A socialist approach to the minimum wage debate


Christopher Mark Juhn

Fast food workers participated in a minimum wage protest on Sept. 4 in Uptown. (Photo: Chris Juhn/City College News)

By Casey Heinisch/[email protected]
Opinion Editor

Casey HeadshotAccording to the United States Constitution, every person has three inalienable rights: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. This means that every single citizen of the United States has these rights with zero possibility of having them taken away. The Constitution states that it is the government’s duty to protect these rights for its citizens. Each citizen has the right to be able to live with dignity.

Since it is the job of the government to ensure that each citizen has the right to be able to live with a level of comfort, why is there not a governmental mandate that each job must pay its workers with a wage to support this type of a life?

Minimum wage is the lowest possible wage legally allowed to be paid to a worker. This sum is decided as the result of debates and concessions from both workers and employers. They give and take until both sides don’t feel completely screwed over anymore. This has absolutely no relevance to quality and cost of life. It is merely a negotiation.

Living wage is the minimum amount of money a person needs to earn in order to pay for food, shelter, bills, and a small amount of recreation. This isn’t extravagant, but it accounts for inflation, so that’s something. Which one of these sounds more concerned with the three inalienable rights? Living wages. They are the only wage that allows workers to be able to successfully support themselves and their families.

Minimum wage regulations were instituted in 1935, at $.25 per hour. Since then, it has increased only a few times. These increases have come only as a result of workers frustrations and desperations reaching a tipping point where they are willing to risk everything in exchange for bettering their lives. This point comes at a point of extreme duress.

When the negotiations arrive, the outcome is generally the same, the workers didn’t get all that they wanted, but they did successfully raise the minimum wage. This sounds like a victory. Is it really? It may greatly improve their living situation at the moment. What happens if the current living situation changes, like natural disaster, or if we invade another country? Will this victory still feel like a victory when it no longer makes our daily lives better?

The common response is, “we will just raise it again if it stops being enough.” Really? It has been raised fewer than ten times in its entire existence. Which roughly equals once every seven to eight years. Are you comfortable with agreeing to terms for the next seven years with no guarantees that our fragile economy won’t slide further into decline?

I believe an answer to lie in the abolishment of a minimum wage that is set by negotiation, and instating a “Living Wage Law”, that is based on the current market and cost of living.

“But that is Socialist! That is anti-American!” – screams the conservative right.

No, not at all, in fact, it is extremely American, because it fights for the rights of humans to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. At least it doesn’t directly oppose it, like the minimum wage does.

It is anti-capitalist, however. Despite all of the glory that is bestowed upon capitalism, the bare fact remains. Capitalism is set up to ensure that the owner/capitalist makes almost all of the money, while the worker does all of the work. This system was never intended to ensure that every one is free, alive, and happy. It was only intended that the capitalists were free, happy, and healthy.

In my view, this is the real issue with inequality in this country. It has nothing to do with our skills, our education, or our skin colors. It has everything to do with who has the money, and the government blatantly favoring the desires of those that do.

This country is divided in so many different ways: racially, geographically, politically and religiously. All of these are just a diversion from seeing how we are all alike. It is the 99 percent versus the one percent, the workers versus the capitalists.

We are all being exploited every single day by the very system we believe is saving us. It doesn’t matter what the minimum wage is, it won’t be enough to support your life. If it were enough, the capitalist wouldn’t be able to expand their oppressive control.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that capitalism and democracy are the same thing. People have a tendency to use them almost interchangeably when explaining why America is great. This country was founded on democracy, the belief that all people are equal and have a voice worth listening to. This is the idea that is American, not a money system full of loop holes and back doors.

The debate should not be if the minimum wage should be raised or not. It should be if our system benefits its citizens or oppresses them.

Capitalism is not the answer, it is the problem.