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Indian-American heads Seattle minimum wage battle

Narayan Lakshman
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Kshama Sawant, the U.S.’s only self-described socialist elected representative, was in the limelight this week after the Seattle Council member successfully led the city’s fight to raise the minimum wage to $15, the highest in the nation.

The months-long “15 now” campaign gained momentum under the Indian-American former economics professor’s charge despite opposition from large businesses including the International Franchise Association which said that it would sue the city “to overturn the unfair and discriminatory minimum wage plan that was approved by the City Council.”

After the city’s council voted to pass an ordinance for raising the minimum wage on Monday, Ms. Sawant said, “Today’s message is clear: If we organise as workers, with a socialist strategy, we can tackle the chasm of income inequality and social injustice. $15 in Seattle is just a beginning. We have an entire world to win.”

Ms. Sawant, a Pune-born software engineer by training, became a social activist after she moved to the U.S. and witnessed widespread poverty in U.S. cities. Seattle’s move comes in the wake of a national debate on the minimum wage that heated up after U.S. President Barack Obama promised to raise it from $7.25 to $10.10, a move that was shot down by Republicans in Congress.

Campaign issue

The President then vowed to raise the federal minimum wage to that level via executive Order, effectively bypassing Congress.

It is widely expected that Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats will push the issue on the campaign trail ahead of the November mid-term elections. In general, workers covered under the U.S. Fair Labour and Standards Act are required to be paid at least $7.25 per hour if the State’s minimum wage is set below that level or if there is no State minimum. However 21 States and the District of Columbia already have higher minimum wages than the national level.

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