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USA minimum wage at seventy year low!

category north america / mexico | economy | news report author Friday November 04, 2005 19:38author by Anarcho Report this post to the editors

So much for capitalism

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, unskilled and non-unionised workers got $7.89 per hour in today's money. In other words, the Republican politicians have decided that America's workers should get a minimum wage 35% lower than workers 70 years ago

70 years of capitalist progress?

In America, the Republican dominated Senate has just rejected a proposal to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.25 an hour. This would have been the first increase since 1997. Since that last increase, Senators have voted themselves seven pay raises totalling $28,000 per year. As it stands, they earn $162,100 a year and enjoy numerous perks like health insurance, pensions and expenses.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, unskilled and non-unionised workers building the (government funded) Hoover Dam got 50 cents an hour from the government. This translates to $7.89 per hour in today's money. In other words, the Republican politicians have decided that America's workers should get a minimum wage 35% lower than workers 70 years ago in the height of the worse economic crisis capitalism has faced. The Democrats, who proposed the increase, are more generous and think workers should get 21% less.

The standard argument against a minimum wage is that it causes unemployment by raising the price of labour above its market level. Ignoring the dubious theoretical and empirical basis for this claim, what this argument says is that the minimum market wage of blue collar workers in America (who make up 70% of the workforce) has to be substantially less, in real terms, than that in the 1930s. So much for 70 years of economic progress!

Two conclusions are obvious. Firstly, workers cannot rely on the generosity of politicians if they want decent wages -- they need to organise themselves and fight for them. Secondly, that capitalism needs to go.

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author by Bobo - Unite Unionpublication date Sat Nov 05, 2005 04:16author email simon at unite dot org dot nzauthor address 6a Westernsprings Rd, Morningside, Auckland, NZauthor phone +64274555789Report this post to the editors

I am organising a campaign called SuperSizeMyPay.Com with other organisers at the Union I work for in Aotearoa/New Zealand to fight for a higher minimum wage, the abolision of youth rates and secure hours in the Fast Food industry and to get this legislated.

The minimum wage for adults is currently US$6.5 (NZ$9.50) and for 18-17 US$5.30 (NZ$7.80.) Those under 16 do not have a minimum wage.

Several political parties, including a centre-right coalition party, want the minimum wage to be raised to US$8.20 (NZ$12.00) by 2008.

Our Union says 2008 is to late, $12 now! That people shouldn't be disciminated on the base of age: equal pay for equal work. We say that workers in Fast Food and other low wage and minimum wage workers are undervalued: equal pay for work of equal value.

Our economy has been strong recently, so we have seen many Unions fighting for 5% pay increases.

However, corporate profits have been 11% in the last 5 years and workers pay increases on average have only been 2.1% in the same period. Adding this to a high cost of living, (20% increase in the price of food over the past 5 years, incredibly high cost of accomodation, particularly in Auckland, petrol costs, 47% increase in electricity in a short period of time etc etc), the minimum wage rises have been completely inadequate. The government effectively subsidies companies when these poverty-wage workers need welfare assistance.

With the loss of the union award system (whereby Unions bargained for industry wide wage structures), the only pay increases many workers have had in the past for years are legistlated minimum wage changes. For those just above minimum wage, they have had even less wage increases. Union membership here is only 20% and in the private sector only 9% and in Fast Food 1%. (Although we are changing that.)

Raising the minimum wage would be a first step towards:

* redistributing wealth
* bridging the gap between rich and poor
* bridge other social inequalities: women, youth, migrant workers, maori, pacific islanders, disabled etc are all disproportionately in low paid and casualised jobs
* be a step towards a living wage
* higher standard of living

You must remember that Aotearoa/NZ used to have one of the highest standards of living in the Western world. We now have one of the highest rates of low pay and child poverty.

Strategically - raising the minimum wage is an important campaign. It is a very real issue to many people within the community - not just within the workplace.

Poor workers may or may not be interested in political speak, but they certainly don't have time to invest their energies into something that they can't guareentee will have any direct benefits for them.

Raising the minimum wage is a simple concept that anyone can understand. Anarcho-Communism is not.

Building a campaign around a NZ$12 minimum wage is a winnable goal. The Australian minimum wage is NZ$13.40. If political parties are suggesting it should be legislated in 2008 they have at least raised peoples expectations. Whilst $12 is not enough, it is a practical and winnable step towards a living wage. The ILO, the European Union (and NZ in 1978) suggest a minimum wage set at 3/4 of the average wage. That would mean a minimum wage of US$10.25 (NZ$15.00). (Our average wage is: US$13.65, NZ$20.00)

The area that we are working in is completely unorganised. Winning a campaign like this would help reorganised the disorganised in the partnership unions by setting an example. It would build confidence in the workingclass as a whole. It would have ramifications outside the workingplace.

We recently reached 2000 members in our Fast Food Union which includes McDonalds, KFC, PizzaHut and Starbucks. We will soon be moving on to Subway, Wendies, Domino Pizzas and other brands.

The law in Aotearoa/NZ is a little different than the US and as far as I know its much more similar to Canada. Australia is at the moment attempting to bring in laws similar to our Employment Relations Act which deregulated the labour market. (NZ was the first country to really buy into the whole Neo-liberal agenda, private everything and run everything on the ideology of the market.)

We still have access to workplaces, meaning I can go into any workplace for the purpose of recruiting or talking to workers about issues or collective barganing. All I need to do is talk to the manager to say that I am there, not necessarily who I want to talk to etc. And as long as I do not disrupt buisiness (which is as much on my viewpoint as theres) I can talk to any worker including non-members. We have made agreements with most of these companies not to go behind the counter, which we have a legal right to do, and instead talk to individual workers at a table.

When you first go to a company, to initiate barganing all you need is two workers in a workplace. If its a single company, like Restaurant Brands which runs Starbucks/KFC/PizzaHut here in Aotearoa/NZ, all you would need is two workers from any of those stores are you could intiate. With franchises, you need to have 2 per franchise. Preferably when you intiate barganing you would want as many people as possible.

Once you have initiated barganing you make a barganing agreement which determines how you will negotiate. Just a point here - we have this thing called "Good Faith" which means that there is an understanding that collective barganing will only work with some level of cooperation. It is meant to also recognise the unfair advantage that the company has, but also the right of collective barganing for those who choose it.

A company is legally required to listen to any claims your workers have and reply, as is the Union. Once you have a final offer, you must legally use whatever your Unions process is for accepting or rejecting an offer. In our union that is a secret ballot of every member.

This is usually the time, when an offer is crap, that workers will start industrial action. Technically you can start industrial action after 40 days of initiating barganing.

The laws of strike in Aotearoa/NZ are:

* no one can be fired for going on strike
* any form of action that is different from your usual work pattern is considered a strike (i.e. a slowdown, work to rule etc)
* your pay can be suspended whilst you work, but must be restarted as soon as you start work again
* no company may hire a new worker for the purpose of filling your job (!)
* no company may force a worker already hired to do your job, they may only ask
* companies must treat every worker who returns from a strike as though they never went on strike at all

THe important thing to remember is that most young people don't even know what a union is, they don't know what double time is (i.e. you used to get paid twice if you worked on a sunday, and time and a half on saturdays), and they defintely haven't ever gone on strike. Some people are keen, some people are unsure, and some people just don't have the confidence. I am sure though, that once one store goes on strike, other stores confidence will be greatly increased.

Anyway... that email just turned into a huge one... (-; If anyone has any questions or would like to organise solidarity with out workers once the campaign starts email me. We will soon have the first starbucks strike in the history of starbucks! The McDonalds strikes will be good too.

What we are trying to do here is a first in the world. Organising low paid workers in casualised jobs. Most unions won't touch these areas with a barge pole. The partnership/boss unions are too busy worring about protecting their little area and their jobs and many of the other unions just don't have the resources. A combination of some useful laws that we still have and the dedication of a very small group of people (there are only about 7 people in our Union involved in this campaign - and none of us have that much experience, but we are learning as we go) is what we are running on. We aren't doing things like unions in NZ do it and infact, most of them are scared of us. I'm unsure how our campaign will go, but it's better to try than let casualisation continue to erode workers rights!

If there are any anarchist union organisers out there, please send me an email on, as i would like to join any anarchist or syndicalist email loop. I can't seem to find any...


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author by steven - union of equalitypublication date Thu Dec 14, 2006 06:18author email laubesb at nex dot net dot auauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

its is useless to the point of frustration to compare a $ to $ value eg US$ too NZ dollars it confuses the issue of the *psychopathic policies of politicians ,
(there just in it for the power and money)

* a person who can not relate too the suffering of others

author by Tom Wetzelpublication date Fri Dec 15, 2006 03:34author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Work on Hoover dam was for construction workers. There was in effect then a law called Davis Bacon that ensures equivalent to union wage levels on government contract work. That law is still in effect. You can be sure that lots of workers in the USA in the early 1930s were making far less than 50 cents an hour. There was no across the board minimum wage law in the USA at that time. It is not the case that 70% of the economically active population in the USA today are blue collar workers. The population of subordinated workers, not having any management or supervisorial power over others (not including "professionals" who often have more autonomy and other advantages), is about 62% of the economically active population, according to Michael Zweig's "The Working Class Majority". And this includes clerical workers, not just "blue-collar" workers. Nonetheless, Anarcho is right that the US Congress, being in the back pocket of the capitalist elite, have allowed the minimum wage to lose value continuously since the late 1960s.

author by Rikipublication date Wed Mar 07, 2007 12:13author email nzdiver at gmail dot comauthor address USAauthor phone Report this post to the editors

I am a KIWI living in the USA for the last year. As the other poster said, you really can’t compare New Zealand to USA wages.
Over here there is no guaranteed sick pay, payed holidays or any of the other things that we have in New Zealand. Most New Zealanders get at least 5 payed sick days per year. In the USA most people get none so if you are sick you don’t get payed. There is no holiday pay here for most wage earners so if you want to go on holiday there is no money coming in, and those who do manage to get a job with payed holidays are very lucky if they get 2 weeks, let alone the minium of three weeks (plus 11 stat days (USA has less than 5))that we get in New Zealand. If you are going to compare then you need to do your research, i am continually shocked by working conditions here compared to New Zealand and the Americans i talk to are often jealous of the conditions we have at home.
People working in the fast food industry over here do not make as much as they do in New Zealand.
Why are you continually showing the amount in US dollars, are you not a NZ Union with a NZ audience?
Perhaps you should then quote what the minium wage is here in the USA. (less than $3.50/h for some jobs)

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