Feb 3, 2014
President Obama decried inequality in his latest State of the Union address. He called on business leaders to raise the pay of low wage workers, and on government lawmakers on all levels to raise the minimum wage. To prove that this was not just empty rhetoric, Obama promised that “as a chief executive, I intend to lead by example.” He issued an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their low wage workforce a “fair wage” of at least $10.10 an hour.
“Give America a raise,” Obama said in his address.
Yes, workers need a raise. A big one. But we are never going to get it from the very people who have driven down our wages for the last four decades.
Look at what they have done to the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage, $7.50 per hour, is 30 per cent lower than it was in 1968, when taking the official rate of inflation into account. And since consumer prices increase at a much higher rate than the official government rate, the minimum wage has lost even more than that.
So, every year, inflation silently erodes what those who earn the minimum wage can buy. This fall in the buying power for minimum wage workers has been used as a weapon against the rest of the working class. Rather than pay full-time workers their old rates of pay, companies and government agencies outsource those jobs to low-wage companies. They create part-time and temporary jobs that pay a fraction of what the old full-time jobs used to pay. Over the last several years, the only new jobs being created for workers are in low-wage sectors.
And – no, the federal government is no different. A recent report by a public policy organization, Demos, found that Federal tax dollars fund nearly two million low-wage, private-sector jobs – which is more than the number at Walmart and McDonald’s combined. And, as most commentators admitted, Obama’s proposal in his “State of the Union Address” will affect few, if any, of these low-wage workers because it applies only to new or renewed contracts with private companies.
The government and corporate bosses have created a more and more gigantic army of low-wage workers, an army that swells by millions every year. Today, almost half of all workers in this country have to survive on less than $20,000 per year. That is less than what a full-time worker earning the minimum wage made in 1968, after accounting for inflation.
For the big companies and the banks, the less they pay their workforce, the more money they keep for themselves. These profits have grown so gigantic, companies can’t give the money away fast enough to the capitalist class. They have been increasing dividends and interest payments to enrich the capitalist class to record highs. And yet, their profits are growing so much, cash keeps on piling up at faster rates. Just over the last four years, the pile of unspent cash that the biggest companies hold and speculate with has more than doubled to almost three trillion dollars! Added to this pile are trillions more held by the big banks and financial companies.
This vast amount of wealth in the hands of the capitalist class was literally stolen from the labor of the entire working class. It comes from paying starvation wages and driving all workers to produce ever more. Waiting on a bunch of politicians to raise the minimum wage by some tiny amount will only let these thieves and criminals steal even more from us.
Yes, workers need a raise, a great big one. And that increased wage should be indexed to inflation so that the bosses cannot cut it like they cut the minimum wage.
Certainly, more than enough wealth is there to pay for this for all workers who want to work.