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The Minimum Wage: Putting Some Myths to Rest

Dissident Voice Article
By Paul Haeder

First, some transparency — I worked with Kshama Sawant in Seattle when I was tasked with the ungodly job of organizing thousands of workers in Washington state, by myself, at 11 of the state’s non-profit private colleges.

Adjunct academic workers. Low pay, no-way benefits, nowhere respect. As an adjunct myself, I’ve seen my huge stack of essays teaching composition (used to be the bedrock of ALL academic majors, and, alas, still is, but is being cut and cut by many disciplines, like Economics and the IT crap) as part of my nightly and weekend duty. Getting paid $1500 a class in 1986 and then in various places, $2000 (at the rich campus, Gonzaga) and then $3000 at SFCC in 2001, ending up with $3700 by 2011, and lots of other weird schemes in between, such as Green River Community College in Auburn, WA, paying $3300 a class.

Again, one class, 40 students, you get a stipend, at $3300 for the entire class, broken up in four pay checks. Take out taxes and state crap, and you get the picture. Plus, we are forced to stay under a certain percentage that would be considered Full-time. AND, our so-called brothers and sisters in the tenured tracking full-faculty gang can and do TAKE away classes from us, in what is called moonlighting or overloading, to get some more cash for their various needs. Screw the adjunct!

You want to do the math? Less than minimum wage working as a COLLEGE/UNIVERSITY teacher, preparer, reader, coach, facilitator, adviser, grader, evaluator, inspiration, and in-class-office hours worker, who then has to take home 150 essays to read closely, mark up, give holistic responses to, provide professional tips on how to make each essay GOOD, and ways to redraft — well, welcome to the Brave New World of Work for someone with two graduate degrees and decades teaching, making less than minimum wage. Throw in life skills and job skills. Other skills. Friendship? Community direction? Shoot, role-modeling. I’ll take minimum wage with that order of crow to eat.

Oh, the irony that SEIU — Service Employees International Union — those in the upper echelon, that is, get a cool $100-K a year, easily, on average, and of course more $$ in regard to more time in the organization, i.e., perks, and they are organizing fast food workers to fight for $15 an hour. Not a living wage, to be sure. Bizarre relationship — big bucks working to bring no bucks up to little bucks. Wow!

When we live in this sub-human capitalism, that’s all we can ask for — $15 an hour? Now, that would be bare bones “okay” IF we had built public transportation, free for all, and had built a movement around health care for all, single-payer, for all, then, shoot, those One Percenters and their Little Eichmanns could possibly ram that down our our throats.

In Oregon, it’s $8.80 an hour, and I am currently getting $9.25 an hour for a job taking care of important adults who require all sorts of in-house/in-program teaching, care, coaching, and observation.

Check out who those folk are, here — poem of the day: “When the Wards Emancipate the Insane.” DV Poetry Page!

Again, workers are the majority, doing the bizarre work of McDonalds’ fake meat zapping/ ammonia-drenching chicken thing and helping Subway-Pizza Hut-Applebee’s-et al’ s high fructose corn syrup and salt and hydrogenated fat delivery system. In the end, adjuncts are the majority, and we are the fast-food workers of academia. We too could use health care for all and a decent mass transportation system. Living wage? Shoot, what’s the stat? $1.3 trillion in student loan debt? How many adjuncts have loan debt? The cold sorry fact is that people 60 years or older collectively own $35 billion in student loan debt.

Maybe city council domain can’t work on that, but it’s extremely important that all these exploitative eggs are put in one basket. Move over SEIU and self-serving democrats. Say hello to Marx. Eco-Marxism: ***

We’ll write about this soon in an upcoming DV: ”A tale of Two Conferences: The social and Ecological Crises of Capitalism.”

So, the SEIU mafia endorsed Obama, and in Seattle, when this adjunct worker, Kshama, who worked at Seattle University and Seattle Central Community College cobbling together sub-human wages with her Ph.D in economics, when she told me and my boss at SEIU that she wanted to lead a charge to organize adjuncts on that campus relevant to SEIU’s campaign, Seattle University (private, non-profit, religious, exploitive), well, the SEIU honcho just felt as if Kshama was (is) too (sic), err, socialist, too much in the media, too hot-potato to handle, not the thing of leadership.

Wimps running unions, indeed, covering their asses, their careers, and their insider group think — endorsing Obama before he even was asked by us, the rank and file, what the hell he had to really offer working class people. Wimps in union leadership roles, and part of the 19 Percent as highly paid honchos rubbing elbows with monied lobbies and politicians, looking for a $15 and hour hand out/up? Hubris.

Kshama also fought to win a state legislative seat, held by one of the democrat old guard types, in Olympia who, again, couldn’t debate himself out of a wet bag — not able to or willing to even try to close WA state’s tax loopholes, not even a decent public showing of demands to fund schools fully, the rest of the state budget be damned, and this guy just rationalized why pushing for a progressive tax on the Bezos (Amazon), Gates (Microsoft), Paul Allen types was NOT in the cards, no siree. Bring on the Charter Schools and legalized pot. Now we are looking fine.

The SEIU/Demo – RATS are steeped in retreat strategy, and they themselves work workers to the bone. No 40-hour a week work contract. But that’s a whole other story.

SO, Kshama Sawant is running for city council, after losing to Frank Chopp, but she received a large chunk of the vote, AS A SOCIALIST CANDIDATE, hitting a record or an historical percentage.

Here’s her short but important article on he current solidarity fighting for workers in Seattle. I am not sure if her opposition candidate is in the streets of that Emerald City in solidarity!


Chicago retail workers on the march during a day of walkouts and solidarity actions (Carole Ramsden | SW)



by economist, fast food strike activist, and city council candidate

Hello, I’d like to submit the following article by Kshama Sawant for publication: The Minimum Wage: Putting Some Myths to Rest (870 words). The article has been previously published in The Stranger, the most widely read weekly Seattle publication, on June 4 and picked up by on June 6.

This article stands out in the public debate that has developed around raising the minimum wage and the fast food workers’ strikes that have spread to seven major cities so far. It succinctly addresses the most common myths about raising the minimum wage from a unique angle. It is written by an economist, Kshama Sawant, Ph.D., who was also a prominent activist in the Occupy Wall Street movement in Seattle. Then she ran for office last year against the Washington State House Speaker Frank Chopp and won the highest vote for an open Socialist in decades, as well as the strongest vote for a third party progressive candidate in the country in 2012.

And as this Seattle Weekly article pointed out, the author is also the only candidate for Seattle office in 2013 who voiced her support for the fast food strikers demand of $15/hour, while other Seattle politicians claiming to support the fast food strikers evaded questions about the specific dollar amount they would support.

Kshama Sawant would also be interested in writing a new guest editorial on the same or similar subject for your publication from her unique combined perspective as an economist, Occupy activist, and a Socialist Alternative city council candidate. Please let us know if youre interested.

Ramy Khalil
Campaign Manager, Kshama Sawant for City Council
(713) 458-0366

Full text of the article, including the by-line:

The Minimum Wage: Putting Some Myths to Rest

by KSHAMA SAWANT on TUE, JUN 4, 2013 at 4:28 PM


This a guest post by Kshama Sawant, who has a Ph. D in economics from NC State University, teaches at Seattle Central Community College, and is a Socialist Alternative Candidate for Seattle City Council.

With seven strikes of fast food workers in eight weeks, demanding $15/hour and the right to a union, a discussion of raising the minimum wage has begun to stir up the predictable frenzy of pro-market mythology.

As in every previous discussion of raising the minimum wage, it has been asserted that such a move would increase unemployment, be harmful to the most underprivileged workers, bad for small businesses, and indeed, disastrous for the wider economy. In this same narrative, low-wage jobs are stepping stones, and hard work and higher education are reliable paths to middle-class employment.

Is any of this true?

Who Are Low-Wage Workers?

Let’s start with a useful benchmark of a low-wage job as one that keeps a full-time worker and their family of four at or below the federal poverty threshold – $23,005 per year, or $11.06/hour in 2011.

Contrary to the myths, the working poor are an ever-expanding contingent of America’s labor force, while the middle class has been steadily shrinking. Over 25 percent of all workers qualify as low-wage workers.

Lest we think this is an issue only in Tennessee and Alabama, nearly 20 percent of Washington workers qualify as low-wage workers, with an additional 40 percent living within what is known as the supplemental poverty measure.

The road of higher education also increasingly leads nowhere. Low-wage workers are better educated than ever before, with over 26 percent having had some college education. Low-wage workers now carry sizable sums of student debt.

Conditions have deteriorated even more rapidly since the Great Recession began. Low-wage jobs comprised about 35 percent of jobs lost in 2008 and 2009, yet they accounted for 76 percent of net job growth in 2010.

Minimum Wage Already Too High in Washington?

It is true that Washington is currently the only state with a minimum wage above $9.00/hour.

What this demonstrates, however, is not a lavishness of wages here, but rather the abysmal standard of living faced by tens of millions of hardworking people nationwide. A full-time job at Washingtons minimum wage fetches about $18,000, clearly far less than necessary to meet basic expenses.

A more useful benchmark is a living wage. The Alliance for a Just Society defines living-wage jobs for Washington state, assuming full-time hours, as $16.13/hour or $33,544 annually for a single adult. Those figures would rise to $28.71/hour or $59,715 a year for a household of one adult and one child, and $29.42/hour or $61,188 a year for a family of four with one adult working. Keep in mind, many low-wage workers are unable to get full-time employment.

What Would the Fallout of $15/Hour Be?

Much is made of the impact a higher minimum wage would have on small businesses. But what about Starbucks, McDonald’s, Subway, Pizza Hut, and the vast array of huge corporations whose mega profits rest on the poverty wages of their workforce?

The CEO of YUM! Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell) made $20.5 million last year. The average worker in one of the stores made only $7.50/hour. Meanwhile, restaurant chains spent nearly a million dollars in 2006 to fight minimum-wage increases in six states.

The past several decades have seen worker productivity skyrocket, while wages for most workers stagnate. Where did the balance go? It went to the top one percent. If the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity, it would be approximately $22/hour. If it had grown at the same pace as the income to the one percent, it would be around $33/hour.

Increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour is surely reasonable in the face of the massive siphoning of income to the very top. Should those who work hard every day have to struggle to pay for rent and groceries?

Research does show that a minimum wage increase can initially pose difficulty to some small businesses. However, this can be addressed by increasing taxes on big business (which are at historically low rates) and eliminating corporate welfare to subsidize small businesses, along with cutting the Business & Operation and property tax burden on small businesses.

But the main danger facing working people and small businesses is the continued proliferation of low wages. The economy is reeling with over 20 million people unemployed or underemployed, a low-wage workforce, a collapse of the housing bubble, and staggering consumer and student debt. Raising wages is a vital measure to break out of the depressionary spiral.

Statistical studies show a positive impact of wage increases on jobs. When working people have more income, their spending power goes up, which in turn boosts sales, which further increases jobs and overall spending power, and so on.

The idea that raising the wage would harm the most disadvantaged workers is a fig leaf to justify anti-worker policy-making. In fact, increasing the minimum wage raises the bargaining power of all workers, and has the effect of raising wages across the board.

The Great Recession has left in tatters the idea that capitalism works. It works well for the billionaires, but for the rest of us, it has meant fast eroding standards of living. The American middle class was created on the edifice of courage and sacrifice of a mobilized labor movement. Let us support the workers demanding $15/hour. They are a sign of the times.

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Posted in Finance & Economics, Politics.

Tagged with Alabama, Economics, Obama, SEIU, tax, tracking, WA, Washington.

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