“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
A crowd gathered on Aug. 29 at Plymouth Pillars Park to show support for raising Seattle’s minimum wage to $15. The current minimum wage in Washington, which just went up this year, is $9.19. This call to establish an unprecedented living wage in the city is gaining momentum heading into the General Election this November. Several local politicians spoke at the Plymouth Pillars rally, all of them in the middle of their own campaigns for elected office.
City Councilmember Richard Conlin took to the podium early. Conlin’s seat on the council, Position 2, will be on the ballot this fall. By the final ballot count during the Primary Election, he received support from less than half of the city.
“As a councilmember I’ve worked hard to protect the safety net for our city’s most vulnerable and to support good jobs that pay living wages,” Conlin said, then going on to cite a resolution he sponsored to voice Seattle’s solidarity with striking public employees in Wisconsin in 2011. Hecklers shouted at Conlin throughout his brief speech, often mentioning his vote against the council measure that same year that provided paid sick leave for city employees. Conlin was the only councilmember to vote against that measure.
Mayor Mike McGinn joined the rally for a short time to give his own statement. “You guys have really got something. It’s called ‘guts’ and that’s what’s needed right now,” the mayor said. “We’ve seen 30 years plus of growing income inequality and if we don’t create a society where everybody has a chance, people can’t address the issues that are immediately in front of us if they can’t solve the bigger issues that we face.”
Mayor McGinn’s speech touched on the paid sick leave victory in city council and reiterated his support for local businesses. As with Conlin and McGinn’s opponent in the mayoral race, State Senator Ed Murray, the mayor himself chose not to voice explicit support for the $15 minimum wage.
Sen. Murray actually spoke at two events during the afternoon. Before joining the rally, Murray held a small public conference at his campaign headquarters nearby to discuss his general views on Seattle’s human services needs. Capitol Hill Times reporter Tyler Mangrum provided full coverage of that event this week.
“Yes, the concept of a $15 minimum wage, absolutely, I support it. How we get there is a question we’re gonna have to work through,” Murray said during the conference.
At the rally, Murray gave approximately half his time at the podium to the words of President Obama from his speech at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Specifically, he echoed the president’s thoughts on the subject of economic equality and dignity.
Coming closer to home, Murray said, “I know there are families all over this city right now who are being pushed out of this city because they can’t afford to be here anymore.”
Amid the procession of political candidates, a young fast food worker named Carlos Hernandez had the opportunity to speak. The rally was partly in solidarity with a one-day walkout strike by fast food workers all over the nation. Hernandez is an immigrant who has been working in the fast food industry for several years and aspires to a career in social work.
“I’ve been hearing the same stories,” Hernandez said. “People not getting overtime. People working eight years and getting 25 cents as a raise. They work in a place for a long time and get experience, but then they’ve got to do a lot more things for the same pay.”
He later said, “We are humans and we should be treated like humans, not slaves that serve food.”
Socialist Alternative, a grassroots political organization that has been a prominent group in Seattle since the Occupy movement, was a very visible presence at the rally. Kshama Sawant, the Socialist Alternative candidate for city council against Richard Conlin, also spoke.
“Fast food workers are setting an incredible example for people all around the country. Our movement has the potential to make history,” Sawant said. “There is no alternative to fighting back. We demand a $15 an hour minimum wage. We don’t accept that we should slave day after day, year after year for wages that cannot even keep the heat on in the shoebox apartments we’re forced to live in while the bosses shovel in the profits.”
Kshama Sawant, a community college economics teacher, ran for State Representative against Frank Chopp in 2012. In her current campaign against Richard Conlin, the $15 minimum wage has been central to Sawant’s platform. Heading into the General Election, she wants to increase the momentum of the movement.
“These one-day strike actions are an important start,” she said. “We need to build on them. Let’s be honest: we know the corporations are not going to give in because of a few rallies. Let’s build for a massive demonstration of hundreds of thousands of people, right here in Seattle this fall.”
Approximately 50 cities around the country participated in the one-day strike to some degree. There are no solid plans for further actions at this time, but organizers have expressed an interest in larger demonstrations.