by Matthew Andrews, Liberty Union’s Candidate for Congress
On Friday, five hundred fast food workers in 150 cities walked out on strike to protest the minimum wage. They are demanding a living wage of $15 an hour and a meaningful right to organize and collectively bargain for respect and better working conditions on the job. As the Liberty Union Party candidate for Congress, I am proud to support this national movement and pledge my commitment to fight for these demands in Congress.
The pundits of the corporate media would have us believe that wages are determined by natural forces that workers and government cannot alter them without causing more harm than good. This view is very comforting for the corporations that make huge profits from our labor, but it has no basis in reality.
Wages are determined by the balance of power between working people and employers. When workers have student loans, precarious access to health care, high rent, and many other bills, it’s hard to demand higher wages. It’s also hard to demand higher wages when 17 million people are out of work and corporations are sending jobs over seas to avoid US labor laws, environmental protections, and taxes. If workers are unable defend themselves against exploitation, it is essential that government set a floor.
The fight for fifteen is an exciting development for social movement unionism. Workers are organizing not merely to make demands for themselves, but for all low wage workers. Their demands extend beyond their particular employer. They understand that the problem isn’t just the executives at McDonald’s or Wendy’s. It’s the low wage regime that enables them. Many are even questioning capitalism.
Despite fear-mongering in the media, studies have shown that there is little evidence to suggest a higher minimum wage would cause layoffs or higher prices for consumers. Employers can deal with higher labor costs in many ways, including a cut in profits. The Economic Policy Institute has shown that rising productivity has not been matched by rising wages for decades. Instead corporations are raking in record profits.
A more equal economy is a healthier economy overall. When minimum wage workers get a raise, people with slightly higher wages get a raise as well. These workers spend that money in their communities for goods and services. So while business fight against raises for their own workers, when it is done across all businesses it can actually improve the economy.
There are many reasons why government may decide that it is good public policy to support businesses, but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of working people. To consider any business viable, it must provide jobs that meet certain minimum standards.
In addition to a higher minimum wage, I support a national guaranteed income that would replace the current complex and degrading welfare system. We also need to make life affordable in the United States by forgiving student loans, creating publicly owned banks, instituting universal health care, guaranteeing access to affordable housing, free child care, and expanded public transportation; and replacing price-gauging monopolies with public utilities. This is the economic program we need to transition away from capitalism. The ultimate goal of the socialist movement is to distribute ownership of the workplace to workers themselves, so rather than struggling against a handful of owners for higher wages, we can debate and decide for ourselves how much our business can afford to pay.
These latest actions by fast food workers demonstrates the power of collective action. Together working people are a mighty force. But to coordinate that strength for the complex and arduous journey ahead, working people must solidify themselves into a revolutionary union and political party. The Liberty Union Party is proud to be a part of this project in Vermont.
For more information on the fast food workers strike, visit http://strikefastfood.org/