Click here to go to the Home Page Proposal to Raise Minimum Wage Brings Out Corporate Opponents - Solidarity America - By John Funiciello - Columnist

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The New York’s Legislature’s proposal at the end of last year, to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour, has brought out the usual opposition, which dusted off old rhetoric that such a move would “hurt the very people it is designed to help.”

The Business Council of New York State and the New York Farm Bureau (NYFB) declared that an increased minimum wage would “do nothing to decrease poverty or increase employment.” Using classic right wing rhetoric, Dean Norton, president of NYFB, declared an increase in the minimum wage to be “a stealth tax for our state’s farmers masquerading as a benefit for workers,” while the Business Council’s president, Heather Briccetti, said a raise would “hurt the state’s small businesses, farms, and not-for-profits that are struggling to make their current payrolls.”

On the face of it, of course, it seems ridiculous that a pay increase would hurt low-income workers, rather than help them. The $1.25 an hour increase that has been proposed would give every minimum wage worker an extra $50 for a 40-hour week. It’s hard to see Corporate America’s point…that it would harm workers.

Crocodile tears flow freely from the likes of the Business Council and the Farm Bureau over the “harm” done to working men and women by such meddling in the “free market,” by raising the minimum wage. Rather, they would reduce the wages of American workers to those of developing countries. That’s what they mean when they say “we must remain competitive,” and they have been effective in making that happen.

The two business groups recently declared their commitment to the economy of New York State: “(We are) committed to reducing taxes, eliminating needless red tape and creating a more business-friendly economy for our state based on sound free market principles.” Just these three items on Corporate America’s agenda tell us much about their aims and goals.

By this, they mean that corporations and business should pay less in taxes, that regulation of their operations should be reduced or eliminated, and they want the state to make its economy more business friendly by basing help to business on “free market principles.” With ownership concentration in banking, manufacturing, finance, energy, and food production, it’s hard to see any free market working in the U.S.

If the Farm Bureau believes that the free market is working, they should talk to a few small farmers and ranchers, some of who may be their own members. They will get a very different story than their own perceptions, on the concentration of wealth and power in the farm and food industry and how they have been squeezed out of the market.

With all of the combinations, mergers, and concentration of money power, the “free market working” is illusion and myth. That is why some of the members of these business groups that lobby state legislatures and the congress to keep labor costs at a minimum should take a closer look at what their dues buys them.

The constant and relentless pressure to drive down wages and living standards of working women and men in the U.S. by these two groups and many others like them has the effect of driving down the living standard of wage workers, but they also drive down the standards (income) of their own members.

Often, small business owners do the same kind of work that line workers at a Wal-Mart or Home Depot do, so the “value” of that work is set by the big box store. It’s no wonder that small business owners are expected to deliver the goods at a low price, one that will meet the “competition” of a Wal-Mart. It’s the same for those engaged in small farm agriculture. The farmer does essentially the same work as a migrant worker performs on an industrial-sized food production facility (as distinct from a farm). In an industrial food production setting, the value is set by what the migrant worker is paid and it is not much.

When corporate lobbyists work hard to depress wages and living standards (like fighting a very modest increase in the minimum wage) for workers, they are depressing the “value” of the work of many of their own members, business owners or farmers. It’s little wonder that small businesses have such a short lifespan. And, family farmers have been falling by the wayside by the thousands in recent years. In the scheme of things, the organizations that purport to represent them are complicit in their demise, because they constantly drive down the value of their work.

You don’t need to be an economist to figure this out. If you are trying to concentrate political and economic power in a relatively small number of corporations and wealthy individuals, this is the way to do it. Politicians are quick to declare their undying support for small farm agriculture and small independent businesses, but their allegiance is to the places where the biggest bucks lie, for that’s how they keep getting reelected.

At least in New York this year, corporate interests will be hard at work keeping working women and men in their places, including fighting any increase in the minimum wage. Even with a $1.25 an hour increase in the minimum, to $8.50 an hour, this is far from a living wage. A worker would have to have two such jobs to live a minimally decent life.

There is an old saying that “everybody does well, when everybody does well,” and that is true, but the concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent tells us that most Americans are doing far from well. Wealth disparity is staggering when you look at the numbers: about 80 percent of us in the U.S. have control of only about 15 percent of the wealth.

There have been ample studies that show that Corporate America’s alarm sounded over an increase in the minimum wage about “fewer jobs,” “loss of jobs,” and “harm to the workers” is false. They know it is false, but they will keep up the drumbeat of opposition, because they have untold millions of dollars for their propaganda and they own most of the country’s think tanks, which supply newspapers, magazines, news broadcasters, and colleges and universities with that propaganda.

They will keep pounding this issue home in every way and in every place they can. It has nothing to do with reality. It is ideological, and…it’s what they do. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.

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Mar 1, 2012 - Issue 461
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