FIGHT FOR $15 AN HOUR – US Senate Democrats urge President Obama

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IN a letter sent to the White House on Friday, Sen. Bernie Sanders joined Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other Senate Democrats in urging President Obama to escalate his support for struggling Americans and get behind the ‘Fight for $15’ movement, which has galvanised low-paid workers across the nation in a collective call for better treatment by employers, the right to unionise, and a living wage.

Asking Obama to go further than his previous endorsement of raising the federal minimum wage from its current $7.25 to $10.10 – and praising a previous executive order issued by the president which raised the hourly pay for federal contract workers – the letter said the ongoing plight of workers and their families across the country demands even more bold action.

‘Mr. President, the stroke of your pen can have transformative impact for millions of workers,’ reads the letter.

‘As low-wage fast food, retail and federal contract workers continue to strike in growing numbers to “Fight for $15 and a Union,” we urge you to harness the power of the presidency to help these workers achieve the American Dream.’

The letter from the senators argues that the government, like some private sector companies, has a powerful role to play as a ‘model employer,’ offering an important example in terms of wages and incentivising others to improve the treatment of workers across the board. The letter states:

‘The federal government continues to be America’s largest low-wage job creator, subsidising poverty-level wages through taxpayer-funded contracts. We urge you to harness the power of the presidency to help workers.

‘To add insult to injury, many of these contract workers are forced to rely on public assistance programs to supplement their meagre incomes.

‘You have held up profitable companies, such as Costco, as examples of model employers to be emulated because they pay their workers living wages and benefits as well as respect their right to organise unions.

‘Now is the time to declare that the federal government will invest our taxpayer dollars to incentivise model employers that commit to creating good jobs and to rebuilding America’s ailing middle class.’

Last month, on April 15, labour unions and workers gathered under the ‘Fight for $15’ banner to stage the largest coordinated day of action yet with strikes, protests, and demonstrations in dozens of cities across the US and around the world.

According to the Huffington Post: ‘The letter is just the latest indication that the union-backed movement has succeeded in influencing Democratic politics, and not just when it comes to state and local minimum wage laws.

‘Paco Fabian, a spokesman for Good Jobs Nation, said Democrats looking to run for the White House should take note of Friday’s letter, which was signed entirely by Democrats and Sanders, an independent who is also making a bid for the Democratic nomination.

‘For the first time a group of US Senators are demonstrating strong support for low wage workers trying to improve their working conditions by proposing a realistic solution,’ Fabian said in an email.

‘The federal government’s role regarding economic inequality is clear. The question is which candidates for President plan to propose common sense solutions? This letter provides part of the answer.’

In addition to Sen. Warren, the other Democrats who signed the letter are Dick Durbin (Ill.); Richard Blumenthal (Conn.); Edward Markey (Mass.); Mazie Hirono (Hawaii); Debbie Stabenow (Mich.); Ron Wyden (Ore.); Barbara Mikulski (Md.) Al Franken (Minn.); Jeff Merkley (Ore.); Chris Murphy (Conn.); Tammy Baldwin (Wis.); Jack Reed (R.I.); Ben Cardin (Md.); Bob Menendez (N.J.); Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.); and Martin Heinrich (N.M.).

Meanwhile in a special letter Senator Scott Walker was proving that the main enemy for the US ruling class is at home.

Last Saturday morning, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said that ‘the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime’ was Ronald Reagan’s aggressive response to an air traffic controllers strike in 1981.

Forget Nixon’s outreach to China, Reagan’s defence buildup, or the Iraq war – it’s all about the firing of about 11,000 federal employees.

Walker has made similar remarks about Reagan and the air traffic controllers before. But now, he is one of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination in 2016.

And he is trying to convince party elites that he can be their guy. But instead of checking off the foreign policy box, this latest comment adds to a list of foreign policy screwups.

Walker has repeatedly asserted that the air traffic controllers strike was a critical foreign policy decision, arguing that it sent the Soviets a message that Reagan meant what he said.

At one point, he cited Soviet documents to support his point – documents that, it turns out, were entirely made up.

Reagan’s own ambassador to the Soviet Union told Politifact back in January that Walker’s interpretation of these events is ‘utter nonsense’.

Earlier this week, Walker had got into hot water for saying that his fight with unions at home prepared him for fighting ISIS abroad.

‘If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world,’ Walker said.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, another 2016 hopeful and no squishy moderate, called Walker’s comments ‘inappropriate’.

So during Walker’s appearance at a Club for Growth event Saturday morning, Frayda Levin, a board member of the conservative economic group, asked Walker about his struggles on this issue.

‘The feedback after a meeting with New York donors was you were not prepared to speak about foreign policy’, she said.

That’s when Walker responded with his instantly-infamous line about Reagan’s confrontation with air traffic controllers being ‘the most significant foreign policy decision’ in his life.

‘It sent a message not only across America, it sent a message around the world “that we weren’t to be messed with”.’

As Levin’s comments suggest, a lot of important Republican donors and activists care a lot about foreign policy.

The fact that Walker’s response to criticism of his past line on foreign policy is to double down on a transparently ridiculous claim will give this wing of t he party zero confidence that he could manage America’s world affairs.

Walker has no experience on foreign policy. That’s not necessarily a problem – Jeb Bush, another leading 2016 candidate, doesn’t either.

But Bush has at least made an effort on foreign policy. His recent address on the subject contained several embarrassing gaffes, but his broad themes were basically acceptable to the GOP mainstream.

Bush and Walker are two of the most plausible candidates, both competing for the support of the Republican establishment.

Whichever one ends up sounding better on foreign policy could end up getting a huge advantage in the invisible primary, the competition for support among party elites that plays a huge role in determining who wins the nomination.