May 26, 2014
There has been a growing call to increase the minimum wage. Even President Obama and other Democrats jumped on the bandwagon, proposing to raise it to $10.10 an hour.
Of course, the Democrats would propose it now, when the Republicans control half of the Congress. They knew Republicans would refuse to sign on. The Republicans said it openly.
The Democrats have proposed something that won’t be passed – but it gives them a campaign issue in the 2014 election.
The Democrats, however, have to be judged by their actions, and not their election maneuvers. From 2009 to early 2011 when the Democrats controlled not only the White House, but also the U.S. Senate and the House, they might have used their absolute control to increase the minimum wage, which was abysmal.
The Democrats didn’t increase it.
Today, the value of the minimum wage has fallen far behind what it bought in 1968 – a time when workers’ struggles were forcing the capitalist class to step back, to improve the workers’ standard of living, including the lowest paid.
If the minimum wage that existed in 1968, $1.60 an hour, had kept up with inflation, it would be $9.40 today. And if it had kept up with increases in worker productivity – that is the increase in the amount of goods and services we all produce with our labor – it would be set at $18.30 today.
Instead the minimum is only $7.25.
That is how much we have ceded to this voracious capitalist class by not fighting back. Not only have we not kept even with inflation; what’s worse, the capitalists have grabbed every bit of the increased productivity that our labor created and taken it for their own use. For their profits, for their own personal wealth, for speculation, for buying up and selling companies – for completely useless things.
We need a raise – all of us. Forget this nonsense about a “minimum wage.” Every one of us needs an adequate wage – that is, one that allows each of us and our families to have decent housing; good nutritious food to eat; attractive clothes; effective medical care; transportation; money for our children’s education and our own further education; money for vacation and relaxation.
The labor each of us puts out allows the whole society to move forward. We should have the benefit of it. Our wages should be set so they reflect the true value of what we all contribute to society.
And wages need to be regularly increased to protect them against the ravages of inflation. They need to be indexed – that is, set up to be increased automatically whenever the prices that we actually pay increase. It should be automatic. And they should be increased – or our hours of work decreased, with no loss of pay – to reflect the increases in productivity.
This is what should happen. But it’s not what will happen so long as we let the capitalist class have a free rein to make all the decisions.
There is no answer to the current trap we find ourselves in unless workers begin to fight again. Maybe very few people are fighting today. Certainly, no one is able to call out a real struggle of the working class. But at least the truth can be told: that working people will continue to be pushed backward until a new fight breaks out, until it spreads, until it brings the whole working class back to life.
What would it take for that to happen? Perhaps no one can say for sure. But we can say that since workers found the way before to fight, under more difficult circumstances, we can find the way today. What it will take is what it took in the 1930s and the 1960s, a desire to fight.