Boots from the Coup Says Raising the Minimum Wage is Not Enough…We Need Revolution
Over recent months, there has been an ongoing struggle to raise the minimum wage in an effort to address the rise in the cost of living for millions of Americans. The concept is pretty straightforward – raise the minimum wage, and people can afford to live, pay rent, raise a family, and so forth. However, the reality is that the struggle is much more complex, with different states and cities implementing their own paths towards a solution. For example, Los Angeles has promised to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2020, while Seattle will achieve the same a year later. The current federal minimum wage rests at $7.25/hour, an amount that makes it impossible for many Americans to survive, let alone save any money for retirement or college funds for their children. Recent strikes by massive amounts of fast-food workers have brought the conversation about wages to a head, invoking the rich history of labor strikes in the United States over the course of centuries of capitalism. Collectively known as the Fight for 15, the nationwide movement to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 has drawn criticism from outspoken voices, most recently from within the Hip-Hop community.
In a recent op-ed for Creative Time Reports, Oakland MC, writer, activist, poet, and overall Renaissance Man Boots Riley has laid out a blueprint for achieving the drastic results needed to ensure a living wage for more Americans, one that involves the radicalization of the ideals set forth by groups like Fight for 15. Heads may be familiar with him as a member of the Coup and the Street Sweeper Social Club, two progressive musical outfits that have used their respective platforms for the voicing of frustrations, particularly when it comes to political and social issues. Boots has made extensive room outside of the studio and off the stage to address those issues, as well, and his opinions on the effective execution of a real change in the minimum-wage battle are the latest to be published.
He begins his argument by expressing the unpopular belief that legislation is not always the best way to get things done. “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,” he argues. A reliance on government bodies to achieve progressive goals is a fool’s errand, he feels, because that reliance leaves little room for revealing what he says is the root cause of the problem – capitalism. He writes, “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.”
Riley goes on to include an extensive history lesson, one that provides context regarding labor disputes throughout American history, particularly in the 20th century. In an effort to support his argument for more vociferous, strategic labor strike tactics, he shares with readers ” 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.” In order to bring forth true change, a direct conversation about what will happen if striking workers are not given what they deserve, Riley writes that we need to realize that “our power lies not in the streets but at the pivot point of capitalism: the workplace.”
So what can we do? “I suggest that radicals create new, militant unions that are upfront about their revolutionary ideals, clearly articulating that winning fights around wage hikes through militant strikes is but one step in a revolutionary strategy,” he writes. Simply put, drastic results cannot be expected if drastic strategies are not implemented. They must be thoughtful and methodical, but most importantly, they must be radical.
How can folks use the tools at their advantage – social media, the internet, technology – to contribute to this conversation? Is it time for a revolution?