Good news workers! Speaker Coughlin and Senate President Sweeney checked in with Boss George and this is all you can have. Stay in poverty while they do press conferences and pat themselves on the back. What a deal! The Democratic Party is raising the minimum wage in the state of New Jersey. Leave it to this inept group of out of touch Norcross pawns to screw it up royally.
I was there from the start of things in NJ. The first organization to call for a $15 an hour minimum wage in New Jersey was 15 Now NJ in August of 2014. We were a small group of students and an unemployed union organizer. The support came early from the Green Party, Socialist Alternative, and the Industrial Union Council among other grassroots groups that the establishment works hard to marginalize in the Garden State. We got little if any attention from politicians, and even other activist groups at first, but it grew fast as the issue became a national fight.
The failure of 2016
Since 2013, around the country SEIU and other big labor groups poured money into the minimum wage fights. The “Fight for 15” took off in NY, Seattle, and cities all over. Nobody ever wanted to fund NJ. The lack of resources resulted in no real grassroots work getting done. Despite the lack of support from the establishment 15 Now and others pushed as hard as we could to make something happen, that included partnering with the union based “Fight for 15.”
Democrats were always feigning support for our efforts under cover of Chris Christie. Knowing that he would never sign a minimum wage increase into law, they could pass a clean 15 bill and not worry about actually passing a law that would offend their privileged snowflake business buddies. They could have passed an elimination of wage labor if they wanted, because ultimately it was all smoke.
Even though everybody knew the bill going through in 2016 had no chance of passing, there was a scuffle over a “phase in” time between organizations. Ultimately 15 Now did not sign a letter urging a 4 year phase in, instead pushing the coalition to stand firm and build a campaign for a better law. We failed. And the slide backwards kept going.
Steve Sweeney, Vincent Prieto (Speaker at the time), John Wisniewski all promised to put it on the the ballot over and over again in the media. All of these politicians were jockeying for positions in the Governor’s race and this issue was good for a little attention. They never had the votes to pass the bill, despite telling us all they did, repeatedly. I still can’t find anyone that believed them to begin with. And when the time came to put it on the ballot as they had promised,
We expected to expose friends and enemies in the legislature when the ballot fight hit, but this was worse than we anticipated. The response from the “Fight For 15” coalition was almost non-existent. Supporters of 15 Now called them all out on social media, tweeted at the liars, and visited offices with petitions. A few Working Families staffers worked to call up politicians who supposedly supported us. As it turned out, none of them did.
Not one Democrat in the whole state would have a press conference supporting us. The labor unions that made up the “Fight For 15” coalition fell deadly silent to protect friends, and the smug neoliberal apparatus walked away with the impression that they could pass whatever they wanted, pushback would be minimal. They wrote this current bill with that in mind, it shows.
But just wait…………………… a really long time.
So after this long period of struggling to “End Poverty Wages” get ready for some seriously slow change. This is not happening anytime soon. The tiered phase in schedule on this bill absolutely wreaks of racism and corporate structure. Our Democratic controlled legislature in New Jersey makes no attempt to hide the racism in it. By creating separate classes for agricultural workers, younger workers, and “small businesses,” they keep people who need raises the most out. Our response must be a resounding NO to carve outs and phase ins! 15 NOW means NOW!
This is the result of Democrats who insists on letting businesses in on every decision they make. Everything is a compromise with corporate donors. Instead of advocating for workers the school of New Jersey Neoliberals puts Democrats as the compromise-makers, the ones who sell out our needs for the needs of their friends, the lobbyists, the donors, the ones who win a little something every time. At some point in time the workers need wins, not compromises. We say now is that time.
The infantile privilege of small business owners.
All over social media the whining of “small business owners” and their cronies in politics could drown out a Giants game. Let’s get this straight everyone, owning a small business doesn’t give you some kind of God-given right to people’s labor for poverty wages. This is arrogance, born of a entitled attitude and greed. I can’t fathom how so many people are justifying the ravaging effects of low wages on our society by crying about a small businesses. If you can’t pay decent wages, close your business and go to work for someone who can.
Can you do us all a favor if you are coming to speak on behalf of the “poor beaten down small business owner” in Trenton? Let us visit your home and see how you live compared to your low wage employees. Let me watch you crawl out of your BMW in your suburban enclave. Stop trying to bullshit the public into believing you are so horribly oppressed. Just stop.
Recently some reports about small business owners in NJ have surfaced about a diner firing a student worker for asking to attend the funeral of a friend, and delivery workers insulted and threatened by a manager. Small business owners steal wages, abuse migrant labor, and mistreat workers all the time.
And some, I assume, are good people.
So this horrible bill is going to pass in some form, but we cannot pretend that we are satisfied to see the results. By playing for the “sweet spot” in the middle these out of touch Democrats have angered everyone.
We must now ask the question of these short sighted Democrats, why are you trying to compromise with the bosses? These petty bourgeois are never going to be happy with anything that benefits the worker. Yet to meet the demands of this movement all you have to do is get rid of the racism and accept that people who work for a living can have clear wins. If you are someone who thinks compromise is victory you are not on a side, you have chosen neutrality and comfort over taking a stand for justice.
And we must ask of ourselves, how can we commit to a sustainable campaign to end poverty in New Jersey? When “Fight for 15” formed it was only around a rally in Newark. These things can grow bigger if we work at it.
Not pick at the edges, not alleviate the symptoms. How do we end it?
15 Now NJ introduced many activists to each other over the past four years. We built a network that connects radicals around the state. Being involved with the movement opened my eyes to a lot more injustice than my privileges allowed me to see before. It also gave us a view of how divided the establishment kept us. From the historic effects of practices like redlining to the current trends of gentrification, this neoliberal order uses the same models around the country. The “emergency manager” rule that took away democratic control of the government in Atlantic City came out of Michigan. The privatization plan for the city water in Camden was attempted in Atlantic City, but because activists saw it coming they stopped it.
The key is to unite across the state in worker-based organizing. Ignore the immediate returns promised by catering to the capitalist class and get to work putting the people in power. I have seen a lot promising work from an impressively diverse group of people across the state on the minimum wage issue over the past few months. The involvement of youth activists, intersections of immigration, and other social justice issues have connected us. We are using these new networks to communicate in ways that will challenge the status-quo, but only if we keep building. We cannot slow down because a terrible bill passes, and we are told that is all we can do.
We decide when our elected officials are done working for us.
Brian Powers was a founding member of 15 Now NJ and currently works as a Senior Organizer at New Jersey Revolution Radio.