The ‘trouble’ didn’t start with the Westword article. The trouble started when the executive and steering committees of the Colorado minimum wage coalition agreed to sell out the Fight for $15 and legislate $12 in 2020 on behalf of foundations.
Every single Colorado wage-earner I’ve spoken to about the $12 in 2020 minimum wage proposal reacts: It’s not enough. It’s weak. It’s demoralizing. What about skyrocketing rent? “$12 isn’t enough now… and it’s not going into effect until 2020?!?!?”
Also, of course: “I thought it was $15?”
Readers, so you know right off the bat: I’m voting in favor of $12 in 2020. But I consider my vote to be a vote of critical support.
I also encourage everyone else to vote in favor of it.
To the critical part…
Let’s start here: in order to participate in the minimum wage coalition’s executive committee, you had to drop $5,000 as a pay-to-play fee (apparently the fee increased to $10,000 after I left).
That was the coalition’s first major contradiction.
How do you even consider bringing minimum wage workers to the table with shit like that?
So the table was nothing but non-profit and union staff. Some organizations could afford the $5K pay-to-play fee, others sat on the steering committee for $500 bucks.
But let’s tease that idea out a little bit.
Say a minimum-wage worker managed to cut back on ramen noodles and scrape together some cash to drop a solid $500/$5K/$10K on the table. Then what? How would that worker’s voice size up against the hundreds of thousands of dollars coming in from foundations?
Second contradiction: lack of democracy in the face of foundation money.
Money talks. So when foundations are dropping tens of thousands of dollars on you, you shut up and do what they say.
In this case, the foundations attached the following strings: 1. Conduct focus groups and 2. Obtain polling data. The purpose: to see what kinda numbers resonated best with potential voters. $12 in 2020? $13 in 2018? $20 in 2020? $12.50 in 2050?
Meanwhile, in the streets, across the country: the Fight for $15 has been waged with strikes, protests, community organizing, and legislation. It has endured tear gas, sound cannons, arrests, and the crocodile tears of corporate America hiding in the shadows of mom & pop shops claiming that the sky will fall if $15 is implemented.
This struggle and perseverance has helped win $15 minimum wages in towns, cities, and other municipalities across the country. So you don’t just throw the Fight for $15 struggle under the bus cuz some foundations dropped some money on your cause!
Which gets us to contradiction #3: in matters concerning Colorado wage-earners, you don’t turn to foundations, focus groups, and polling data. You turn to the existing struggle and expand on its accomplishments. In this case: you turn to Colorado’s minimum-wage workers, labor activists, CWA members/Verizon strikers, other union members, congregations, community groups, allies, etc. And if those folks “aren’t around” or if they’re not “ready”, then that becomes part of the struggle as we re-strategize to demand $15 or more.
Because across the country we’re seeing $15 is winnable at the local and state levels.
I’d also like to highlight the following because there seems to be little discussion about this: foundations are just another way in which rich people horde their wealth to avoid taxes and at the same time: leverage political influence through grants.
That being said, do you really think a foundation is going to give out money to a cause that will question/critique the economic system that made them stupidly wealthy in the first place? No, they’ll promote ideas and fund causes that simply alleviate the paycheck-to-paycheck stranglehold, keep workers from rebelling, and therefore: the system in check.
So for now I’ll say this much:
I will vote in favor of this poorly-conceived piece of legislation whose purpose is to administer the interests of foundations… Voting for this modest increase is an easy way to alleviate the suffering of Colorado minimum-wage workers.
But this also takes our conversation to the day after Election Day.
What lessons have we learned from all this?
Will we allow a sell out of this magnitude to happen again?
And if so, how will we hold our non-profit and union leaders accountable?