and supporters Mayor Sly James–then running for reelection–declared his unwavering support for a city minimum wage of 15. Soon 15 advocates submitted a petition to put the question on the ballot in an August election along with other issues.
The Council, knowing this popular just demand would certainly be approved by voters, trashed the petition while promising instead to pass an ordinance in July. Time is of the essence because of a new law passed by the reactionary, ALEC-dominated state legislature barring city minimum wages. That bill has now been vetoed by the Governor but may be overridden in a September Veto Session.
But justice has not only been delayed—it’s being chipped away and may even be denied. The Mayor, once a backup singer in his youth, now reelected sings a different tune backing up the local Establishment on 15. He’s quoted in the Star,
“’The goal in my opinion is to do some justice to those who need it, without doing damage to (business) people who have done no wrong,’ Mayor Sly James told his colleagues as he unveiled a more modest wage increase schedule.”
For His Honor, just some justice is good enough for the working poor. The Mayor’s sympathetic attitude toward those who pay their workers less than a living wage is somewhat different than that of Pope Francis who earlier in the week declared “unbridled capitalism is the dung of the Devil.”
While I share the outrage expressed by His Holiness, I don’t believe the evil that keeps millions of hard working women and men in poverty in the richest country in history is driven by a supernatural force. Corporal bosses large and small and their political servants keep capitalism inhumanely unbridled. They will not be restrained by Holy Water or exorcism. But stopped they can be.
Our adversaries who wage class war against workers here and abroad are not Demons or Titans—they are flesh-and-blood mortals like you and me. Our side has great numerical superiority—and we do the work. Once we have mastered and applied this truth through broad class solidarity in action it will be us who become unstoppable. The movement of the low wage workers has become a school of remedial education helping current workers to reacquire class awareness once better understood by my parent’s generation.
Both nationally and in Kansas City we’ve seen a revival of such needed solidarity initially sparked by the Fast Food workers fight for 15 and a Union. Along the way, Home Care workers, Adjunct Professors, and Airport Service workers have got on board in many areas. This drive for unionization, led by the Service Employees International Union, has attracted significant support from other unions, Jobs with Justice, and Faith-based Social Justice groups for numerous short strikes, civil disobedience, and mass rallies.
The movement for a 15 dollar minimum wage guaranteed to all workers grew out of, and complements unionization efforts. The first big breakthrough came in the Seattle area. It began with voter approval of a ballot measure in the suburb of SeaTac. About the same time a leader of the lively 15 Now coalition, Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative, was elected to the Seattle City Council. 15 Now was the centerpiece of Sawant’s campaign and it propelled her to victory over a veteran Democrat incumbent. This political upheaval made it possible to win a city ordinance for a minimum wage progressing in stages to 15 that provides needed substantial raises to 100,000 Seattle workers.
While the 15 and a Union fight by Kansas City Fast Food workers has won national prominence the minimum wage effort here is a much more recent development and is still being fleshed out. To their credit, they have so far refused to endorse the Mayor’s partial justice plan. There have been some big rallies and a vigil of “Roving Fast” teams is being maintained on the steps of City Hall until the crucial Council vote this Thursday, July 16.
Unlike Seattle, KC workers have few, if any friends on this Council just elected to new four year terms. It’s a Council that has imposed a wage freeze on its own low wage City workers and is carrying out a union-busting privatization attack on ATU transit workers.
The 15 coalition has called for a Victory Rally after the Thursday Council meeting in front of City Hall at 3PM. I hope it is a solid victory for 15. If it’s the Mayor’s Justice Lite compromise, that can be a down payment on what’s needed as the Fight for 15 continues and escalates. Should the Council renege on their promise to pass any minimum that would be a betrayal that should never be forgiven nor forgotten.
In any case, this is another lesson to be absorbed. The tiny minority of bosses, bankers, and developers use their monopoly of the political system to stymie the aspirations of working people. We’ve seen progress in fighting back in the workplace and the community. It’s high time to engage the exploiters on the political front with a party of our own.
* Workday Minnesota reports, “The first marker to commemorate the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strikes, one of the great watershed moments in the history of the American labor movement, is being installed in downtown Minneapolis. The marker will be unveiled on Saturday, July 18, in a ceremony beginning at 11 a.m. at 701 N. Third St., in the Warehouse District. ‘There are virtually no memorials in the Twin Cities related to historical moments in the local labor movement,’ said Dave Riehle who chairs the Remember 1934 Committee, a group of labor activists, historians and sympathizers who organized and raised funds for the marker. ‘The ’34 Teamsters strikes were a critical moment in the American labor movement and we believe the time is long overdue for a memorial.’”
* There was a brief historical recollection of another epic Minnesota labor battle in last Sunday’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The strike by UFCW Local P-9 at Hormel’s Austin, Minnesota plant was not a major victory like the 1934 Teamsters but it was bravely fought with both traditional and innovative tactics and inspired widespread solidarity. It was well documented by Peter Rachleff who is not only a scholar of history but also played a leading role in the P-9 Support Committee in the Twin Cities. I highly recommend his book, Hard-Pressed in the Heartland: The Hormel Strike and the Future of the Labor Movement.
* From the Detroit Free-Press, “Worker advocates launched a 2016 ballot drive today to require that all Michigan employees earn paid sick days, a move they said is necessary because the Legislature has ignored a pressing issue.” Organizers are confident they can garner the needed 253,000 signatures.
* Here’s a Shocker from the Wichita State University paper, “The KanCare Ombudsman’s office in Topeka is establishing a KanCare Ombudsman Volunteer Program for individuals interested in providing a community service by assisting KanCare members who have questions or concerns regarding their health care coverage….They also will provide KanCare consumers with guidance and information on the appeals, grievances and State Fair Hearing processes. Volunteers are asked to serve 3-10 hours per week.” KanCare is the Sunflower State’s privatized Medicaid. It currently has one paid Ombudsman for the entire state. It wouldn’t be fair to ask the owners of “managed care” plans to pay a bunch of people threatening their profit margins. Governor Brownback’s state government already has gained national notoriety racking up a revenue shortfall of 400+ million and counting due to tax breaks for business and is “balancing” the budget by slashing school funding—in defiance of rulings by the Kansas Supreme Court. Of course, Kansas is one of the majority of states that refused additional Federal money for state run Medicaid provided in the Affordable Care Act. Hence the need for a revival of rugged Prairie Volunteerism.
I apologize for the tardiness of this WIR. Various factors have slowed my output but I hope to be back in sync soon.
That’s all for this week.
You can follow Bill Onasch on Google+
Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.
Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.