Monday, September 9, 2013

Guest Post: This is about Worth Not Wages!

You may have noticed the recent agitation for a higher minimum wage. The real value of the minimum wage has eroded greatly over time. People opposed to raising the minimum wage point out that it's designed for entry level low skill workers. We thought who better to lead the discussion here than labor activist and frequent contributor Reece Chenault. He lets you know where he stands below. Please give your feedback in the comments. 
This is About Worth, Not Wages!
I know some people you may have seen on the news recently.  They were being arrested because workers in Walmart, McDonald’s and many other well-known but horrific workplaces have been struggling to organize for decades around the basic problem of being paid way too little.  In Prince George’s County, many of these folks in fact sat in jail until yesterday afternoon because of the “minimum wage.”
The data shows consistently that when you pay people less than what they need to thrive – meaning grow and contribute, not hanging on by your fingernails – they tend to suffer.  That suffering metastasizes, consuming not just those folks who are unfortunate enough to have landed themselves in a dead-end job at Wendy’s or Burger King, but the rest of us too.  We’re rapidly becoming an economy fueled by what Joe Clark/Morgan Freeman called a “permanent underclass.”  There are many who make the argument that this is what capitalist power produces as a necessity… and I agree with them (though in this case for different reasons, regardless of party... also, I still hate Rush Limbaugh, regardless of how accurate his description of the glee businesses displayed over the rise of low-wage labor is.)

The minimum wage, then, using this logic, should serve to keep people from making too little to survive on.  The reality now shows that if you’re paying a minimum wage, not only are you not making it possible for people to contribute but you’re also relying on the rest of us to make up the difference in welfare.  To make matters worse, raising wages by even .50 cents would be a huge boost for the average fast-food worker and have almost no effect on food prices.  But even the slightest change is portrayed as the road to ruin, despite this mountain of evidence to the contrary. Businesses protect their interests… and a minimum wage is in their interest… as long as it’s low enough.  It provides profit, makes them look like “good guys” since they are “employing the unemployable,” and provides a cozy and consistent profit stream since the biggest consumers of low-wage products are often the people who make them.  Just ask Walmart workers who, for many years, complained that wages were so low that they couldn’t even afford to buy what they shelved, stocked, or sold.
In a way, we’re not really talking about the minimum wage today.  We’re talking about the value of human lives to systems and processes governed by other (barely) human beings.  These human beings set a standard, called a “wage,” with the idea that it’s based on what a “market” needs.  But that wage and market standard setting that people wax eloquently about?  It’s merely an excuse… a lie.  
I’m not going to lie to you.  You are worth so much more than an eloquent pile of lies and damning data.
I really think this is about two things: power and worth.
Those with power have determined that your price, if you are deemed “unskilled,” is a depressing single-digit dollar figure with a few cents added to keep you thinking that progress has happened.  The reality is that this “worth” has been determined with THEIR price in mind.  Indeed, it’s not just that you’re worth pennies on the dollar… but that they are worth more (and are more worthy) than you.  They’ve, according to their twisted vision of reality:
  • done more with the resources they claim all have access to, despite the profound evidence that those born with more tend to keep access limited… even after they are long dead with no heirs and strangely, even if they “give it away.”
  • been better stewards of their time and energy than you
  • are just smarter, which… well… no.
  • and my personal favorite, deserve it because they’ve worked so hard… because working at McDonald’s is easy work

There is a prevailing opinion (one that you can easily Google Search for yourself if you’re curious) among the extremely wealthy, that you deserve to either be poor or afraid if you’re not rich.  Peter Thiel, in fact, is so sure of your worthlessness that he’s building his own personal libertarian land of endless riches to get away from you and your failure to be him.
The real question is: what should we do about it?  Because we CAN do something about it, even without getting locked up out there like my friends.  It does take the same thing they have though: guts and a good definition of your own worth.  I’m willing to bet you one Filet of Fish that you’re worth more than minimum wage.

More minimum wage?

No minimum wage?

Living wage?

Put Peter Thiel in leg irons?

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