Last Updated: May 5, 2013
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$8.25 an Hour Is Not a Livable Wage
– Neither Is $15 an Hour!
May 5, 2013
In Chicago, retail and fast-food workers protested their low-wage situation on April 24th. Chanting, “We can’t survive on $8.25,” workers gathered at 5:30 a.m. that Wednesday morning in front of McDonald’s in downtown Chicago. They spent the day demonstrating and marching to tell their story about the outrageously low wages paid by McDonald’s, Subway, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Sears and others – almost 30 workplaces.
The protest was organized by unions and community groups: the SEIU, the service employees union; a community organization called Action Now; and a newly established organizing committee, Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago. The Chicago Teachers Union supported the protest. At least a few hundred workers walked off their jobs to protest. They were joined by hundreds more in a day-long demonstration of at least 1,000 protesters.
The Chicago protest followed on the heels of a similar demonstration in New York City a month ago. These protests put the spotlight on the plight of service sector workers and other low-wage workers across the nation. But both protests called only for raising the wage of fast-food and retail workers to a measly $15 an hour.
It’s obvious, no one can really live on $7.25 an hour, which is the federal minimum wage, or $8.25 an hour, which is the minimum wage in Illinois. But how can you live on $15 an hour, for that matter? According to the MIT Living Wage Project, a single parent with one child in Chicago needs to earn $21 an hour just to make a minimal standard of living, working an average of 30 hours a week. The Chicago demonstrators, by comparison, earn $8.25 or $8.60 – and some earn less than the Illinois minimum.
Fast-food workers are not the only ones whose wages make a decent life impossible. Look at what has happened to those jobs once said to provide a “middle-class” lifestyle – auto, steel, construction, public sector workers. Wages in those jobs have been driven down by the concession contracts pushed by union leaders who put the interests of the companies and public employers before the interests of workers and their families.
Yes, there needs to be a fight for better wages – a fight, not just a one-day demonstration every few months. And the fight needs to put a real goal in front of those fighting. The goal set by union leaders – $15 an hour – is not enough! That’s the low wage set by concession contracts.
Why not fight for more?
All of us deserve a wage that allows us to have a comfortable life – no matter what service we provide or what product we build.
It took a lot of courage by those who actually walked off their jobs to protest. That is a spirit that can inspire others to fight for their rights while turning the spotlight on their greedy employers. When workers join their struggles together, they can move beyond the limiting policies that current union leaderships propose.
Instead of depending on the National Labor Relations Board for protection against firings, which is risky at best, workers can mobilize their own forces in such a way as to protect each other.
And they can set a goal for a real liveable wage. As some of the demonstrators noted, there is more than enough money in the coffers of the wealthy on the Magnificent Mile and the Gold Coast in Chicago to pay them a liveable wage. There’s more than enough money in the bank accounts of all the wealthy in this country – stolen from the workers’ labor for years.
The goal of any workers, when they do begin to fight, should be to take back that wealth that’s been stolen from all of us. No more struggling just to survive!