Last night at the Kent Ionia Labor Council, Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm celebrated the passage of the first increase in the state’s minimum wage in nine years. During her brief speech, which was delivered to a standing room only crowd, Granholm touted the increase in the minimum wage as a significant improvement to workers in the state of Michigan.
Granholm, who stated that she wanted to increase Michigan’s minimum wage in her 2006 State of the State address, said that the increase not only offered help to Michigan’s low-wage workers, but that it would also provide a boost to the economy. Granholm said that the increase puts money into the hands of those who spend it the most while describing minimum wage workers as a group that contained many taking care of families while working jobs in day care, elder care, and in the service industry. She stated that the current minimum wage of $5.15 an hour meant that minimum wage earners made $5,000 below the poverty line and that the increase will give minimum wage earners an extra $288 per month. Earlier in the evening’s program, Shanon Faust, who worked with ACORN on the ballot campaign, described how she earned the minimum wage while taking care of two children as a single parent and that she did not make enough to cover what she has to spend on childcare. Faust also highlighted the fact that the money will not go into savings accounts but will be spent by those struggling to get by in low-wage jobs.
Granholm also talked about the need to stand up for “American jobs” and described how she believes international trade agreements need to be enforced to protect American jobs. She described NAFTA and CAFTA as “giving workers the SHAFT-A” and went on to state that she believes that workers “need a tiger at the World Trade Organization (WTO), not a pussycat” that will “stand up for jobs.” The statements, a clear appeal to the working people present, did not address how the WTO functions against workers around the world, nor were her comments made in a manner that moved beyond protectionism to statements of true solidarity between workers suffering under the neoliberal economic model of the WTO, who are all suffering regardless of nationality. Campaigners against the WTO have argued that it exists primarily for the benefit of multinational corporations and is essential to the functioning of global capitalism, yet Granholm’s advocacy of a stronger US role in the WTO displayed a lack of understanding of an institution designed to facilitate the profits of corporations operating within the so-called global “north” and “west” at the expense of those living in the global “south.” Granholm also expressed support for the so-called “mystery development” project in Grand Rapids because it would bring jobs to Grand Rapids in a brief statement to Mayor Heartwell.
Throughout the evening, various elected officials and candidates affiliated with the Democratic Party, encouraged the attendees—many of whom were affiliated with organized labor—to support the Democratic Party exclusively in upcoming elections. Kevin Kotos, who is running against Pete Hoekstra in Michigan’s 2nd District, told the audience that “we need to work to have a future” and that with Republicans in office, working people and the Democrats will have no future. He went on to state that “Democrats stand for prosperity, don’t forget it,” foreshadowing a common argument during the night that by voting Democratic labor, progressives, and environmental activists win along with the entire state. This theme was repeatedly echoed by candidates who stated that “we need to urge everyone to vote Democratic and we all win” while describing the minimum wage increase, endorsed by Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm but passed largely due to the pressure of a grassroots coalitions, as a victory for the Democratic Party. David LaGrand, a Michigan Senate candidate for the 29th District, said that the wage increase “shows the power of the Democratic Party” and said that he counts the wage increase as the first victory of his campaign. Strategies to increase the Democratic Party’s presence in both the state and federal governments were briefly mentioned, with County Commissioner Paul Mayhue arguing that Democrats need to put aside their differences and that they should not be afraid to say “God” or “Jesus” and that they need to reintroduce religion into their politics.
There was no discussion of the decision to call off the ballot campaign during the evening, despite the fact that significant differences exist between the measure signed by Granholm and that advocated by the campaign. Similarly, beyond the minimum wage, little was said in terms of specifics about how Democrats will improve the condition of working people in Michigan, a question that remains open considering the fact that the minimum wage stagnated for 9 years in the state and that governor Jennifer Granholm advocated not only the continued existence of flawed international trade agreements, but advocated that the United States’ take on a stronger role within such trade agreements. While the Democrats touted the minimum wage increase, an increase won due to grassroots pressure, they advocated a traditional electoral strategy instead of a more innovative approach that could have included independent grassroots organizing efforts, which with the success of the minimum wage increase, seem to offer the potential to win real victories.