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Est. April 5, 2002
September 17, 2015 - Issue 621

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Living Wages
Require Worker Solidarity


"Do workers really need to be
protecting the interests
of the One Percent?"

Recently, the St. Louis Board of Alderpeople passed a bill to increase the minimum wage from $7.65 to $11 by 2018. It was a fight to the bitter end as our goal was to get $15 per hour. We pointed to Kansas City as a motivating factor; lawmakers there had just increased their minimum wage to $13 per hour and St. Louis likes to tout its progressiveness over their sister city. Proponents of the St. Louis measure were desperate to get the local bill passed before state law passed by the Missouri General Assembly went into effect prohibiting cities’ minimum wage to exceed that of the state.  This is an example of the Republican super-majority imposing their version of states’ rights. Given the stagnation of workers’ salaries over the last three decades, I believe fighting to raise the minimum wage is one of the most important battlegrounds in the labor movement right now.
The hotly debated bill went through several versions to address both aldermanic concerns and those from the broader community. A $15 hourly raise by 2020 was enthusiastically favored by labor, community activists and faith leaders. Then it went to $13 by 2020. As it sits now, the first increase for the City’s minimum wage will kick in on October 15 at $8.25. Incremental increases would happen every year until 2018 when I’m sure living expenses would have caught up with the increases by that time since there’s no built-in Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).
Opponents of the minimum wage pointed to several reasons why the bill should not see the light of day. Most of them were old, worn-out scare tactics like businesses would leave the city in droves, right into the open arms of St. Louis County who has refused to raise its wage. Never mind that over half of the states in the country have adopted minimum wages higher than the federal rate of $7.25 and the sky is still intact.
One alderman said he’d rather have a lot of minimum wage jobs than a few living wage jobs. This is the kind of mentality that benefits no one but the corporate class. There were franchise owners who talked about how small their profit margins are already and that having to pay workers a decent wage could put them out of business. Their backward thinking is that we need to protect the bottom line of big businesses instead of fighting to raise the wages of hard working people.
When I testified at the aldermanic hearing, this trend of thinking left me no choice but to challenge those small business owners to join our movement to fight for our cut of the huge corporate profits and stop fighting each other over the crumbs the greedy capitalists throw at us. The average Fortune 500 CEO in the United States makes more than $12 million per year, about 350 times the rate of the average worker. Corporations like McDonald’s and Walmart are making record profits yet refuse to pay their employees a living wage. Their scandalous pay scale is intentionally kept low enough to force workers to seek government assistance like food stamps and Medicaid in order to survive.

The GOP has been advancing anti-labor laws across the country as part of their union-busting strategy. Unfortunately, they are racking up victories. For the first time in Missouri, the General Assembly passed a Right to Work bill after several years of unsuccessful attempts. It was vetoed by the Democratic Governor but still, it was a reminder to the progressive camp that we must step up our organizing in a bold and aggressive way.
I’m proud to say that St. Louis has a vibrant Show Me $15 movement where low wage workers have been waged a valiant struggle for increased wages, the right to unionize and for dignity in the workplace. The Show Me workers were the driving force behind the minimum wage campaign and they aren’t stopping at $11.
When we hear some people question why should McDonald workers should be making $15 an hour for flipping burgers when they only make $10 an hour as a secretary, we have to help them see that shaking up the bottom is good for everyone. If we get a decent wage for unskilled workers, the logical next battle is for skilled workers to get the pay they deserve. Again, workers need to stop acting like corporations can’t pay us more or that some workers don’t deserve more.
U.S. workers have played into the game of “saving” our jobs by conceding pay raises, working more hours, taking on more duties, giving up benefits, enduring layoffs and plant closings. We should be able to clearly see by now that we’ve been suckered by the ruling class. Our quality of life has systematically diminished over the years as corporations amass unspeakable wealth, move their businesses out of the country in search of near-slave labor, hide their ass-ets to keep from paying taxes, etc.
The campaign to increase the minimum wage is part of the overall struggle for economic justice and racial equality. I look forward to the day when we stop fighting over the minimums and start advocating for the maximum standard of living for the working class. Editorial Board member and Columnist, Jamala Rogers, founder and Chair Emeritus of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis. She is an organizer, trainer and speaker. She is the author of The Best of the Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle.  Other writings by Ms. Rogers can be found on her blog jamalarogers.comContact Ms. Rogers and BC.
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is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble