Welcome to #NJRR Live!
Good evening, everyone, and thank you for tuning into #NJRR Live on Revolution Radio network! We come at you every Wednesday night at 8:00 PM EST, bringing you news from the world of grassroots activism! We talk about issues such as labor, police brutality, economic situations, and government policy. You can help make sure we keep going by donating or joining our Editorial Board!
The issue we will be discussing tonight is the minimum wage and unions. Union work is how Brian came into the world of activism, so this topic is personal to him. Brian sees the entire issue as a means to an end of a system designed for failure. He is so over a $15/hour minimum wage.
It is important to respect workers. People often do not realize that workers are just as human as them. They deal with a lot of shit every day. Being a customer service worker, in particular, is a perfect encapsulation of working within the capitalist system. You sit at a desk from 9:00 to 5:00 every weekday and you do what you’re told, and if you don’t do that, you don’t get to eat.
Although workers do operate within the system, people need to remember that they did not create it. Whatever hassle you’re dealing with that made you come to customer service is not their fault. Brian recalls a time when he recognized relief in the voice of a customer service agent whom he was kind to.
Brian brings in Patrick Fahy, an Editorial Board member and comrade. Brian and Patrick met back when they were both in the same union and both working for Verizon. They have since organized for minimum wage protests together.
The government wants the recent stimulus check to distract us from the fact that so many people are being systematically held in poverty or just above the poverty line. 1400 is not enough to get back on solid long-term financial ground. If it is, you weren’t ever really that financially unstable to begin with.
Politicians are celebrating that, with this stimulus check, the child poverty rate in America will be cut in half. It is ridiculous to celebrate half of children not living in poverty. If it is in their power to cut it in half, why not cut it in whole?
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We are honored to welcome Mariah Painter, another Editorial Board member, to the panel! Mariah first got involved with worker’s rights movements in grad school when she joined the Students Against Sweatshops Alliance at Rutgers University. Since graduating, Mariah has worked with various unions in several states including Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
Brian recalls his motivations behind getting involved with the political realm as it related to workers’ rights. He wanted to get involved in a movement that could make a real positive difference for workers’ rights by affecting policy. He was also impressed and inspired when workers in Seattle were able to get a raise on the minimum wage. Brian joined 15 Now in 2014 in an attempt to get on board with the minimum wage raise movement.
Despite Brian’s hopes, the 15 Now Campaign fell apart. Brian thinks the reason that we do not have a $15/hour minimum wage, despite a very drastic and apparent need, is because the idea was never taken seriously by Democrats or working families. Additionally, 15 Now was poorly organized and never stood a chance as it was. 15 Now was an organization that left Brian walking away disgusted after seeing the politics from the inside.
Several months ago, when banks needed a break, they had their relief bill within three days. But when the working class of America has needs, they go unmet and unaddressed for years. The discussion about a 15/hr minimum wage has finally, after 10 long years, entered the public sphere. Approval ratings in polls are generally above 50 percent across most of America. However, it’s too late: 15 dollars an hour isn’t enough anymore.
Mariah recalls that the student workers’ organization from her University was eventually able to bargain with Rutgers for the common good and achieve a minimum wage of 12 or 13 dollars. Since graduating, Mariah has moved on to do many things, including managing a homeless shelter for families. She testifies that most of the people there have jobs despite being homeless. A $15/hr minimum wage increase would have a tangible impact on many of those living in the shelter she manages.
Mariah, Pat, and Brian all recall their experiences with unions. Unfortunately, unions have generally become corrupt. They are disorganized. Their members are dejected due to having been beaten down repeatedly. Union leaders make safe bets in who is going to get into office, then they support that person financially as they campaign. Then, when the politician gets into office, they owe the union leaders favors.
Brian asks the Editorial Board members on the panel where they think the minimum wage movement got tripped up. As someone who works with unions regularly, Mariah says that she believes it is the fault of the union movement. Many unions lose sight of the workers that constitute them. Over time, union leadership forgets about class solidarity. The shortcomings of unions are likely side effects of the fact that unions have to operate within capitalism.
The Future of the Movement
Before we go, Brian asks the panel about what they think of the future of the minimum wage movement. Mariah suggests that the movement be renamed “#StriveFor25” because a 15 dollar minimum wage is in the past. She also thinks it could be a good idea to partner minimum wage legislation with the Green New Deal. After all, the Green New Deal comes with a guarantee to create new jobs. An audience member suggests that we couple minimum wage legislation with Basic Income.
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Until next week, everyone, stay safe, stay well, and stay informed.
-Leah Giannantonio, for the Revolution Radio Network