How can we win $15/hr nationwide?

Published on March 7, 2021

A federal $15 minimum wage was one of Biden’s main campaign promises, but we’ve yet to see it delivered. 

Last week, the House of Representatives passed a COVID relief bill containing language to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to 15 dollars per hour. When it moved to the Senate for approval yesterday, however, corporate Democrats attempted to gut $15 from the bill. President Biden, Joe Manchin, and others have put forward the flimsy excuse that the Senate parliamentarian has the authority to unilaterally strike the $15 minimum wage language from the bill. 

Senator Bernie Sanders called out this transparent maneuvering for what it is and forced a vote on the inclusion of the wage raise in the bill. Yet, despite popular support nationwide for $15, eight Democratic Senators shamefully voted down the inclusion of $15 in the COVID relief package, including Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema who has previously stated that she supports raising the federal minimum wage.

The betrayal of these Democratic Party senators means that the COVID relief package will be sent back to the House of Representatives for approval with the section on $15 removed. Where does that leave the fight for $15? Do we have to cut our losses and wait for a more opportune time? Do we need to wait to discuss $15 on its own, apart from the COVID relief bill, as some Democrats urge? 

In reality there’s no better time than now for “The Squad”, the six-person block of progressive Congresspeople, to leverage the power. The stimulus is a must-pass bill. This means that the Squad has an opportunity to apply real pressure on the issue by refusing to vote for the stimulus bill if it does not include a clause about raising the minimum wage to $15. The Democratic Party continually uses conservative Democratic senators such as Joe Manchin as an excuse to block votes on progressive legislation. Now, the Squad holds the balance of power in Congress and they should use it to fight for working people every bit as hard as establishment politicians like Manchin fight for big business.

In order to win $15 at the national level, we need the same kind of strategy that won $15 here in Seattle. We saw in Seattle’s struggle to win $15 that a movement-based approach was necessary, and that’s why the Squad should not only refuse to vote for a stimulus bill without $15, but also call for mass meetings and rallies across the country to back up such a move. As Kshama laid out in her recent article about how we won $15 in Seattle, winning gains for working people requires mass action and the courage to fight back against big business and their political representatives.

Winning $15 will require a clear strategy from the working class, socialists, and progressives. It will require participation from the labor movement, with labor leaders calling meetings and demonstrations. Discussions on what sort of strategy is necessary to win are happening around the country. Kshama has spoken on the topic in recent podcast appearances like Amped Up with Ryan Knight as well as a recent Bad Faith livestream titled “The Fight for $15 Isn’t Over.”

The lessons of our landmark win for $15 in Seattle are not that it’s only something that can be pulled off at the local level or because Seattle is some sort of progressive bastion where it was easy to achieve our victory. We won because we had a fighting strategy and because we elected an independent socialist to the City Council who built a movement based on that strategy. We won because we went all out to organize working class power: we launched the 15 Now grassroots campaign, organized mass conferences, rallies, marches, answered the lies of the corporate media, and filed a grassroots ballot initiative in case the City Council refused to act.

Our victory in Seattle shone as a beacon across the country, and many other cities soon followed with their own struggles for $15 and won. As the fight to win a federal $15 minimum wage heats up, it’s essential that we continue to provide an example here in Seattle of how to fight and win. 

The right wing and big business are attempting to recall Councilmember Kshama Sawant precisely because of the inspiring example she provides for workers to struggle and win gains against the capitalist class. It’s crucial that we defend Kshama’s seat so that we can continue to win reforms for working people in Seattle as well as provide a fighting example for working people nationwide.