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A Brief Note on the Minimum Wage Struggle
Jan Makandal
July 5, 2015

Struggling for a minimum wage adjustment is a political battle at its initial point: the economic front.

Since we are talking of a political battle, one of the rules of that struggle is the relation of forces. At this moment in our conjuncture, our forces capable of forcing our class enemy to concede are weak and dominantly disorganized.

At present, the alternative to offer us a minimum wage remains in the hands of bourgeois organization and the state apparatus, and if they do so it will be for their own interest. We must admit now that the struggle for the $15 minimum wage is not an autonomous struggle of the working class and laborers. It will transform into an autonomous struggle only when the proletariat in particular owns their destiny, along with the masses under the leadership of the proletariat.

In the hands of the bourgeoisie, mainly bourgeois labor organizations [i.e.: AFL-CIO and SEIU], it is a struggle to secure their primary form of capital accumulation through the enlargement of their membership base to collect dues.

It is a struggle for them to deal with a very complex contradiction: mobilizing the rank and file while at the same time making sure that orientation doesn’t create an overflow that will push the struggle beyond the bourgeoisie’s desired limits. These bourgeois organizations are politically heavily leaning on the petite bourgeoisie’s activism, pragmatism and radicalism to not only help them realize the goal of maintaining a social base, but at the same time to keep the masses at bay. It is a very contradictory orientation since the petite bourgeoisie is dominated as well, and does have demands as well. This contradictory element is creating a constant condition for the possibility of overflowing. The bourgeoisie is well aware of that. Their leaning on the petite bourgeoisie is accomplished through the non-profit, CBO and NGO, structures controlled and funded by them, and they could terminate the lifeline of these organizations at any time.

A second orientation is that the struggle for the minimum wage is a gross marketing ploy, being presented as a moral issue capable of being brought into a legalistic battlefield, while attempting to keep all the classes antagonistic to capital at bay (since the petite bourgeoisie domination under capital is not antagonistic, they are naturally and instinctively reformist—with all their radicalism, they are the most natural allies of the bourgeoisie in that struggle).

The state apparatus is the political organizer and administrator of bourgeois democracy/dictatorship, so they too will intervene in the wage issue. They understand they have a powder keg ready to ignite with any little spark from the plurality of the political spectrum. Their decisions to reform the minimum wage or unpaid overtime are political ploys in the interest of the bourgeoisie (even if some members or fractions disagree)as a way to keep water ready to douse the powder keg. The main objective of the State in giving us crumbs is, in the interest of capitalism, to keep us disorganized.

What do we do?

At this time, though we are in a structural crisis of capitalism, our forces are weak, dispersed and dominantly disorganized. But we will not raise the white flag simply because we are strategically and tactically in a position of weakness. We should certainly not raise our hands on the air and say, “Thank you for the crumbs.” We need to understand our weakness and define a strategy to overturn the balance of power in our favor.

How do we start?

• Use the internal contradiction of the bourgeoisie in our favor.
• Use the contradiction between those fractions of capital interested in the minimum wage hike on the one hand, and the masses (including the petite bourgeoisie) on the other hand—push it in our favor to realize a shift in the balance of forces.
• We should not unite with one fraction of capital against the other, but use the contradiction among them to further weaken them all.
• At the same time we need to construct our own base, our autonomous organizations. This is the primary material condition necessary to shift the balance of power to our side.

The struggle for the minimum wage adjustment is, at this time, an alternative that will benefit a fraction of the capitalist class and the capitalist class, as a bloc, even if the crumbs are good for us. We should take the crumbs if it happens, but our demands should not be restricted to what they decide we need. WE SHOUILD NEVER BE SATISFIED.

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Infographic: Why we need to raise minimum wage

Some people argue raising the minimum wage will only help a few million teenagers, but this is not true. One in four Americans in the private sector makes less than the $10.10 an hour proposed by President Obama. An increased minimum wage would benefit breadwinners, including more than 70% of government contract employees and 17 million total workers by 2016 according to the economic study.

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(images via The Huffington Post/Restaurant Opportunities Center United)

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Each year we spend billions of dollars subsidizing profits at large international corporations because they refuse to pay their workers a living wage. It is not fair that taxpayers are footing the bill because these companies’ full-time workers are paid poverty wages and require public assistance just to be able to afford their rent and feed their families.

If these corporations won’t take action, then we will fight for their workers. Click here to tell Congress to raise the minimum wage: http://afsc.me/1nJkgBK

The Great U-Turn

Do you recall a time in America when the income of a single school teacher or baker or salesman or mechanic was enough to buy a home, have two cars, and raise a family? 

I remember. My father (who just celebrated his 100th birthday) earned enough for the rest of us to live comfortably. We weren’t rich but never felt poor, and our standard of living rose steadily through the 1950s and 1960s. 

That used to be the norm. For three decades after World War II, America created the largest middle class the world had ever seen. During those years the earnings of the typical American worker doubled, just as the size of the American economy doubled. (Over the last thirty years, by contrast, the size of the economy doubled again but the earnings of the typical American went nowhere.)  

In that earlier period, more than a third of all workers belonged to a trade union – giving average workers the bargaining power necessary to get a large and growing share of the large and growing economic pie. (Now, fewer than 7 percent of private-sector workers are unionized.) 

Then, CEO pay then averaged about 20 times the pay of their typical worker (now it’s over 200 times). 

In those years, the richest 1 percent took home 9 to 10 percent of total income (today the top 1 percent gets more than 20 percent). 

Then, the tax rate on highest-income Americans never fell below 70 percent; under Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, it was 91 percent. (Today the top tax rate is 39.6 percent.)

In those decades, tax revenues from the wealthy and the growing middle class were used to build the largest infrastructure project in our history, the Interstate Highway system. And to build the world’s largest and best system of free public education, and dramatically expand public higher education. (Since then, our infrastructure has been collapsing from deferred maintenance, our public schools have deteriorated, and higher education has become unaffordable to many.)

We didn’t stop there. We enacted the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act to extend prosperity and participation to African-Americans; Medicare and Medicaid to provide health care to the poor and reduce poverty among America’s seniors; and the Environmental Protection Act to help save our planet. 

And we made sure banking was boring. 

It was a virtuous cycle. As the economy grew, we prospered together. And that broad-based prosperity enabled us to invest in our future, creating more and better jobs and a higher standard of living.  

Then came the great U-turn, and for the last thirty years we’ve been heading in the opposite direction. 

Why?

Some blame globalization and the loss of America's  manufacturing core. Others point to new technologies that replaced routine jobs with automated machinery, software, and robotics. 

But if these were the culprits, they only raise a deeper question: Why didn’t we share the gains from globalization and technological advances more broadly? Why didn’t we invest them in superb schools, higher skills, a world-class infrastructure?

Others blame Ronald Reagan’s worship of the so-called “free market,” supply-side economics, and deregulation. But if these were responsible, why did we cling to these ideas for so long? Why are so many people still clinging to them? 

Some others believe Americans became greedier and more selfish. But if that’s the explanation, why did our national character change so dramatically? 

Perhaps the real problem is we forgot what we once achieved together. 

The collective erasure of the memory of that prior system of broad-based prosperity is due partly to the failure of my generation to retain and pass on the values on which that system was based. It can also be understood as the greatest propaganda victory radical conservatism ever won.

We must restore our recollection. In seeking to repair what is broken, we don’t have to emulate another nation. We have only to emulate what we once had.

That we once achieved broad-based prosperity means we can achieve it again – not exactly the same way, of course, but in a new way fit for the twenty-first century and for future generations of Americans. 

America’s great U-turn can be reversed. It is worth the fight.

This inequality shows the unjustifiable difference between CEO pay and their workers’ pay. This is why we need #wageratio legislation. This will limit CEO pay based on how well they pay their workers. Sign the petition and reblog to spread awareness!

https://www.causes.com/campaigns/77701-tie-companys-workers-highest-earnings-to-lowest-salaries

The Rise of the Working Poor and the Non-Working Rich


Many believe that poor people deserve to be poor because they’re lazy. As Speaker John Boehner has said, the poor have a notion that “I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.”

In reality, a large and growing share of the nation’s poor work full time – sometimes sixty or more hours a week – yet still don’t earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. 

It’s also commonly believed, especially among Republicans, that the rich deserve their wealth because they work harder than others. 

In reality, a large and growing portion of the super-rich have never broken a sweat. Their wealth has been handed to them. 

The rise of these two groups – the working poor and non-working rich – is relatively new. Both are challenging the core American assumptions that people are paid what they’re worth, and work is justly rewarded.

Why are these two groups growing?

The ranks of the working poor are growing because wages at the bottom have  dropped, adjusted for inflation. With increasing numbers of Americans taking low-paying jobs in retail sales, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, childcare, elder care, and other personal services, the pay of the bottom fifth is falling closer to the minimum wage.

At the same time, the real value of the federal minimum wage is lower today than it was a quarter century ago. 

In addition, most recipients of public assistance must now work in order to qualify.

Bill Clinton’s welfare reform of 1996 pushed the poor off welfare and into work. Meanwhile, the Earned Income Tax Credit, a wage subsidy, has emerged as the nation’s largest anti-poverty program. Here, too, having a job is a prerequisite.

The new work requirements haven’t reduced the number or percentage of Americans in poverty. They’ve just moved poor people from being unemployed and impoverished to being employed and impoverished.

While poverty declined in the early years of welfare reform when the economy boomed and jobs were plentiful, it began growing in 2000. By 2012 it exceeded its level in 1996, when welfare ended.


At the same time, the ranks of the non-working rich have been swelling. America’s legendary “self-made” men and women are fast being replaced by wealthy heirs. 

Six of today’s ten wealthiest Americans are heirs to prominent fortunes. The Walmart heirs alone have more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans combined.

Americans who became enormously wealthy over the last three decades are now busily transferring that wealth to their children and grand children.

The nation is on the cusp of the largest inter-generational transfer of wealth in history. A study from the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy projects a total of $59 trillion passed down to heirs between 2007 and 2061.

As the French economist Thomas Piketty reminds us, this is the kind of dynastic wealth that’s kept Europe’s aristocracy going for centuries. It’s about to become the major source of income for a new American aristocracy.

The tax code encourages all this by favoring unearned income over earned income. 

The top tax rate paid by America’s wealthy on their capital gains  – the major source of income for the non-working rich – has dropped from 33 percent in the late 1980s to 20 percent today, putting it substantially below the top tax rate on ordinary income (36.9 percent).

If the owners of capital assets whose worth increases over their lifetime hold them until death, their heirs pay zero capital gains taxes on them. Such “unrealized” gains now account for more than half the value of assets held by estates worth more than $100 million.

At the same time, the estate tax has been slashed. Before George W. Bush was president, it applied to assets in excess of $2 million per couple at a rate of 55 percent. Now it kicks in at $10,680,000 per couple, at a 40 percent rate.

Last year only 1.4 out of every 1,000 estates owed any estate tax, and the effective rate they paid was only 17 percent.

Republicans now in control of Congress want to go even further. Last Friday the Senate voted 54-46 in favor of a non-binding resolution to repeal the estate tax altogether. Earlier in the week, the House Ways and Means Committee also voted for a repeal. The House is expected to vote in coming weeks.

Yet the specter of an entire generation doing nothing for their money other than speed-dialing their wealth management advisers is not particularly attractive.

It puts more and more responsibility for investing a substantial portion of the nation’s assets into the hands of people who have never worked.

It also endangers our democracy, as dynastic wealth inevitably and invariably accumulates political influence and power.

Consider the rise of both the working poor and the non-working rich, and the meritocratic ideal on which America’s growing inequality is often justified doesn’t hold up. 

That widening inequality – combined with the increasing numbers of people who work full time but are still impoverished and of others who have never worked and are fabulously wealthy –  is undermining the moral foundations of American capitalism.

Here’s everything women could buy without the wage gap

By now, you’ve probably heard depressing statistics like this one: For every dollar a man earns, a woman makes 77 cents. You might even be sick of hearing it. But here’s another way of thinking about it: If you add all those pennies up, the gender gap will cost the average American woman more than $400,000 over the course of her professional life.

Even the useful 77 cents-to-the-dollar statistic is partially misleading because it looks at the median earnings of all full-time employed women against the earnings of full-time employed white men, leaving race and ethnicity out of the equation. Here’s the granular breakdown. White men in the United States make:

  • 47% more than Hispanic and Latina women
  • 40% more than American-Indian and Alaskan Native women
  • 36% more than African-American women
  • 34% more than Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women
  • 21% more than white women and
  • 13% more than Asian women.

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