Wages: A Trending Topic in North America
By Tyson Kelsall, Culture Editor
Alongside Barack Obama and the Democrats looking to raise the US federal minimum wage to $10.10 from $7.25,fair wages have come to the forefront of many political conversations around North America. In Seattle, Socialist Alternative party member and city councilor Kshama Sawant has been leading many protests fighting for a $15 minimum wage; these marches have begun to manifest themselves across the continent, including in Philadelphia and Toronto. Although the Toronto protests in Yonge-Dundas Square, led by Ontario Federation of Labour and attracting over 150 people, was demanding a little less at $14 per hour. This is following the Wal-Mart and Fast Food worker strikes which both occurred in the USA within the past few months. In mid-February, the faculty at the University of Illinois went on strike for a fair wage. Many groups are demanding better pay around North America.
With the income inequality gap continuing to grow, more people are starting to become unhappy. Students graduate only to work a job where they are paid below the poverty line more and more often. Tensions are intensifying between the capitalist class and the rest of the population.
Additionally, the matter of a living wage has started to become more prominent. The Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives defines a living wage as “the minimum hourly wage necessary for each of two workers in a family of four to meet basic needs and to participate in the civic/social life of their community.” In certain areas, including New Westminster, BC and Seattle, WA, the living wage has been implemented for public service employees, but has yet to be put in place for people working outside of the government. In Prince George, public service workers are paid above the living wage, which has been calculated to be $16.90, despite no binding legislation.
Conservatives and other right-wingers argue that raising the minimum wage destroys jobs, especially with the corporate manufacturing sector looking for the cheapest labour on a global scale. However, the most familiar argument against cheap labour is that the lowest paid workers will be able to spend more money, hence creating an economic stimulus, and will either leave the job market relatively the same or slightly better. If the latter argument holds true, it is also important to recognize that raising the minimum wage will be improving the lives of many people. For instance, it is assumed that roughly 28 million people in the USA are making less than $10.10 per hour, according to the Economic Policy Institute. It was perhaps comedian Chris Rock who summed it up best, early in his career: “I used to work at McDonald’s making minimum wage. You know what that means when someone pays you minimum wage? You know what your boss was trying to say? ‘Hey if I could pay you less, I would, but it’s against the law.’”