Just recently, on April 5th, DemocracyNow reported the following:
“…some 400 workers are believed to have walked off the job at more than 50 locations of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and KFC, calling for $15-an-hour wages and the right to unionize without intimidation…Thursday’s action followed an earlier strike in New York City at the end of November. It was deliberately held on the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. The workers carried signs reading, “I am a woman” and “I am a man,” invoking the slogans of the Memphis sanitation workers strike that Dr. King was involved in at the time of his death.”
What a glorious kick in the McPants.
CNN covered the strike as well. I found it interesting that CNN chose to include the story in their “Money” section. Corporate-owned media would naturally see a strike as a money matter, but the story is really about human rights.
Full time jobs should pay living wages.
The CNN story reported that the minimum wage in New York is $7.25 an hour. Can you imagine trying to live anywhere in or commutable to NYC for $7.25 an hour? Since 1970, worker productivity has increased significantly, inflation has naturally risen, but wages have remained relatively stagnant. Mother Jones did an excellent set of charts last year on this issue.
Senator Elizabeth Warren recently made some well-deserved headlines as she spoke up for raising our minimum wages. She and many others quoted from a recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research suggesting that by any benchmark, the federal minimum wage should higher.
There is a moral choice being made here, although it is not commonly discussed this way. We seem to have all the money we need for wars of choice and bailouts of financial pirates that give, in the very next year, lavish bonuses. We seem to have so little to empower our own people with better lives.
The Goldman Sachs of the world, as opposed to your typical American worker, do not even produce wealth. They just rearrange and consolidate it. Rewarding productivity should not be a concept alien to capitalism and free markets. Rewarding productivity does, however, take from the pockets of those at the top, and therefore, we shouldn’t hold our collective breath hoping companies will voluntarily provide living wages.
According to the above-referenced congressional study, the federal minimum wage reached its purchasing power peak in 1968, not coincidentally, a time of intense community organization and activism. The highest relative minimum wage then, was more taken than given.
As I type this, I am reminded of a passage from a Noam Chomsky lecture on freedom of speech. Different issue but same mechanics. The lecture was given in 2010 at the Istanbul Conference on Free Speech. Professor Chomsky said:
”From 1959 to 1974 the Supreme Court dealt with more freedom of speech cases than in its entire previous history, a reflection of this new concern for essential human rights. The context was the rising civil rights movement. The first major victory for free speech was in 1964, when the Court struck down the law passed in 1798 that ruled that criticism of the government is a crime, the doctrine of seditious libel. It should be noted that the doctrine remains in force in other Western countries, including Britain and Canada, where it has recently been invoked. The 1964 US Supreme Court decision set a very high standard for the charge of libel. It overturned a libel suit that charged the New York Times with defaming the State of Alabama by publishing an advertisement by Martin Luther King and civil rights leaders that protested the brutality of racist law officers. Again, that should be familiar here.
Under the impact of the activism of the 1960s, the Court later reached an even higher standard, one that I believe is unique in the world. This 1969 decision bars only speech that incites imminent criminal action. So if you and I intend to rob a store, you are carrying a gun, and I say “shoot,” that is not protected speech. But short of that circumstance, speech is protected. The doctrine is controversial, but at least in my opinion, it sets a proper standard. Adopting that standard would be one mark of true enlightenment.
In a review of “the history and reality of free speech in the United States,” legal historian David Kairys points out that “no right of free speech, either in law or practice, existed until the transformations of law” between the two great 20th century wars. “Before that time, one spoke publicly only at the discretion of local, and sometimes federal, authorities, who often prohibited what they, the local business establishment, or other powerful segments of the community did not want to hear.” He stresses the important point that “the periods of stringent protection and enlargement of civil rights and civil liberties correspond to the periods in which mass movements posing a credible challenge to the existing order have demanded such rights,” including the right of free expression. The major agents of defense of civil rights have been the left, labour, and other popular movements, forcefully in the 1960s.
More generally, to quote the anarchist writer Rudolf Rocker in a classic study 80 years ago, “Political rights do not originate in parliaments; they are rather forced upon them from without. And even their enactment into law has for a long time been no guarantee of their security. They do not exist because they have been legally set down on a piece of paper, but only when they have become the ingrown habit of a people, and when any attempt to impair them will meet with the violent resistance of the populace.” A stronger and sharper version of Madison’s principle.
In conformity with these principles, the highest level of protection for freedom of speech in the US was achieved at the peak of activism, 40 years ago. “
Change will have to be taken.
It will not be given.
We need to move the conversation about living wages to the forefront by organization and activism.
Can I get a McStrike with an order of Wal-sit-ins please?