$15-an-Hour Is Not a “Living Wage”
– It’s an Insult!

May 1, 2016

At the end of March, lawmakers in the two biggest states, California and New York, bragged that they were increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour for more than nine million low-wage workers. Democrats and a few Republicans, along with top union leaders, called these new laws victories and breakthroughs.

Of course, when you are working a minimum-wage job, ANY increase is better than none. And, compared to the current $10 an hour minimum in California and $9 in New York, $15 an hour might not look bad.

But it’s not what it looks like.

No one gets a raise until next year. And next year, it’s only 50¢ an hour. And only 50¢ more the year after next – in California. No one will get the full $15 an hour for six or seven years. By the time they got that, inflation will have eaten up more than the total increase.

It’s the same, if not worse, in New York, since the increases are determined by region, and many workers will get even smaller raises.

In both states, the laws are filled with tricks and delays, which mean many workers will have to wait even longer. And many won’t get any increase.

So, no, this increase in the minimum wage is not the big gift the politicians pretend. It’s little more than an election-year promise from the Democrats.

Is there anyone who believes in election-year promises, any more?

For decades, politicians passed increases in the minimum wage in big election years – and then did nothing for four or eight more years.

Inflation eroded those increases completely. Today, the federal minimum wage at $7.50 an hour is so low, that it buys less than the minimum wage did 50 years ago, given the rate of inflation. This is what happens when politicians pass increases only in election years. It’s a lot of propaganda and a very little money.

Everyone in every state in the country could be getting much more than $15 an hour right now. The work force is producing three times as much wealth as it produced 50 years ago. But more and more of that wealth has been stolen from those who do the work – stolen by vultures sitting in the boardrooms of big companies, big banks, and big Wall Street hedge funds and other speculators.

The working class, while producing more wealth, has been getting a smaller and smaller share of it. The capitalist class, that tiny minority of enormously rich people who own everything, has been getting richer and richer by the year. That wealth was ripped out of our work. The working population has been pushed backwards.

The big improvements that working people ever got came out of big strikes and vast social struggles. There was no minimum wage for the entire country until the 1930s. Congress instituted a minimum wage then – but only because workers were engaged in massive strikes, including general strikes and factory occupations. In the 1950s and 1960s, Congress raised the minimum wage out of fear of a growing black mobilization that was spreading from the South into the Northern industrial cities, culminating in urban rebellions.

It wasn’t “good will” by politicians that produced whatever improvements we got. It was the mobilization of angry working people that imposed changes on the politicians of both parties, and on the capitalist class they usually serve.

There isn’t another answer. There isn’t another way for working people to get what we need, other than by preparing to fight. It doesn’t matter whether anyone else is fighting today. Tomorrow, there will be. The question will be then, are we prepared to join them?