Friday, February 02, 2007

The Living Wage Battle That Wasn't

By now the papers and the blogosphere are well alight over the Living Wage compromise, so there's no point rehashing the fine points now. There's also been no shortage of credit-taking for this victory, so why not follow suit and hand some to a generally-overlooked faction in this fight: the community leaders, clergy, and progressive organizations (including, yes, the L.A. Greens) who have been steadfastly behind the workers in their quest for a fair wage, health care, and decent working conditions. It's us that made 'em blink.

Look at the facts: the L.A. Chamber of Commerce spent $2M of their own money to put this on the ballot, and they had another $5M (at least) set aside to blanket voters with mailers. They had the California Association of Restaurants and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ready to hop in with more. They had every single major newspaper in the city on their side. And they had the "no" side of the ballot referrendum... considered by most to be the easiest side to defend in a ballot measure. With all these advantages on hand, why'd the Chamber chicken out? 'Cause they don't have anything like us: we thousands of Angelenos who've demonstrated our willingness to go to the mat on behalf of these workers, even if it means being arrested. Fun thought experiment: imagine the number of Angelenos willing to be arrested to demonstrate their support of the mega-hotels on Century, or the multinational corporations who own them.

What is the sound of zero hands clapping?

Okay, so the deal got made. Is labor happy with it? The buzz is thus: "eh."

While it's nice that the workers are getting most everything they wanted, this backroom deal short-circuits a conversation that L.A. desperately needed to have: do workers in Los Angeles deserve to be paid a decent wage, or don't they? All of Los Angeles would've been forced to mull that question for months before finally declaring an answer come May, had this election taken place. But now that it's back off the ballot, we Angelenos can go back to our lives, and the hundreds of thousands of poverty-wage workers in L.A. who don't work on Century Boulevard will continue to be as invisible as they are today. That's a bummer, and no mistake.

But don't be fooled by the Chamber's claim of a hermetic seal on any future living wage fights. "Living Wage is what we do," says my buddy in LAANE. "It's what put us on the map, and we're not going away from it."

And that is the best news I've heard all week.


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