Boost minimum wage, right to organize

There are many vital issues that helped forge the alliance that dealt such a devastating blow to the immoral ultra-right cabal last Nov. 7. Perhaps one of the least sung but critically important sectors is the movement for raising the national minimum wage and the forces dedicated to that struggle.

The new mass buoyancy coming out of the election victory lays the basis for mass support for its passage, especially since the $7.25 minimum wage is one of the four key pieces of legislation the new Democrat congressional majority seeks to pass in the first 100 hours in the new Congress.

The $7.25 minimum wage can and must be passed and any Bush veto overridden. It will make a difference for millions of people living at or below the poverty level.

But there is much more to the question to be examined. This struggle has sensitized new millions to the fact that there is a rapidly growing sector of our country who are ill-clothed, ill-housed and ill-fed. There is a new awareness that there is a growing downward economic spiral swooping down on millions. These numbers are added to by increasing numbers of industrial workers who are losing their higher paying jobs and by immigrant workers who are pushed into starvation wage jobs.

Fundamentally, $7.25 an hour solves no real problems for families, even as it helps ease some pain. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said: “If a boss can’t pay a living wage, he shouldn’t be in business.” In today’s economy, $7.25 an hour is not a living wage. But it’s a start.

The living wage movement is a grassroots movement based on people’s needs. It will continue.

The movement to pass the $7.25 minimum wage serves as a perfect platform to struggle for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. They are kith and kin. The Employee Free Choice Act would open the way for organizing new millions of unorganized workers and bringing them under union contract with higher wages and economic conditions.

That’s what happened under the Employee Free Choice Act’s predecessor, the Wagner Act. Former AFL-CIO President George Meany put it like this: “The best anti-poverty program is a good union contract with good union wages.”

When the new millions join the unions, they will start negotiating from a $7.25 floor instead of a $5.25. On the legislative front that translates into a process to progress from passage of a $7.25 minimum wage to passage of a real living wage, one which eliminates poverty-level family budgets and which is designed to have the masses share in the riches they produce in a guaranteed and meaningful way.

The gap between worker wages and the scandalous CEO salaries has grown so great that Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who heads up the House Financial Services Committee, will launch a formal study of the yawning income gap. He also called on the Federal Reserve Board to start concerning itself with the problem.

The forward progress of all issues which brought together the allies that defeated the ultra-right will be well served with passage of the $7.25 minimum wage and doubly so with passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. It is essential that the whole alliance acts as one, quickly and decisively, to push these measures through.

economics @ cpusa.org