TACOMA, Wa. – It was International Women’s Day, Mar. 8, and nearly 100 women and men marched in a steady downpour here to demand an increase in the minimumwage to $15 an hour.
The demonstrators carried handmade placards with slogans like “Everyone deserves a living wage” and “No hunger, homelessness…$15 NOW!”
They marched a few blocks to the parking lot of the Walmart, the big box billionaire corporation that pays its workers a sub-minimum wage when they can get away with it.
Cana Caldwell, a young African American woman, said she is now paying back college loans, for rent and transportation and food – with the help of food stamps – and not making ends meet on her $9.32 per hour. “I’m a hard worker,” she said. “I feel like I’m worth more than $9.32 an hour. That’s why I’m fighting for a $15 an hour minimum wage.”
Sarah Morken, spokesperson for the 15Now Coalition, said, “I’m pleased that we have so many people here on such a bad day. It shows how popular this issue is. It’s a crisis of capitalism that the system can’t provide for everybody’s needs.”
The 15Now movement began, she said, when fast food workers marched off their jobs across the nation last year demanding a $15- per-hour minimum wage. The action here was part of a nationwide mobilization to win the $15 minimum wage, she said.
“It’s good we are marching today. It’s International Women’s Day and most minimum wage workers are women,” she said.
Morken, herself, is the union shop steward, employed by a major healthcare provider where workers are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers. “As a health care worker, I have seen the stark evidence of the impact of low wages on workers, the impact on their health.” Millions of these workers, she said, are without any health care protection at all.
Several unions marched including the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union. Both the Socialist Alternative and the Tacoma Communist Party USA joined the march and rally.
“To get so many people marching in this pouring rain is pretty good,” said Katelyn Driskill, a 15Now organizer. “We just began organizing in February. This is our first rally. So often things get organized in Seattle. Tacoma is forgotten so we are really excited that people are standing up here to demand an increase in the minimum wage.”
Jose Sanchez held a placard he had written himself, “Poverty in the land of plenty: $15!”
“My parents were immigrants,” Sanchez said. “I’ve been in situations where we couldn’t buy food to eat. I was in the Marine Corps in Iraq and I saw people starving. We have a cycle of poverty in our country. The rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer. A $15 minimum wage is a step to close that gap.”
In January Jessyn Farrell, a first term Democratic member of the Washington state legislature, introduced House Bill 2672. The measure would raise Washington’s minimum wage to $12 hourly by 2017. So far 30 House Democrats have endorsed the bill but the Republican-controlled Senate is adamantly opposed.
Gov. Jay Inslee, in his state-of-the-state address, called for raising the minimum wage $2.50 an hour.
A study of the Washington state workforce found that more than 500,000 workers in the state would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage. More than two-thirds of them are women.
In Seattle, Kshama Sawant, a socialist, won election to the City Council largely because of her call for a $15 minimum wage in the city. Seattle’s newly-elected Mayor, Ed Murray, issued an executive order that his staff prepare plans to implement a $15 minimum wage in Seattle.
President Obama called in his State of the Union Address for an increase in the Federal Minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10—fanatically opposed by the Republicans and their corporate sponsors. The issue is seen as a key demand by Democrats in the 2014 elections.
When Washington State voters in 1998 approved a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage and index it to the cost of living, the corporate ultra-right falsely argued it would be a “job killer.” In fact, Washington State’s rate of job creation in the 15 years since then is 0.8 percent, 0.3 percent above the national average. The state’s minimum wage workers received a cost-of-living increase in January to $9.32 per hour, highest in the nation.
Everyone in the crowd seemed to recognize Kris Brannon, “The Sonics Man,” wearing his green Sonics basketball jacket and holding up the logo of that professional basketball team that left Seattle in 2008 for Oklahoma City.
“I go wherever the people are,” he said. “I try to keep it uncontroversial. But in principle, I am in favor of an increase in the minimum wage. If you work a forty hour week, you should earn enough to support yourself and your family. It doesn’t make sense to have a job and still be poor.
Photo: Tim Wheeler/PW