All posts by Jesse Lessinger

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Chicago: Angry Testimony at Minimum Wage Hearing

The first of five hearings called by the working group appointed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was held at a community college in Englewood, the economically devastated heart of Chicago’s South Side, on Monday night, June 9th. It proved to be an explosive meeting, taking on not only poverty wages but the entire landscape of the South Side, brutalized by decades of Democratic Party rule.

A panel of a dozen or so beautifully and expensively dressed Aldermen and women sat frozen in their places, unable to respond in any way as dozens of speakers demanded an immediate move to $15 an hour and bitterly denounced the elected officials for their corrupting affluence and political cowardice and  ineffectiveness.

Not one speaker seemed to think there was the least chance of the panel having the guts to stand up to “Mayor 1%”.  Only two speakers – both of them representatives of small businesses – opposed the $15 minimum.

“…some of you [Aldermen] are so cowardly you won’t even come out in your neighborhood to try to stop the violence, but yet you sit up there and talk. Walmart can sit up here and talks about ‘oh yeah, we appreciate our customers and our workers’ and yet they won’t give them that raise.

So why’re you all sitting here? What’s the use of this panel?  This is just like the school panel they had – you’re gonna do the same thing – take it down: ‘oh yeah we went out and we talked to the people and we did what the master Rahm wanted us to do and what Michael Madigan did’ and that’s all you want to do!  You can sit up here and shake your head, but it’s a shame the way your parents had to die and get bitten by dogs for you to get that hundred thousand dollars and that suit that you wear and you just sit up there and just say ‘well, I don’t care about the next man as long as I got mine’. But yet your parents as well as mine helped you where you’re at and this is how you treat your people. It’s a shame. But you know what, when it comes to election time I’m going to make sure that each one of you aldermen doesn’t get back in.  We’re going to let the people know what you really think of us”.

An ex-convict who now works to help young men to get an education attacked the obvious wealth of the aldermen on the stage, raging at the hypocrisy of Black politicians who join the ranks of the rich once they get elected: “you look like me, and yet you do not look like me. You don’t live in our neighborhoods. But we know where you live and we are coming after you, we are coming to get you”.

Several members of Socialist Alternative spoke about the success of 15 Now in Seattle and the groundbreaking election of Kshama Sawant who championed the $15 minimum wage.  The crowd applauded when the speaker identified the devastation of neighborhoods like Englewood with capitalism and with the Democratic Party, and called for no delay for big business in implementing a $15 minimum wage and for the building of a movement to fight for it.

Four more hearings are scheduled, but what happened at Monday’s hearing has not been reported by any major news channel, although numerous TV cameras were present.  

The burning desire for economic and racial justice expressed by these workers needs to be taken outside of the hearings and into the streets and ballot boxes in an organized way.   Activists in Chicago are beginning to set up a 15 Now Chicago chapter and seek to join Fight for 15 and its allies in building this movement.


Portland: Laborers and 15 NOW STORM PORTLAND CITY HALL

Today LiUNA took over Living Wage Wednesday and ignited a spark that will spread throughout this city and state. Around 75 Laborers and Portland citizens marched to City Hall and held a grand spectacle of a rally. A giant Fat Cat with his claws clasped tightly around a worker’s neck waved to honking motorists as the crowd chanted “15 NOW! 15 NOW!” At one point the Big Bad Corporate Boss showed up, and LiUNA’s champion for $15 came to the rescue, boxing it out with and knocking out the Corporate Boss, who gets rich by paying his workers poverty wages.

After the Big Bad Corporate Boss was subdued, the rally continued on the steps of Portland City Hall with a great line up speakers. 15 Now PDX organizer Justin Norton-Kertson spoke about the growing income inequality in Oregon, and the need for people return to their towns and neighborhoods and organize, not just within union shops, but among neighbors and communities, and among all the non-unionized low wage workers such as fast food workers. Zack Carver from the Laborer’s Union spoke about the need for organized labor to come together behind the Fight for $15.

LiUNA Speaker
Zack Carver

Heidi Sirpress is a single mother, a minimum wage worker, and a member of the Portland International Socialist Organization. She spoke about the broken and dysfunctional nature of the global capitalist system, as well as about her experience struggling to raise a child and put herself through school on a minimum wage job.

Heidi Speaking
Heidi Sirpress and Jaimie Partridge

Next Jaime Partridge, a retired member of the Oregon State Association of Letter Carriers, read the resolution they just passed in endorsement of the Fight for $15 in Portland and the state of Oregon. Anne McDonnell, a zoo worker with LiUNA Local 483here in Portland, also spoke, and announced to the rally that their union just made the demand a $15 minimum wage for their workers at the bargaining table! Finally, Nicholas Caleb ended the line up of speakers by talking about what his run for city council accomplished, including the formation of 15 Now PDX, and he encouraged the city to continue to Fight for $15.



After the speakers concluded, the rally moved inside City Hall with letters to deliver to each of the council member and the mayor.  Security tried to allow only 5 people to enter the building and deliver the letters, but the ralliers demanded entrance to their public institution and access to their political representatives. Much to the dismay of City Hall security, the whole group was able to get inside. The group headed up to the second floor and proceeded to each of the council members’ offices, where Alexandra Meyer spoke on behalf of the group and delivered the letters. All of the letters were delivered the council members’ office staff.

SaltzmanDan Saltzman was the only council member who was in his office at the time. He came out and spoke with us, accepted the letter, and said he agreed that we need to raise the minimum wage in Portland. While we appreciate him coming out and speaking with us, he unfortunately did not and has not yet committed to $15 for the City of Portland.

After the letters were delivered the rally made its way back downstairs and concluded with a call to continue the Fight for $15. 15 Now PDX is excited to continue teaming up with unions and workers around the city to hold great events like this. But Big Business and the Big Bad Corporate Boss are not going to let us have $15/hr without throwing millions of dollars into the fight against us. Help us fight Big Business and keep the pressure on our city council by making a contribution to the Fight for $15 in Portland today!


15 Now Launches Signature Gathering to put $15 on the Ballot

“Workers can’t wait ’til 2025″ — Councilmember Sawant, the first to sign the petition

On the same day fast food workers were walking off the job in 150 cities in the U.S. and over 30 countries around the world, 15 Now was officially starting to gather signatures for its $15 an hour charter amendment. The first to sign the petition to get the amendment onto the ballot was city councilmember Kshama Sawant. Continue reading

New Poll on the $15 Minimum Wage Shows Support in Seattle is Higher Than Ever: 74 Percent

by Anna Minard from The Stranger


Back in January, a poll of Seattle voters showed a whopping 68 percent supported a $15 minimum wage, a level of support that was surprising even to the labor coalition that funded the poll (and the pollsters who conducted it). But that was before the debate heated up, before multiple proposals were out, before big business had time to start organizing. What, people wondered, would voter support look like now that we’ve been debating the issue for four months?

Well, according to a just-released poll by the same firm and paid for by SEIU 775: Support for a $15 minimum wage has now hit 74 percent of likely Seattle voters.

Read more here.

Seattle Leads the Way in the Fight for 15

It started with Occupy three years ago when outrage against inequality poured onto the streets. Then fast food workers in New York went on strike calling for 15, and the movement spread across the country. 15 Now man

Last fall, a small town south of Seattle called SeaTac passed a referendum to raise the minimum wage to 15 while socialist Kshama Sawant defeated a corporate Democrat and won a seat on the Seattle City Council by campaigning for 15.

Now fast food workers are walking off the job in 150 cities across the U.S. and 30 countries around the world on May 15th and Seattle is on the verge of becoming the first major city to win 15. Under pressure from Kshama Sawant and the campaign she launched called 15 Now, the Seattle Mayor has put forward a proposal for $15 an hour minimum wage.

This historic achievement shows the power of our movement. But the Mayor’s proposal also bears the mark of big business with loopholes like a delayed phase-in to get up to 15 over many years. 15 Now in Seattle is pushing ahead to close the corporate loopholes and win the strongest possible 15.

The key to our success is building maximum pressure from below.

Continue reading