Source: The Guardian Unlimited
The fast-food workers movement’s Fight For $15 is encouraging – but these struggles won’t succeed unless they become more radical
Is the best way to achieve higher wages really legislation? Many think so. Across the country, working people are eagerly waiting to feel the effects of new laws that raise the minimum wage. Seattle will see an increase to $15 by 2021, and Los Angeles will see the same increase by 2020. But this strategy detracts from the only power dynamic that can actually overturn economic inequality: class struggle.
Legislative wage hikes fade fast into inflated prices. Worse, they teach folks that ultimately we need not organize – except to ask the state to change things for us. That’s a losing battle on all fronts and one that obscures class analysis. This analysis says that there are two classes under capitalism, who’s economically ordained conflict propels the system: the working class, who creates the surplus value in commodities, and the ruling class, who receives most of the wealth of commodities.
Instead of ceding our collective power to city councils and corporate offices, we need to broaden and radicalize the movement for a living wage, embracing more powerful tactics that today’s union leaders have dismissed. It’s not simply about the outcomes of reform; it’s about how we win it. That’s what teaches us how to fight. That’s what builds a movement. Without a movement, we have no hope for real, sustainable change. We have no hope of getting rid of capitalism.
If wage struggles are undertaken through strikes, work stoppages and occupations that physically keep out scabs, “replacement workers” who would take the places of strikers, struggles for higher wages can expose exploitation as the primary contradiction of capitalism. They can show that workers have the power to change the relationship between labor and capital and can teach class analysis on a scale that no college class can.
These tactics were used in the past: in 1945 and 1946 more than 4 million workers participated in the largest wave of strikes in American history. These strikes were so effective that in 1947 Congress, fearing union power, passed the Taft-Hartley Act to drastically restrict the tactics that organized labor could legally use, outlawing closed shops and strikes that affect whole industries, among other practices.