Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Los Angeles $15/Hr. Minimum Wage Huge Win

Leadership of mainstream political parties, zombies of a bankrupt and corrupt neoliberal consensus, got a jolt yesterday as the megalopolis of Los Angeles adopted a $15/hr. minimum wage. Jennifer Medina and Noam Scheiber have the story, "Los Angeles Lifts Its Minimum Wage to $15 Per Hour":
LOS ANGELES — The nation’s second-largest city voted Tuesday to increase its minimum wage from $9 an hour to $15 an hour by 2020, in what is perhaps the most significant victory so far for labor groups and their allies who are engaged in a national push to raise the minimum wage.
The increase, which the City Council passed in a 14-to-1 vote, comes as workers across the country are rallying for higher wages and several large companies, including Facebook and Walmart, have moved to raise their lowest wages. Several other cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and Oakland, Calif., have already approved increases, and dozens more are considering doing the same. In 2014, a number of Republican-leaning states like Alaska and South Dakota also raised their state-level minimum wages by ballot initiative.
The effect is likely to be particularly strong in Los Angeles, where, according to some estimates, almost 50 percent of the city’s work force earns less than $15 an hour. Under the plan approved Tuesday, the minimum wage will rise over five years.
“The effects here will be the biggest by far,” said Michael Reich, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was commissioned by city leaders to conduct several studies on the potential effects of a minimum-wage increase. “The proposal will bring wages up in a way we haven’t seen since the 1960s. There’s a sense spreading that this is the new norm, especially in areas that have high costs of housing.” 
The groups pressing for higher minimum wages said that the Los Angeles vote could set off a wave of increases across Southern California, and that higher pay scales would improve the way of life for the region’s vast low-wage work force. 
Supporters of higher wages say they hope the move will reverberate nationally. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced this month that he was convening a state board to consider a wage increase in the local fast-food industry, which could be enacted without a vote in the State Legislature. Immediately after the Los Angeles vote, pressure began to build on Mr. Cuomo to reject an increase that falls short of $15 an hour.
Opponents of the $15/hr. minimum wage hide behind small business owners, arguing that it will force them to close their doors. This is a red herring akin to trotting out the family farm when it comes time to call for a repeal of the estate tax or similar to USG claims that Shiite militias have to be sidelined in order to prevent the spread of sectarianism as Islamic State rampages.

If you have been to any urban core lately, you will have noticed, as I did recently on a trip to the Bay Area, that there are very few independent, small business retailers left standing. The overwhelming number of the storefronts I saw were corporate chains. The Bay Area I grew up in always had a large number of vibrant, independent small businesses, part of the legacy of being a Hippie Mecca. No longer.

As the Medina and Scheiber story makes plain, neoliberal Democrats like Andrew Cuomo are now on the hot seat. It is "shit or get off the pot" time for captive politicians. This minimum-wage wave is robust in red states too, as victories in Alaska and South Dakota during the GOP landslide of the 2014 midterms prove.

Over the weekend I finished Tariq Ali's The Extreme Centre: A Warning (2015). Ali takes us on a tour of Western democracies, focusing principally on the UK, since the collapse of communism in the late 1980s/early 1990s. The mainstream parties have morphed into de facto permanent neoliberal government cannibalizing the remnants of the post-WWII social order.

I mentioned in a post last month that Ali thinks that there is plenty of juice left in U.S. global hegemony. All talk of a "decline of the U.S.-led West" is wishful thinking. The one wild card Ali does hold out is popular reaction. As the mainstreams parties have cohered into an extreme center, they have become almost totally divorced from the 99% they nominally represent. This creates an opportunity for new parties to form, at least in parliamentary systems where party formation isn't impossible. So you have Syriza, which has been locked in a death struggle with enforcers of neoliberal austerity, the troika, since it came out on top in Greece's January elections. And you have Podemos in Spain, which will get a chance this Sunday in municipal and regional elections.

In the U.S., the only game in town is $15 Now. Well, that's not true. There's the #Black Lives Matter movement, which has, in less than a year, re-framed centuries of policing and racial stereotypes. Whites are moving toward minority status in the U.S. Obama, in Camden, NJ on Monday, announced that he was curtailing the Pentagon pipeline of surplus hardware to local police.

The LA $15 minimum wage and the shift underway in racial perceptions are huge gains and bode ill for business-as-usual neoliberalism. A mainstream party will win the election next year, but the ground is shifting. Change is coming.

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