The Fight for a Living Wage is a Fight for Human Rights

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Large corporations like McDonald’s take in record profits every year, netting the top executives millions in bonuses, yet they openly encourage their workers to take welfare and food stamps rather than pay them a wage they can live on. The minimum wage has stagnated for decades while the prices of things like rent and utilities have quadrupled, yet those in charge still don’t see the need to pay the bottom rung of earners enough to get by.

Six years after the movement to raise the minimum wage began in earnest, anti-labor arguments never seem to fail. As soon as a progressive brings up “the fight for $15” (which wasn’t really enough in 2012 and is even more inadequate now when adjusted to a 2018 economy), there will be someone who decries giving more money to low-wage workers for one dubious reason or another.

These reasons can all be broken down into one basic category: reasons why the poor deserve what they get. The group of people who feel this way is comprised of two supposedly opposing factions: neoconservative Republicans and Neoliberal Democrats.

On the Republican side, there are those who say the poor just aren’t working hard enough, in spite of the wealth of information to the contrary. That information, which shines light on the true state of affairs, shows that the vast majority of people who need government assistance in this country are people who already work fulltime or overtime hours.

These same people will likely resort to the old “they made poor decisions” argument. Beyond being embarrassingly short-sighted, they’re basically saying there are good jobs that pay good wages and there are bad ones that don’t, and if you take one that doesn’t pay enough, then you deserve what you get.

If you can’t get a good job due to race discrimination, that’s your fault. If you can’t get a good job due to lapses in local economies (which are sometimes not only exploited, but intentional), that’s your fault. If you can’t get a good job because you were busted for pot possession 20 years ago, that’s your fault. If you can’t get a good job because you have to take care of an elderly parent, or because you’re a single parent, or because you couldn’t get financial aid to attend college, or because you’re a disabled vet, or for whatever reason, that’s your fault. If you’re forced to take a job in a restaurant, where they notoriously ignore minimum wage laws, forcing you to work for as low as $2.00 per hour, it’s your own fault. You made bad decisions.

They value the services those employees bring them along with their coffee, just like they value being cleaned up after. Unless, of course, it means paying a living wage for those things. Suddenly those employees are asking for ‘entitlements’.

It’s enough to make a corporate Democrat want to drop everything and SIT DOWN ON THE GROUND.

But how clean is their side of the street? Not clean at all.

They are the other faction of people who decry raising the minimum wage.

By mentioning them, the intent is not simply to spotlight the politicians who have voted against raising the minimum wage. This also refers to those proud liberal Democrats who struggled through college just to barely scrape by post-graduation, and who tenaciously hold onto their feelings of entitlement, since they were able to attend college. Why should they support anyone’s fight to make as much as they make, when they didn’t even have to crack a book, let alone pay for that privilege? A large portion of people earning mimimum wage are college graduates, but they probably chose the wrong major, so it’s their own fault. They deserve to starve.

Can we not forgive others for having more than condiments and trinkets on their minds, when they‘re one busted radiator away from being homeless? Perhaps if they were paid enough to cover all their major daily concerns, you would see improvements in their job performance. In any case, some incentive to motivate workers to do better would not go amiss.

But no. If you want to be paid enough to live comfortably, you must first attain the speed of a machine, the accuracy of a computer, and the blind loyalty of a robot. You must do all these things as penance for failing to attend college; or, if you attended college, failing to study the right subjects. You must do all of these things in spite of the fact that you aren’t currently being paid enough to maintain the vehicle that takes you to work and back, or the insurance to keep it legal, let alone the gasoline required to drive it. If you don’t like that, then suck it up and deal with it. At least you aren’t homeless…yet.

This is class-baiting at its finest. Democrats’ base of support is traditionally comprised of middle class Americans, but corporate Democrats are all that’s left to represent that collapsing institution. Instead, the shrinking middle class have become the jailers, only marginally better off than the jailed, and they do it for crumbs. At least they aren’t ‘baristas’, or ‘basement dwellers’.

It’s this second group which is probably the most vexing, and considering the competition that’s saying a lot. What’s the most troublesome is not just the fact that people are acting in an elitist manner, basing their judgements of others by their own set of slanted circumstances, but rather that they are so callously indifferent to the needs of those who have less than they do.

They will tell you all about how hard they have to struggle just to maintain their heads above water, as the last remnants of the US middle class, and how hard they had to work in order to gain that position. But somewhere in all of it, the fact that others couldn’t accomplish even that level of financial security, no matter how long or how hard they worked, seems lost on them.

What about those people?

They don’t care about them. They should have made better decisions in life.

Sound familiar? It should, it’s the same tired argument neocon Republicans use.

“But if things are this bad for me, then people with even less opportunities must…”

They can’t finish that thought. They can’t even begin to think it. They could be concerned that people are living in poverty, but instead they are worried that someone’s going to get something for free, and their illusion of superiority will collapse into a heap of unpaid college loan debt. Never mind the fact that increasing the minimum wage affects everybody, not just the people earning the miminum amount. Raising the minimum wage stimulates the economy at large, which virtually all can benefit from.

They could be championing these low-wage workers for having the balls to risk their own jobs, in order to enrich pay for everybody, but instead they belittle them for fumbling with notoriously cheap, faulty equipment. That’ll really put them in their place, and remind them who’s really worth paying: those who had the money to invest in their own educations.

Both sides of this narrow political spectrum agree on one thing: austerity. In addition to legitimizing cutthroat tactics and crass selfishness in an artificially depressed environment, they both rely on an almost total lack of understanding about how money works. Whether they personally understand or not, the perpetuation of their ideas is dependent on the public’s lack of understanding.

It’s time we started to understand. Let’s learn Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), and understand that we can budget whatever changes we need in the US Congress, so all people can earn enough to live. If the economy isn’t big enough we can grow it, we have the control. What we need now is the will of not only the representatives who can affect these changes, but of the people who hold the real power to inspire this change: you and me.

None of this is a democrat/republican issue, it’s a human rights issue. It’s about being paid enough to survive and provide for our families. Costs of living have far exceeded what they were in the 70s, while wages have remained almost totally stagnant. In spite of this, thoroughly debunked opposition to raising the minimum wage (which reads more like a threat than a warning), is so strong it has actually facilitated the passing of legislation in 25 states banning minimum wage increases.

It’s not rocket science. People need to be paid more to compensate for increased demand. A further painful irony is that the people who condemn fast food workers for wanting to be paid fairly are the same people who constantly complain about their own wage stagnation. They would rather keep their foot on the backs of those beneath them to maintain the status quo than let the bottom earn a bit more.

No matter how much we determine the hourly minimum wage should be, or how expensive things are in different areas, remember this one last thought: when you hire someone to do a job, you are asking them to give you their time on this planet. Ultimately, that is all any of us have.

Value it, as if it were your own.

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