Wanted: A Living Wage
By Anna Daniels
It is useful exercise to remind ourselves that the battle for an increased minimum wage/sick leave benefit in San Diego is not a new one. Peel back the right wing maker versus taker meme and you get Howard Zinn, placing today’s minimum wage struggle firmly in our collective history of bitter class conflict between the rich and the poor and working class.
In 1944, when Franklin Roosevelt was running for his third term, he emphasized the need for an economic bill of rights as a vehicle for addressing the limitations of the political Bill of Rights. This economic bill of rights would have constitutionally guaranteed that workers have a living wage, would not have to work more than a certain number of hours and that the people would be entitled to vacations and healthcare. An economic bill of rights never materialized. Today, here in San Diego, we are experiencing the results of this omission.
But the economic bill of rights missing in the Constitution made it inevitable that workers would have to get those rights by their own efforts, by organizing, by going on strike, by facing the police and the sheriffs and the National Guard and the Army. That’s why we had such a series of bitter labor struggles in this country, because the political system, touted all over the world even today, this great democratic system, gave no economic rights to the working people. They had to fight for it themselves. Howard Zinn, Democracy Now! August 14, 2006
So yes, all the John and Maria Paychecks have had to fight for their economic rights. Fifty-one years ago, on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington, where he gave his “I have a dream” speech. It often escapes notice that King’s speech was the final one of ten speeches delivered that day as part of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” The economic demands outlined that day included “massive public works and job training programs for the unemployed, a federal law prohibiting discrimination in public and private hiring, a broadening of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and ‘a national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living.'”
In 1963, King was advocating for a $2 minimum wage. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $15.27 today.
Political freedom devoid of economic justice is no freedom at all.