title(“Houston’s Living Wage Campaign Gets On The Ballot”)


 

 

‘What did I tell you! I knew it wouldn’t
even be close. What did I say, huh!" shouted an
obviously exultant activist working with Houston’s Living
Wage campaign. It is 3:00 a.m., Wednesday morning, November
6th, after the election, and several of us look up smiling,
though exhausted. Sure enough, there it is, "30,000
signatures" scrawled on the chalk board inside the
Harris County AFL-CIO Central Labor Council meeting hall.
These signatures were collected by volunteers at polling
places, churches, campuses and parking lots around the clock
for a month, and the activist was right–it wasn’t even
close.

His excitement was shared by all of us who
had worked so hard. Kicked off earlier in the year by SEIU
Local 100 in Houston, Texas, the Living Wage
Campaign–"Six-fifty for the City’. soon won the
endorsement and active support of the Harris County AFL-CIO
central labor council, ACORN, Houston NOW, the Gray Panthers,
the Urban League and numerous church and community groups.
Working together, the Living Wage Campaign reached out to all
Houstonians in the effort to get a municipal minimum wage
proposal of $6.50 an hour for all workers employed in Houston

on the ballot as a referendum measure this
winter. In order to be successful, the Campaign had to obtain
19,000 verifiable signatures of registered voters residing in
Houston between October 8th and November 5th. When the final
tallies were done, it was clear: The hard work of union
members, community activists, and volunteers had paid off,
and then some. The Living Wage Campaign had collected over
30,000 verified and confirmed voters’ signatures in under a
month. The petitions were presented to City Hall November
6th, and the battle is on to secure the referendum on the
ballot and win the election, tentatively scheduled for
January 18th of next year.

Although the hard work is really just
beginning, the successful petition drive marks an important
milestone for the labor movement in Houston, Texas.
"This is the largest grass-roots effort conducted by the
Harris County AFL-CIO in 20 years or more,’ exclaimed Orell
Fitzsimmons of SEIU Local 100. Involvement with the Living
Wage campaign follows other solidarity actions the Central
Labor Council recently initiated,. most notably picketing and
leafleting in support of both the Steelworkers in their fight
with Bridgestone and for UNITE in their ultimately successful
struggle with K-Mart. By concretely backing this initiative,
the workers of Houston have a chance to get to know the labor
movement in the flesh, so to speak, rather than the usual
negative (and un-"objective’) coverage usually provided
by the pro-corporate press, when and if working peoples’
struggles are covered at all.

However important this institutional
support is, this measure would have been just another ‘good
idea that died" if it were not for the strong grass
involvement the Living Wage Campaign received by the hundreds
of volunteers who have seen it through to this point. I
personally met countless union workers working hard to get
the required signatures on this petition drive–members of
the I.B.T., C.W.A., S.E.I.U., A.F.S.C.M.E., I.B.E.W., and the
U.F.C.W all volunteered their time, to name only a few. Just
as important were the many non-union Houstonians active in
this campaign. At the polling place where I worked collecting
signatures on election day, I had the privilege of working
with a college social work professor, a Jesuit social worker,
and a member of the SEIU to solicit support for a living
wage. If the Living Wage Campaign continues this open arms
approach to all Houstonians, the campaign has a fighting
chance. As Harris County Constable Rick Trevifio related to
the Houston Chronicle on October 1, "What needs to be
clear is that this is not about the unions. Its about the
working people." ‘Nuff said (Trevifio was a union meat
cutter).

The Houston business community is probably
surprised at our overwhelming success to this point, and they
have been slow to respond. However, this silence will not
continue. They have formed a group, "Save our Jobs"
and the only major paper in town has come down against the
proposal in an editorial, citing the specter of firms leaving
the area, inflation, and "unfair’ advantages to outlying
suburban businesses. To successfully counter the fear
mongering of the corporate community, the Campaign will have
to build on the important alliances forged this fall in the
petition drive. However, win or lose, this campaign and the
fight ahead opens a new chapter in the social milieu of this
fine city. The effects of corporate greed and political
neglect in this thriving industrial metropolis have begun to
stir the working millions of the fourth largest city in the
United States, as it has in countless other communities
across our republic. In all probability, the vote on January
18th will be only the opening in a longer, and more
fundamental, struggle. Brothers and Sisters, the fight is on!