A good many of us poverty workers look at the recognition of Labor Day as a tiny concession to the sacrifices of the working class and the historical rallies of unions and socialist forces. But it’s not much of an honor in reality. After all, if (IF) we get the day off, it’s rarely paid for, particularly if we’re part-time and paid hourly. How could labor be honored today? By honoring the labors and lives of all the laborers.
Previously we had talked about the cray-cray things conservatives do and say to deny even the most basic of wage increases for the poor. And, in light of the anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (over at Forward Progressives where I also occasionally blog, I talked about how job payment and poverty are still vastly unequal for women and People of Color) fell right before Labor Day (a kind of Capitalist rejoinder to the scarier but internationally celebrated May Day) and both are in the middle of the rising fast food and service worker demonstrations, it is high time to talk about not just wage equity, but respect to the worker, respect to the family, respect to the poor, respect to the backbone of this country.
Workers should be allowed to mobilize without being treated like criminals. Should be allowed to petition for livable working conditions without being stigmatized and labeled lazy. Should be allowed to apply for livable wages without propaganda from corporate media that makes us appear lazy, unwilling, and unfit to balance a checkbook. Should be able to redress our bosses for grievances without being lectured to or threatened with termination.
What kind of a civilization demands everything from you and then crushes your back when you demand fair return? What kind of a civilization says that those at the top with all of our robbed riches deserve our food, blood, children, and bones?
Not only is the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour too low for most that aren’t somehow independently wealthy (say, a teenager living at home that doesn’t need extra income – I’ve had several students in high school who needed to work to bring in extra money for their families), but the idea that the minimum only needs to be lifted a couple of dollars an hour shows how out of touch most of the Beltway is with half of America. Not liberal or conservative, not Democratic or Republican or White or Black America – but with those of us struggling to keep a roof over our heads while feeding and sending our children to overcrowded schools. Those who hope to remain healthy since we cannot afford to take days off work, let alone afford any sort of comprehensive medical coverage. We are not moochers, we are givers, givers beyond ourselves.
When we look at even the efforts of the Lucha Para 15/Fight for 15 people, we see something that seems radical even in a union-favoring state like my own Illinois. And such a wage of $15 an hour, if given the full forty hours through fifty weeks (let us assume a week off for vacation or sick days. Or child sick days. Or funeral days. Or a family member needs emergency help) will definitely help. A single person would make 30,000 a year. Not a tremendous amount and certainly, contrary to what the Fox News Awful Fascist Machine insists, not a ton of money either. Yet, a single accident can wipe that out. Thirty thousand a year before taxes is 2,500/month. For taxes, let’s assume 500 (more taken away for singles, less for those with dependents).
If we take into consideration that housing costs should be one-third of the total take home pay of a family, then the 2K per month could afford something a little under $700/month. In Chicago, it’s becoming impossible to find a one bedroom or studio for that price. So, the single could room and actually save money.
The single parent, though? That’s not even an option. A typical two bedroom in Chicago runs a good 900/month. That’s almost half of the income before getting to basic utilities, transportation, food, clothing, medication, insurance…
Respect for the workers means more than just fair wages, though that is an important aspect of it. Respect due our workers would call for not just livable wages, but a livable economy, a livable society. It would call for fair and just housing, health care, child care, public transit, schools (from pre-K through grad level), working conditions, maternity and paternity leave.
The US has an official Labor Day, but it seems like an affront to the Labor of the poor – particularly when the lowest paid of the workers are forced to work today. Perhaps it’s time to either give the worker her full rights or stop pretending, US?