the people's republic of santa barbara
On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara City Council finally passed a long awaited Living Wage ordinance. The law, which goes into effect next month, will require that city contractors pay workers between 14 and 11 dollars per hour, depending on the level of health care or other benefits they provide. European readers will find such a law somewhat perplexing, perhaps, but with an economy in which less than 10% of workers belong to a union and millions of people are without health insurance, Living Wage laws are an important, and increasingly popular local-level anti-poverty reform. The vote went 5 to 1. A five-year long campaign at last came to fruition.
What was interesting about the hearing, however, was the tenor of the opposition, voiced by the leader of the local Chamber of Commerce, as well as two wildly unsuccessful conservative City Council candidates. As Steve Cushman, the head of the Chamber, approached the microphone, mayor Marty Blum teased that he would move to China should the council vote to approve the Living Wage. Cushman, who was indeed slated to leave for a Chamber-sponsored visit to China the next day, quipped that “China thinks we are becoming socialist.” Another speaker warned that the Living Wage would be the first step toward becoming the “People’s Republic of Santa Barbara”, lamenting that our community was fast joining other anti-business bugaboos as Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Santa Monica on the wrong side of history. The crowd laughed. Some cheered.
And with that, Santa Barbara’s right wing did more than viciously mix metaphors- they revealed their true colors. In their eyes, requiring that public dollars do not subsidize poverty wages is an “anti-business” move. It is a path in the direction of socialism. While the thought of a People’s Republic in California is a nightmare, that actual People’s Republic emerges as a dream. If only we behaved more like China, with its militarily pacified workforce, endless millions of impoverished “surplus” labor and non-existent environmental, safety and health regulations. There are no barriers to reaping all the profit you want over there in China. History is full of ironies.
As for me, I’m firmly against Chinese economic policy. Neither Mao Tse Tung nor Steve Cushman are my leader.