The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

$15 Minimum Wage?
Calling a Cut a Raise

Apr 25, 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.

In California, the current minimum wage is $10, while in New York, it’s $9. So it’s understandable that workers making the minimum wage would feel they got a big improvement.

But there’s a catch: in both states those workers don’t get a raise until 2017. And in California, the raise is only 50 cents an hour. A year later, workers get 50 cents more. All together, the law says workers have to wait six or seven years to get up to $15. By that time, price and tax increases will eat up more than the full minimum wage increase. And 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.

That’s not all. In both states, the laws are filled with loopholes and delays. So, workers will have to wait even longer–or not get it at all.

In reality, the $15 minimum wage is little more than an election year promise from the Democrats. Workers have no reason to believe promises like these, since politicians have done the same thing in the past. Over the decades, they promised great big increases. But just like today, they dragged the increases out. So inflation eroded them completely.

As a result of similar “increases,” the federal minimum wage at $7.50 an hour is so low, it is much lower than it was 50 years ago, given the rate of inflation. And that’s also true in California and New York, which have a higher minimum wage today because the cost of living is so much higher. And what’s worse is that workers are three times more productive than they were 50 years ago. That means they produce much more wealth than before. That shows how much the working population has been pushed backwards.

The only times workers have gotten improvements, they came out of big fights and social struggles. There never was a minimum wage for the entire country until the 1930s. But Congress only instituted a minimum wage because workers were engaged in massive strikes, including general strikes and factory occupations. And workers did get large minimum wage increases in the 1950s and 1960s that resulted in an increase in their standard of living. But Congress raised the minimum wage only out of fear of a growing black movement that was spreading from the South into the Northern industrial cities, culminating in urban rebellions.

For workers to depend on the Democrats’ and Republicans’ supposed “good will” is a trap. It means we will be pushed further behind. Both parties are simply the puppets of the big capitalists, that is, the owners of the big companies and the banks. And big capital always tries to squeeze out more profits by battering down workers’ wages.

That’s why workers have to build a party of our own, a party that can help unite workers, and expose the lies and tricks of the capitalists and their puppets in the Democratic and Republican parties.