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Why we should fight to raise the minimum wage

Sunday, September 15, 2013

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  • Courtesy. Activists rally outside Toy "R" Us to raise the minimum wage.

    Courtesy. Activists rally outside Toy "R" Us to raise the minimum wage.

Written by Peter Miller

It’s an exciting time to be a working class organizer in the United States and Canada. Fast Food workers are mobilizing in the United States for a Living wage of $15 an hour.  In August there were two stages of strikes affecting dozens of cities across the United States.

In Ontario, the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage was launched in March and is picking up momentum. Minimum wage workers and community members are demanding that the minimum wage bring workers and their families out of poverty, be based on a 35-hour work week, and be updated every year with the cost of living.

A minimum wage advisory panel for the provincial government started in July to report back on what to do about the minimum wage. But rightfully, the campaign is demanding for an increase to 14 dollars an hour immediately. Minimum wage workers in Ontario don’t have the time to wait for another advisory panel that includes a representative from the Retail Council of Canada that lobbies government to keep wages low. The Retail Council of Canada includes members like McDonalds, Tim Hortons, and Toys "R" Us that pay wages below the poverty line.

The campaign is calling for actions in cities across Ontario on the 14 of every month until demands are me. On Saturday September 14, community members publically shamed corporations that are lobbying for a freeze in the minimum wage: McDonalds, Toys "R" Us, and Tim Hortons. In Hamilton organizers had a flash mob where they targeted one of these businesses. In Guelph, protesters picketed in front of a McDonalds. In Toronto, there were two actions for the campaign, one being a Minimum Wage Carnival outside of Toy “R” Us at Dufferin Mall. 

At these events, activists informed working class communities about their demands to raise the minimum wage. Right now the minimum wage is almost 20 per cent below the poverty line. Purchasing power for minimum wage workers is 6.5 per cent lower than in 2010 because of price increases in gas, transit, eggs, baked goods, and other necessities. As workers live below the poverty line, corporations are making huge profits. Right now, Canadian corporations are sitting with over $500 billion on their balance sheets. McDonalds is lobbying for a minimum wage freeze. In Canada, McDonalds made $5.4 billions in profits in 2012.

Large businesses employ the majority of minimum wage workers in Canada. Their interests are directly opposed to workers. Large corporations wish to keep wages low to increase profits. These businesses and the owners that should be treated with great contempt, take advantage of the high unemployment rate by increasing control over workers that are threatened by the possibility of being fired and living in greater poverty as unemployed workers. Companies like Walmart, McDonalds, Burger King, and many others, hire mostly part-time workers to keep workers disempowered from organizing their workplace, or living with any stability in income.

Community members working on the minimum wage campaign should emphasize that the only way to raise the minimum wage is from action against large businesses whose interests are directly opposed to workers. We should also emphasize that workers are the people who create wealth, not capitalists and corporations. This campaign is not about charity. It’s about worker’s fighting to win a larger piece of the wealth they create. Right now workers are getting crumbs, not even a slice of the pie. If minimum wages had grown since 1976 as fast as labour productivity has grown, then the average minimum wages today would be 16 dollars per hour. Today, our minimum wage represents 15 percent of the hourly output of the average Canadian worker – down from 25 percent in the late 1970s.

While we organize and emphasize class struggle, and as we build a mass movement that demands an end to poverty wages, new community members and workers that get involved will learn through struggle that they stand with the working class that has its own interests. That’s what I see as one of the potential positive outcomes of this campaign: to create a higher level of working class consciousness. 

The campaign to raise the minimum wage also has the possibility to lead to organizing the unorganized. Sustained action will help minimum wage workers and community members move towards unionizing workplaces, while building a base that is combative about what capitalism is doing to workers.

This campaign also can win. Worker’s mass movements are what won a minimum wage in the first place. We have the numbers, and power collectively to have victories and win a 14 dollar an hour minimum wage. Working class victories helps us realize our collective strength, further empowering us. The solution is not in the provincial parliament but from a mass movement in the streets. 

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