Workers’ Correspondence

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — By just 1,481 votes, this city’s “Living Wage Initiative” was defeated on Oct. 4. The initiative would have lifted 40,000 families out of poverty by raising the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.50 an hour.

The initiative made the ballot last spring, and enjoyed 82 percent public support. But this support dropped to 54 percent just one week before the election, largely due to the opposition’s negative propaganda.

Prime-time television ads, funded mainly by the Chamber of Commerce, called the measure “the deception initiative.” They spoke of several “small-print” hidden clauses that would supposedly allow strangers to invade schools and jobs sites and to get access to medical records. These claims were illogical and false. Comcast Cable decided just before the vote that the “deception initiative” ads were fraudulent and could not be aired. That same day, Comcast picked up Living Wage ads.

The actual clauses of the Living Wage Initiative called for:

• Increasing waiters’ and waitresses’ wages from $2.85 an hour to $4.50 an hour.

• An annual adjustment of the minimum wage, based on inflation.

• Requiring all businesses with more than 10 personnel to comply.

• Furnishing workers with information about the new law.

The Living Wage Committee, largely fueled by ACORN, conducted extensive precinct walking and phone banking. A crew of 12 became an army of 50 in just three short days. Underemployed college students, parents and even grandparents became fired up social justice fighters.

As a crew manager, I trained and delivered a crew to its assigned turf. Many broke from the standard “rap” and spoke of their own life experience with minimum wage jobs. Some early conclusions: Everyday workers are aware of their conditions as oppressed, not because of a lecture or a dusty textbook, but because they live oppression day after day. Campaigns against large corporate money cannot be won in a week. Organizers need accurate, timely information.

When so many workers joined the political conversation, this cannot be viewed as a defeat. In the long run, we know our tears today will make victory taste much sweeter tomorrow.

The author is an ACORN organizer from California who was assigned to help the New Mexico campaign.