Ralph Nader spoke to an InterOccupy.org conference call recently with praise, strategic and tactical advice for the Occupy Movement. As he has in recent writings, and a column conveyed by Chris Hedges, he called for the movement to create nationwide pressure for a $10 minimum wage. He sees this as an achievable goal that will win new support for the movement from the working class. He provided clear steps to achieve the goal, such as calling for the movement to "occupy" 535 local Congressional offices. In answer to the questions of some of the call participants, he spoke also of Occupy's role in the political scene as regards third parties and the Presidential election. He also provided a few recommendations on messaging. These would be similar to some of the wording tricks used by the right, to be used instead by the left in order to apply pressure for leftist goals.
The main advice concerns the Federal minimum wage, which at $7.25 an hour, has fallen behind inflation. To bring it up to the level of 1968 in inflation adjusted dollars would require a $2.75 increase to $10. Such an increase would directly affect the pay of 35 million workers. Setting this goal would allow the movement to focus on one winnable injustice that radiates to the public at large, without precluding any of the movement's other goals after this one is achieved. In fact, Nader sees a $10 minimum wage as a winnable battle this year.
Historically, Congress has implemented one dollar increases. Thus, $10 an hour would be a big leap and a huge victory, brought to the people by the Occupy movement. The victory could bring Occupy a great deal of influence for the next stage. A higher increase than $10, he noted, might be unwise. Nader feels $10 is the ceiling for a winning issue.
Nader predicted Democrats would line up behind it because it has popular support. Recent polling shows over two thirds of Americans favor increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.00 an hour. Two Republican Presidential candidates, Romney and Santorum are on record as having said the minimum wage is too low, and therefore, it is very likely that Republicans in Congress would be split. With enough Democrats, the increase could be passed.
President Obama, Democratic Congressional leaders, and social organizations such as the AFL-CIO, Nader says, won't push for it by themselves -- they're too accustomed to fighting losing battles. If the movement occupies 535 local Congressional offices (not necessarily 24/7; even a single day might be enough), Nader sees the action jolting those social organizations to life. Nader feels these groups just need pressure from back home. It's important to have a winning issue to swell the ranks. There have been no victories in the last ten or fifteen years... only rollbacks, concessions and cutbacks. This would be a big victory. He said:
"You can't believe how many groups would swing into action once you kick 'em in the rear. The AFL-CIO is all for the minimum wage... but they're not moving. There's a dynamic. A very small number of people, mostly but not exclusively people in their twenties and teens can provide the ignition. The stagnation in Washington is enormous... this can arouse them and the country."
Frances Fox Piven, the City University of New York sociologist, made a very similar observation about the labor movement needing "a push from outside" recently at a talk, specifically mentioning the Occupy movement as a possible transformative force upon the labor movement.
A $10 minimum wage could a first step toward strengthening the confidence of the working classes, in a victory that is winnable, so they can move up with greater confidence and hugely greater numbers to larger planes of action. Nader cites a Florida 2004 statewide referendum on raising the minimum wage, which Acorn placed on the ballot. Acorn, fighting against huge spending by McDonalds, Wal-Mart, K-Mart and others, beat the opposition 70% to 30% in a statewide referendum with half the budget of the opposition.
The mechanics of the effort, as Nader sees it would be:
- Get people in congress to introduce the bills
- Have a presence in Washington in early april to make sure they don't introduce penny ante bills
- Demonstrations, either sporadic or on specific day at 535 local congressional offices
- Then the other groups will kick in
- Then it becomes a big issue for the press, because it's an easy lead.
Nader evaluated the success of the tactics of the Occupy movement so far, contrasting the tactics to the anti-war movement marches of the past as follows:
"See what you did is you jolted the expectation. These three hour demonstrations and marches in cities like the anti-war marches and so on -- politicians have learned how to game them. First of all, they occur on weekends and the politicians get out of Washington.. so they're not even there. And people come and they've got to go back home for work on Monday. So the whole idea of mass demonstrations has atrophied. I was at the demonstrations in 2003 when there were 200,000 against the invasion of Iraq. And then I was at one a year and a half or two years ago, it was at the park opposite the White House. There were 500 people. So what you did was to say "uh-uh. This is going to be 24/7, and it's going to be taking public space. So you jolted the expectation level of the media. So now you see, they'll try to game this, so you have to try to keep a step ahead of them."
Nader feels that the greatest power of corporatists is to convince tens of millions of Americans that they're powerless. They're told it every day with "fine print contracts and you-can't-fight-city-hall, with being marginalized, dis-respected, defrauded, unemployed... they've internalized it." What Occupy has shown, even though it hasn't been widely articulated, is that it doesn't take that many Americans to lay down their routines and enter the public arena to start turning the country around. The bar is a lot lower than most Americans think, Nader says. It doesn't take large numbers of people to turn it around. Nader focused on how a small number of people can fight corporatism in his most recent book, Getting Steamed.
During the question and answer period, the discussion turned to the election. When asked if Occupy should create its own party, Nader replied that given ballot access laws, it's too late for 2012. Occupy, this year, should continue as a "jolter" and as a channel for workers and families to band together, helping Occupy to expand its base and broaden its numbers. The two parties are brilliant at maintaining a two party system and excluding others, Nader said, pointing to his own experience.
Nader had advice regarding messaging:
- Never use the word "privatization." Use "corporatization."
- Never use "private sector." Use "corporate sector."
- Never use "white collar crime." Use "corporate crime."
- If we talk about poor people getting "entitlements," let's talk about "corporate entitlements."
Nader's organization is pushing for 21 Presidential debates throughout the U.S., apart from the choreographed debates we have now. The goal is to break the back of the Commission on Presidential Debates (a corporate sponsored entity), which arranges "debates" now (it took control away from the League of Women Voters over twenty years ago). Nader has three questions he recommends we ask all Presidential candidates at campaign stops, that is if one can get to ask a question:
- What is the evidence for your assertion just now that you made?
- What is the legal authority for what you're proposing you would do if you were president?
- Do you believe in democracy? Well then, how are you going to shift power from the few to the many?
When asked who Nader recommends in the Presidential election, given that he himself is not running, he replied that the Green Party has a very good agenda in domestic and foreign policy. The favorite, Jill Stein, is a very good candidate. Rocky Anderson of the Justice party is very progressive and excellent on military and foreign policy. They're both severely underfunded and need volunteers. Referring to the two major parties, he said:
"When you vote for the least worst of the two parties, you've lost your bargaining power with the least worst. You can influence the parties either by working within, or parking your vote with another party."
He reminded call participants that Richard Nixon signed laws he hated because he was afraid of the "rumble" coming out of the sixties. He said: