SAN JOSE, Calif. - A lively crowd of around 200 labor and community activists, gathering at IBEW Local 232 headquarters, kicked off a campaign to raise the minimum wage in San Jose from $8 to $10 an hour. The ballot measure will be voted on in November.
South Bay Labor Council Executive Officer Cindy Chavez, who chaired the evening, pointed out that opponents of the raise, led by the Chamber of Commerce, have vowed to raise $1.5 million to defeat the measure. The Chamber is asking individual donors (who obviously don't need to worry about how to get along on minimum wage themselves) for minimum contributions of $25,000.
She reminded the crowd that the argument that the minimum wage hike would kill the local economy is exactly the same line used to argue against the abolition of child labor and earlier against abolition of slavery, and against regulations for clean air and water. Big business groups fear that if a minimum wage hike goes through in San Jose, other cities will follow suit - as indeed they probably will - and that's why the Right is fighting so hard against this initiative.
Liz Schuler, secretary-treasurer of the national AFL-CIO, delivered a rousing keynote speech, evoking an enthusiastic response when she declared that the labor and community side had something better than money: "We've got people power!"
A real living wage in San Jose, where housing and other prices are well above the national average, would be at least $16 an hour. The proposed $10 an hour is scarcely more than halfway toward that level.
The campaign was initiated by a group of students at San Jose State University, supported by a number of local youth activist groups, including Next Generation Bay Area, Cafe J, and Justice Summer.
Anna Schlotz and Ze-kun Li of Next Generation spoke about the issue, as did Samya Abdallah, a student at DeAnza, a local community college, who herself is living on a minimum wage job. She pointed out that since the California minimum wage was last raised in 2008, tuition at the University of California has gone up 67 percent and at California State University 76 percent, putting college education increasingly out of reach of low-income and even middle-income students.
San Jose City Council member Ash Kaira and former councilperson Forrest Williams were present, as were representatives of Assemblyperson Luis Vallejo, who has been fighting for a statewide raise in the minimum wage, and several other elected officials.
As befit an event spearheaded by youth, all was not talk. Spoken word artist Adriana Garcia and rap duo Ookie Shamako and Cola delivered powerful riffs on the struggle for a livable minimum wage, to which the audience responded vigorously: "What time is it?" "Time for 10!" rang through the hall.
Photo: Protesters rally for a raise in the state's minimum wage on the Great Western Staircase at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. Mike Groll/AP