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Children in a spinning mill in Fall River, Massachusetts, 1912.
Children in a spinning room in Fall River, Massachusetts, 1912.
They were paid half the going rate for adult workers.
(Photo by Lewis Hine)
No parades or surprise parties are likely to be on tap Monday when Massachusetts passes the anniversary of a milestone of U.S. labor law. A century ago, on June 4, 1912, the state enacted the nation's first minimum-wage law. That may not seem like a big deal these days. But for the women and minors covered by the law it was a very big deal. In sweatshops across the nation at the time, workers of all categories were deeply exploited. And while legislators could ignore—be paid to ignore—most of that exploitation, they had a harder time when the exploited were women and children forced to work 10- and 12-hour days six days a week in sweatshops where their pay was, let us say, painfully inadequate.

That pay could be reduced at any time on an employer's whim. Or the hours increased but the weekly pay unchanged. Workers could lump or leave it. The problem with  leaving being that it would land all but the luckiest of them in a job with equally measly pay and the same kind of verbal contract between unequals. The worker had to right to accept whatever the owner wished to pay. Period. Women, unable to even vote and only rarely represented by unions, were vulnerable to employers' whims and their prejudices, one of which was the view that no matter how hard they worked women simply should not be paid as much as men. As for children in sweatshops? Even worse off. Even more vulnerable. And paid even less.

Reformers saw need of many improvements for workers, but one proposal that struck a chord was a minimum wage for women. The Progressives made that a plank in their party platform in 1912.

Economists, businesspeople big and small, and the elected stooges for owners who hired these easily exploitable workers hated the idea of a minimum wage, as many still do. And had the Massachusetts law been drafted to cover a broader range of workers, that is to say, men, it would never have made it to the governor's desk. But it did and he signed it. Within a decade a dozen other states had followed in Massachusetts's footsteps. And in 1933, deep in the Depression, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, the brains and heart of the New Deal, made the case for a federal minimum wage. I'll get to that in a moment.

The Massachusetts law didn't actually set a minimum wage. Instead, it established a three-member commission ("one of whom may be a woman"):

Section 3. It shall be the duty of the commission to inquire into the wages paid to the female employees in any occupation in the commonwealth, if the commission has reason to believe that the wages paid to a substantial number of such employees are inadequate to supply the necessary cost of living and to maintain the worker in health.

Section 4. If after such investigation the commission is of the opinion that in the occupation in question the wages paid to a substantial number of female employees are inadequate to supply the necessary cost of living and to maintain the worker in health, the commission shall establish a wage board consisting of not less than six representatives of employers in the occupation in question and of an equal number of persons to represent the female employees in said occupation, and of one or more disinterested persons appointed by the commission to represent the public, but the representatives of the public shall not exceed one half of the number of representatives of either of the other parties. [...]

Section 5. The commission may transmit to each wage board all pertinent information in its possession relative to the wages paid in the occupation in question. Each wage board shall take into consideration the needs of the employees, the financial condition of the occupation and the probable effect thereon of any increase in the minimum wages paid, and shall endeavor to determine the minimum wage, whether by time rate or piece rate, suitable for a female employee of ordinary ability in the occupation in question, or for any or all of the branches thereof, and also suitable minimum wages for learners and apprentices and for minors below the age of eighteen years. When two thirds of the members of a wage board shall agree upon minimum wage determinations, they shall report such determinations to the commission, together with the reasons therefor and the facts relating thereto, and also the names, so far as they can be ascertained by the board, of employers who pay less than the minimum wage so determined.

In Washington state not quite five years later, the battle over implementing the minimum wage was hard fought. The law had passed in 1915. But by 1917 companies were evading the minimum-wage law however they could.

Laundry work was one of the few jobs open to women at the time, and the employers made the most of it. According to the Seattle Union Record women who worked in the laundries were “girls without any family support and many widows with babies to feed and clothe.”

During the first part of 1917, the state minimum wage for laundry workers was $9 a week for an eight-hour workday. [...] The laundries then paid less and less until they were paying far below the minimum wage and many workers were receiving the same pay as they had five years previously. In addition to lowering wages, the laundries used several other methods to get around the minimum wage provision.  

The laundry plants used a system of “splitting shifts.” This was a practice in which a laundry put the women to “work in the morning, rush them to top speed for a couple of hours, ring a gong and stop their time when the work immediately in sight was disposed of and without previous notice; after an hour or two again putting them to work and in that way compelling them to be present on the job for periods of from ten to twelve hours for pay for from four to eight hours.” This practice of having the women work faster over more hours for less money was upheld in the courts with the decision of Rose Bishop v. Model Laundry Co., in which the judge refused to hear the case.

The Laundry Owners Association maintained a united front for a while. But then the cooperatively owned Mutual Laundry announced it was going to raise the weekly wage to $10, $1 above the state minimum wage for eight hours work a day. While the Laundry Workers Union praised Mutual, it also noted that a livable wage was really $12 a week. Word nonetheless quickly got around. The Laundry Owners Association wouldn't budge. Every trick was tried to keep the women workers from joining unions. Laundries fired any woman who had joined the union and refused to give it up. In June 1917, a lot of women were fired for their refusal.

When it became clear at mid-month that the owners weren't going to come around, 900 laundry-workers took to the streets. By the time the strike was settled four weeks later with full capitulation by the Laundry Owners Association on July 11, 85 percent of the women had joined the Laundry Workers Union. Their strike got apprentices paid $9 a week for an eight-hour day, $10 for women with experience, with a limit on the number of apprentices. All the dismissed workers were reinstated as part of the deal.

Frances Perkins at work for the Factory Investigation Commission, circa 1911.  Photo from the Frances Perkins Papers, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.
Frances Perkins at work for the
Factory Investigation Commission, circa 1911.  
Photo from the Frances Perkins Papers, Rare Book
and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.
Sixteen years later, in the depth of the Depression, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, wrote “Why We Need a Minimum Wage Law.” She wrote bluntly about the sweatshop owners, calling them:
 
“...men of inferior business caliber who probably could not survive at all if it were not for their willingness to be entirely ruthless in exploiting labor.”
But the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, were not cooperative. They ruled against laws restricting child labor and mandating minimum wages. One of the worst decisions came in 1936 in the case of Morehead v. New York ex rel. Tipaldo. Joseph Tipaldo ran a Brooklyn laundry. He violated the state's minimum wage law by paying women workers only $10 a week. The state demanded that he pony up $14.88 each. He acquiesced but then made the women kick back the additional pay. Caught and charged not only with violating the minimum-wage law but also forgery and conspiracy, Tipaldo was jailed. His lawyers argued the law unconstitutional and, in 1936, the Supreme Court agreed by a 5-to-4 majority, ruling that it interfered with "liberty of contract." Even many conservatives were appalled. Republican Rep. Hamilton Fish of New York called it a "new Dred Scott decision" condemning three million women and children to economic slavery.

With Franklin Roosevelt reelected by a huge landslide in 1936 and talking about altering the balance of the court by appointing a new justice for every one of those on the court over 70 who did not retire, Associate Justice Owen Roberts ultimately changed his mind, at least publicly. He took the other side in a second minimum-wage case, reversing the Court's majority in 1937. It was a crucial turning point.

The decision meant the federal minimum wage being included in the multi-issue Fair Labor Standards Act would not be challenged in Court. The bill,which also included limits on child labor and set standards for overtime pay, ran to 40 pages. Eventually, it was boiled down to eight. Even in a Congress practically overflowing with Democrats, it took several tries before a draft suitable for full debate had been written. Seventy-two amendments were proposed on the floor of the House and Senate to narrow the bill's scope. By the time it was signed in 1938, it was a good deal weaker than when it had started out, in great part due to opposition from anti-New Deal congressmen from the South. But it still contained two important provisions, a 40 cents-an-hour minimum and a 40-hour-a-week maximum. Unions wanted more money and some on the left in Congress wanted a lower number of hours, but the principle had been set. The federal government now had the authority to make such rules.

Nearly 75 years after FDR signed the minimum-wage law, we're still fighting for it. Some argue it should be done away and replaced by guaranteed incomes, an expanded  earned income tax credit or left up to collective bargaining, a more European approach. But most critics who seek to ditch it have no intention of replacing it with something better. For them, it's just another New Deal thorn to be removed from the bottom line. Just as they'd like the minimum-wage to be zero, they want corporate taxes to be zero. Always on a search for balance these guys are.

Even when a majority of legislators, including many Republicans, support an increase in the minimum wage, right-wing maneuvers can squelch it, as just happened in New York.

Jack Temple, policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, says:

After several decades of congressional stewardship, the real value of the minimum wage peaked in 1968. Since then it has trailed the rising cost of living: The minimum wage would be over $10 today if it kept pace with inflation, but it is only $7.25 an hour—just over $15,000 a year for full-time work.

We are now three years out from the official end of the recession, and workers’ wages are declining rather than rebounding: From March 2011 to March 2012, real average hourly earnings fell 0.6 percent for all private-sector workers and declined by an even greater degree—a full 1.0 percent—for nonsupervisory and production workers.

One of numerous items in the worker-friendly Rebuild America Act that Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa has proposed is a phased-in minimum wage of $9.80 an hour, up from $7.25. The bill also includes a raise to $6.86 in the minimum wage for tipped workers (which has been at a ridiculous $2.13 an hour for 20 years). Each would be indexed to inflation annually.

The website RaisetheMinimumWage.com is a project of the National Employment Law Project. Working with state advocates, it seeks to rebuild "the wage floor for low-wage workers in the U.S." with technical assistance, research, background materials, strategizing and coordination for campaigns.

One of the states partnering with RMW is Massachusetts. A bill introduced last year by state Sen. Marc Pacheco cleared committee in March. Deadline for passage this year is July 31. It would raise the minimum wage from $8 an hour to $9.50 on July 1 and to $10 in July 2013, indexed to inflation thereafter.

The foes of the minimum wage play rough. Here's John Stoher at The American Prospect examining one of the promoters of the corporate agenda on the minimum wage:

One of the most active in the propaganda industry has been the Employment Policies Institute, a so-called think-tank in Washington that serves as a front for Richard Berman & Co., a lobbying firm for major corporations in the fast-food, alcohol, and tobacco industries. The Employment Policies Institute studies essentially say: Raising the minimum wage hurts minimum-wage earners. We know, we know. That sounds counter-intuitive, but trust us. We're the experts.
Anthony Speelman, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500 Secretary-Treasurer, says:
“It is amazing how much money corporations will spend from their own pockets to make sure no additional money goes into their workers' pockets. It is appalling that the voice opposing the minimum wage increase will come from those making ten, twenty even fifty times what those on minimum wage make in a year. Any business that can only survive and profit by paying their workers poverty wages should either rethink their business model or consider another line if work. Regardless, their voices of greed will be drowned out by the voices of need.”
That sounds as if he's been reading Frances Perkins.

The minimum wage is no panacea. But raising it does not hurt minimum-wage earners, as Berman claims but surely knows is bogus. Work full-time at the current minimum and gross pay for a year will be $15,000. Raising that to $20,000 by making the minimum $10 an hour hurts that worker how? Contrary to popular belief, those making minimum wage aren't all kids on their first job or working their way through school. And they don't all work for mom and pop shops:

Many minimum-wage workers are in jobs we may not assume to be minimum-wage occupations, such as contracted workers at airports who handle our luggage, process tickets and clean airplanes. Or home health aides and office workers.

Most are not that young. Of the 40,000 in New Jersey who earn minimum wage, more than half are 25 or older. More than a third are at least 45.

A century ago, the minimum wage was just one item on a long list of labor reforms that took decades of political maneuvering, direct action and legislative compromise to achieve. Today, in an era when supposedly serious candidates for the presidency argue in favor of bringing back child labor, it is no surprise that a lot of big guns are turned on keeping the minimum wage below the buying power it had in 1968. Much of the action is at the state level, just as it was in Massachusetts and Washington and Oregon so many decades ago. The foes are just as wrong as they were then and for the same reasons.  

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Comment Preferences

  •  Great history, fascinating politics! We aren't the (28+ / 0-)

    ... only generation fraught with political sturm und drang!

    And some battles are so revolutionary, they require continued vigilance.

    Obama and strong Democratic majorities in 2012!

    by TRPChicago on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 01:05:43 PM PDT

  •  100 And hopefully one unlit one to grow on nt (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Siri, palantir, Dirtandiron, blueoregon, DvCM

    Doctor Mitt Romney Brain Sturgeon-The Operation was a success but the patient died, where's my fee?

    by JML9999 on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 01:07:52 PM PDT

  •  A failed attempt at social engineering (16+ / 0-)

    We should dismantle OSHA and the EPA immediately after getting rid of the minimum wage.

    Child labor laws are anti-growth, and thus Anti-American too. Sort of like public education.

    Hell, we should go for the full-monty and bring back slavery.

    Hey Teabagging Republicans - Did I miss anything?

    When The US tries to export our form of "democracy" and they laugh and say "no thanks" - Something's wrong

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 01:11:53 PM PDT

  •  Richard Berman? The same guy, I presume, who (8+ / 0-)

    has slammed Mothers Against Drunk Drivers on behalf of the liguor industry and the Humane Society of the United States on behalf of factory farms and big agri-business operations?

    He's got a pretty good technique. He creates a bogus, but very benign sounding organization or foundation, supposedly grass roots, then uses that to spread "facts" about his client's targets that are the classic half-truth-twisted-into-a-whole-lie. Like that the HSUS has never spent a penny supporting animal shelters. Quite true; the HSUS's mission is to track down abusers, turn them into the local authorities and work for laws to stop abuse. It's never been in the business of collecting money for shelters.  But, of course, that's never mentioned on the websites of Berman's bogus organizations. Instead, they run ads implying that the HSUS takes money intended for shelters.....and keeps it.

    I hope that when Berman dies, his version of hell is to be locked  into a tiny crate somewhere to live in his own feeces, half-starved to death. He deserves it.

    Freedom has two enemies: Those who want to control everyone around them...and those who feel no need to control themselves.

    by Sirenus on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 01:24:49 PM PDT

    •  Reminiscent of Anti-Prop29, an army of Straw Men (0+ / 0-)

      Briefly, I was neutral about prop29, but the offensively misleading astroturf anti-29 ads motivate me to favor Proposition 29, "California Cancer Research Act"

  •  What is sad is now that same factory would (10+ / 0-)

    be undocumented immigrants who are exploited and who are worked for less than minimum wage.

    Laws should require minimum wage to reflect a basic livable wage for a family.....and laws should provide that even undocumented workers have the right to minimum wage or their employers should be prosecuted.

    •  On a related issue (5+ / 0-)

      I have said for years that there are two solutions to the problem of undocumented aliens:

      1)  Fine and jail the people and companies who hired and exploit them illegally.

      2)  Raise the minimum wage so that it is more likely -- and more humane for Americans to do the miserable, low-wage jobs that many illegal immigrants are here for.

      I know, of course, that neither of these real solutions are even being considered in the debate over how to jail, expel, and otherwise abuse those considered illegal aliens.

      It is ironic that one of the categories for legal immigrations into the U.S. is that the immigrant perform work that no American can be found to do.  Yet in the case of the least attractive labor in this country, such immigration is considered illegal.

      When the corporations finally do take away the last vestiges of democracy in this country, one suspects that the problem of illegal immigration will be solved by the simple fact that Americans will once again be the uneducated, unskilled, exploited workers that they used to be, and that we have allowed others to fill the role of for so long.

      Hurray.

      "Some ... facts are true for no reason. They are accidental, lacking a cause or deeper meaning." Gregory Chaitin

      by Noziglia on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 01:41:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  'Americans'* will do paid work (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Meteor Blades

        I have done 'Mexican' work. I once refused sub-mexican pay (It was a sleazy bait n switch by an 'employer' who arrived late in a Bentley or Rolls (!))
        But "black market" employment doesn't pay as well as "white market" employment, so those who can get legal work don't want to "compete" against illegal work. Once the black market is removed from certain categories of employment, people will apply and be hired for legal jobs.
        Anyway, black markets in other countries are beginning to compensate better than in the USA. Emigrants/immigrants are voting with their feet. So illegal employers in the US are having trouble.

        * Mexicans are Americans...

      •  you hit the plan of rubes (0+ / 0-)

        Eliminating decent paying jobs by outsourcing to places with little to no labor protection. Once enough people are desperate they'll elect these rubes to bring in any job under any circumstance and are more than willing to eat s**t to have their daily bread.. As the concentration camps so infamously said, 'Work will set you free.'

  •  outstanding post, MB (13+ / 0-)

    Thanks so much for helping to champion the cause of improving the earnings of our lowest-paid workers.  Many generations have learned through struggle that improving the lot of lower-wage workers is critical to improving the lives of all workers.

    Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself - Wallace Stevens

    by catchlightning on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 01:33:52 PM PDT

  •  Bad capitalists: Beautifully argued, Ms. Perkins! (11+ / 0-)

    Frances Perkins takes a powerful arrow from the quiver: "If you're a real industrialist, you play on an even field, and you don't succeed by cheating the worker or consumer."

    How have we forgotten this position? How have we allowed ourselves to be boxed in by the "you don't understand bidnesss" crowd? This is the perfect and righteous answer. "Real businesses sustain their nations."

    Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

    by The Geogre on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 01:35:15 PM PDT

    •  "How have we forgotten this position?" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Geogre

      Most of the "we" never learned this history, or the history of related subjects, in the first place. I'm a recently retired airline pilot who spent his entire airline career as a union member, ALPA. All of us were union members yet I never ceased to be amazed by the cluelessness of practically all of those with whom I flew regarding the history of labor law and unionism. They accepted the rewards of the bargaining power of we but rejected the concept union. So many felt they had to have one to effectively deal with our management and believed they were somehow special in deserving the fruits while nobody else should. The same attitude extended to minimum wage and labor law, except where it affected them personally, the poor, domestic and welfare spending and, well, anything to do with the condition of those lesser than their well deserving selves.

      The in depth history of these subjects are not taught in public school. Few Americans know anything of substance about the first Guilded Age, much less the mini-guilded ages that have followed, the rise of socialism in the US, the Great Depression, the New Deal, minimum wage, labor law, Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid evolution, or the conditions that gave rise to any of these events. We are taught the great achievements of the Robber Barons, great industrialists, and the politicians of the times but almost nobody discovers this history without searching. Or the way I did by stumbling across the writings of Howard Zinn trying to make sense of a national social, political, and economic status quo that defies reason.

      Ignorance suits interests of some, just not for most of us. So why is it so many embrace their own ignorance?

      Time makes more converts than reason. Thomas Paine, Common Sense

      by VTCC73 on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 10:49:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Just look at Santa Fe, NM. (11+ / 0-)

    It has had the highest minimum wage in the country for several years and it completely imploded!!!! Oh wait...no it didn't. It's thriving.

    I remember all the news stories about how bad it was going to be. MW increases never seem to turn out that way.

    In CD-1(Albuquerque) we have a former city councilor,Eric Griego who supported a higher minimum wage here running against a former mayor, he who shall not be named, who didn't support it until the very last second(and not without his hands tied behind his back). It's a tight primary on June 5.

    "This site's unofficial motto used to be "more and better Democrats", but we've gradually evolved it to "better Democrats".- Kos,11/29/2011.

    by progressivevoice on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 01:40:08 PM PDT

  •  Republicans work to eliminate (7+ / 0-)

    special interest influence by teachers, public and private employees, and labor unions but special interest representing the wealthiest is ok with them. Now the workers no longer see any monetary gains from productivity gains. Wages have stagnated. Profits have soared. And the economy suffers from low consumer demand because of these low wages. Bring back the union power and raise our wages. An expanding economy is driven by consumers.

    Blathering grimaceing idiots abound

    by spunhard on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 01:40:14 PM PDT

  •  Of inferior business caliber - POW! (9+ / 0-)
    “...men of inferior business caliber who probably could not survive at all if it were not for their willingness to be entirely ruthless in exploiting labor.”
    Democratic stategists listening (?)

    Equity firms (Bain capital) "..of inferior business caliber could not survive at all if it were not for their willingness to be entirely ruthless in exploiting labor" & pensions @ taxpayer expense (PBGC)

    Labor Secretary Frances Perkins - nailed it then & it nails it today.

    Thx MB for the history behind us - and directly in front of us with this years out-right assault on unions put in perspective

  •  I admire FDR (5+ / 0-)

    For his ability to come up with and willingness to push his court-packing plan as a response to the Supreme Court overturning New Deal legislation.

    •  FDR's policies vs today (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      palantir

      Let's all remember that in FDR's day, the national debt wasn't all that big an issue and he could "afford" to spend/spend/spend to get the nation back on track.  I applaud him for his actions, no doubt.  But, I take issue with those that say that because FDR was successful in bringing us out of our funk back then, the same policies and actions he took apply today.

      - If you don't like gay marriage, blame straight people. They're the ones who keep having gay babies.

      by r2did2 on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 02:00:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  In 1937, the national debt WAS a big deal... (11+ / 0-)

        ...or at least the perception that it was a big deal pushed Roosevelt to seek to balance the budget that year. Consequently, we got a new downturn.

        Within four years, the national debt soared  to more than 120% of the GDP because of World War II. Investing cheaply borrowed money now (even with the large debt) in infrastructure repairs and upgrades and innovations, along with clean energy projects. We emerged from World War II with gigantic debt when compared with GDP, yet we added the GI Bill and hugely expensive infrastructure projects and by 1980 had brought that debt-to-GDP ratio back to what it had been in 1920.

        Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

        by Meteor Blades on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 02:39:39 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Comment on "minimum wage" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mrkvica, Pluto

    I've lived in many states in our nation.  Each state has a different lifestyle, different cost-of-living.  California, for example, has a very different cost-of-living than South Carolina,  Alaska has a very differnt cost-of-living than Georgia.  

    So, this minimum wage thingy is kind of ludicrous, in my considered opinion.  When I was in the Air Force, I got COLA (extra) when I was stationed in California above what I got at my duty station in North Carolina.  So, this minimum wage thing needs to be something that is "adjusted" for "cost-of-living".  

    $7.50 - $8.50?  Now, let's be honest.  Who lives on that?  And, just how badly would something like that affect the bottom line of most businesses/major corporations?  

    This whole thing is troublesome.  Today, workers are at a severe disadvantage because the labor pool is just SO huge.  It's the law of supply and demand in reverse, so to speak.  Employers know that they can pay the very minimum and get excellent, hard working people because these folks don't have any other alternative.  

    That is the problem.  A minimum wage is only as good for our citizens as the labor pool is.  It's just a fact.

    - If you don't like gay marriage, blame straight people. They're the ones who keep having gay babies.

    by r2did2 on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 01:44:45 PM PDT

    •  Mm. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Meteor Blades, Mike08

      The minimum wage should certainly be thrown out in favor of a living wage that is tied to cost-of-living increases, to be sure.

      However, I'm not sold on this idea of the labor pool being responsible for the decline in wages. The systematic, century-long, mind-bogglingly massive campaign against workers perpetrated by corporations (in many forms) is a more likely culprit.

      To put it simply, do you suppose that if the workforce were suddenly cut in half by an act of some god, the corporations would throw up their hands and say, "Oh, well, I guess we'll have to pay them more"?

      I submit to you that they would not.

      The problem with going with your gut as opposed to your head is that the former is so often full of shit. - Randy Chestnut

      by lotusmaglite on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 05:32:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  A vital and well presented history lesson (10+ / 0-)

    Corporate profit making imperatives make mandates and regulations absolutely necessary in order to prevent exploitation. The right would ask us to believe in benevolent dictators when it comes to corporations setting wages and worker standards. I think history shows us exactly what that's like.

    Thanks for this MB. There is great value in understanding the history of labor struggles.

    "History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them."                              

     Martin Luther King Jr.

    48forEastAfrica - Donate to Oxfam "Compassion is the radicalism of our time." ~ Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama -7.88, -6.21

    by Siri on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 01:47:29 PM PDT

  •  A major breakthrough (5+ / 0-)

    The minimum wage is at the cornerstone of progressive capitalism.

  •  I remember reading in law school (6+ / 0-)

    One of the reactionary pre-1937 SCOTUS decisions, I think it was written by Pierce Butler, probably the leader of the reactionary justices and the smartest of the bunch.  He went on rhapsodizing about the wonders of liberty of contract, about how it is near and dear to the working man as well as to the factory owner, how it protects them both from government dictating the terms of his labor but allows each worker to negotiate his own salary and working conditions free from the interference of government.  I've tried to find this opinion with its bs since then but haven't been able to find it.

    The sad fact is, so many people believe it today.

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

    by Navy Vet Terp on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 01:48:00 PM PDT

  •  One minor correction. (5+ / 0-)

    That $2.13 per hour for tipped workers is the minimum employer contribution and applies only when the employee receives tips sufficient to meet or exceed the regular minimum wage.

    LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

    by dinotrac on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 01:55:07 PM PDT

  •  Gods, I was in Australia in March and found out (13+ / 0-)

    the Australian minimum wage is $18 an hour!  No wonder the hairdressers, wait staff, and nail technicians don't have to ask for tips.  They're paid a living wage.

    Can you IMAGINE the shrieks, yowls, writhings, and lashings of tails that would ensue if an $18-an-hour minimum wage were proposed in this, the "best" country in the world?  Best for the 1 percent, yeah.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 01:58:46 PM PDT

  •  Marc Pacheco (5+ / 0-)

    As those who are familiar with me are no doubt aware, I'm hardly excessively generous with praise for politicians.  However, when it comes to workers' interests, Marc Pacheco is not only reliable, he often leads (successfully!) fights on behalf of workers and against the fashionable/hegemonic neoliberalism of our times.  Now it may well be that he's utterly atrocious on other issues, I've never checked and maybe I really don't want to know, but when we say a "Pacheco law" in Massachusetts, it's usually good news for working people.

    The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges. ~ Anatole France

    by ActivistGuy on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 02:02:38 PM PDT

  •  Hell, even here in Az. we have a higher than (5+ / 0-)

    Federal minimum wage and ours is indexed to inflation so it raises yearly as long as the CPI is up.....

    Of course we had to vote it in ourselves.....just like most of the good laws within the last decade at least......

    Vaya con Dios Don Alejo
    I want to die a slave to principles. Not to men.
    Emiliano Zapata

    by buddabelly on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 02:09:29 PM PDT

  •  plus ça change (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson
    pay could be reduced at any time on an employer's whim. Or the hours increased but the weekly pay unchanged. Workers could lump or leave it.
    isn't Wal*Mart still doing that?

    "Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D."
    DEMAND CREATES JOBS

    by TrueBlueMajority on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 02:18:15 PM PDT

  •  "We call for the repeal... (5+ / 0-)

    of all mandatory minimum wage laws." Republican Party of Iowa Platform.

    •  Damn, you would bring that up. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eric Nelson, Meteor Blades, cocinero

      Not that I mind you showing the Iowa Republican Party for the reactionary asshats they are; it's just that it makes the normal folks in my state look bad sharing the same turf with these knuckle-dragging troglodytes. I suppose that the "severely conservative" Mittens would love to "take Amercia back" (his spelling, not mine) to these heady, halcyon times when men were men, women were property, and children were hardly more than animals. They have a good start on it, God knows..

      Great post, cocinero
      Great diary, MB

      Your black cards can make you money, so you hide them when you're able; in the land of milk and honey, you must put them on the table - Steely Dan

      by OrdinaryIowan on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 05:11:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  mitt wants to 'restore' our future (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        OrdinaryIowan

        Which if I'm not mistaken is about like restoring the health of our great great great great grandkids who, if again I'm not mistaken haven't been born nor have their parents or grandparents in most cases....but what the heck..let's restore their health anyway before they die of old age.

  •  The kind of big, bold initiative we need (7+ / 0-)

    is Tom Harkin's Rebuild America Act. Thanks, MB, for mentioning that.

  •  I have worked (5+ / 0-)

    the same part time job for the last 14 years.  The only times I have ever gotten a pay raise on that job was when the legal minimum wage was raised.

    Minimum wage is only for teenagers? I'm 62.

    I'll hoist (an inexpensive) beer tonight to the 100th anniversary of this important law.

  •  I like your history of the Fair Labor Standards (0+ / 0-)

    Act.  It sounds an awful lot like the ACA passage:  I number of conservative Democrats making it hard to pass something, ultimately weakening the bill, but still worth passing.

    Occupy the voting Booth!

    by anonevent on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 03:06:23 PM PDT

  •  I thought you meant 100 candles to bury it. n/t (0+ / 0-)

    Dear conservatives: If instead of "marriage equality" we call it "voluntary government registration of committed homosexuals," are you on board?

    by Rich in PA on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 03:17:26 PM PDT

  •  Pictures tell the story (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Meteor Blades, Eric Nelson, bwren, Mike08

    The top photograph selected for this article could not be more appropriate. It was taken by Lewis Hine. Originally a school teacher with a background in sociology, Hine was driven by his outrage at the lack of a national child labor law, the horrid conditions inside the factories, and the fact that the kids weren't in school. He worked tirelessly to change the situation. Oftentimes he would pretend to be a fire inspector and sneak his camera on site. His photographs changed Americans, and most importantly, politicians views on child labor, and eventually the laws.

    I had never made the connection to minimum wage and women, but putting his photograph in the context of the article, makes me realize that perhaps his images assisted in creating awareness about labor in general. Hine was one of the good guys and used the power of photography to change our perceptions of the world.

  •  I'm flying (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    into Massachusetts Monday on my way to Providence.  There is lots to be proud of for that state, and I consider Elizabeth Warren one of my own, though I'm now in Arizona.  

    Thanks for the history, which I skimmed this time through and will come back to.  My maternal grandfather worked organizing glaziers in NYC.  Stripping labor rights is one of the scariest things going on since Reagan busted the air traffic controllers.

    Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

    by ramara on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 03:54:50 PM PDT

  •  Rural areas and small towns (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    navajo, wxorknot, Eric Nelson, Mike08

    are where the minium wage really sets the floor for working people. People in fly over country fully expect to begin any job at minimum wage and slowly work up. They often work a minimum wage job for several years before they get a $.50 cent raise. All up and down main street USA people work in retail, food service and even various non-union factory jobs at minimum wage and barely over. Often their wages are capped at $10-$12 an hour forever That's just the way it is and people accept it as the norm.

    But the weirdest, strangest part of all is that this is solid Republican country!

    America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

    by cacamp on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 03:57:18 PM PDT

  •  mimimum wage (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson, RandomNonviolence

    Another, possibly more effective solution would be to determine executives and stockholder tax rates based on the wage and benefits of their lowest paid workers.  Say, tax rates for executive income above 1 million would be 100% unless lowest employees were paid 35k per year plus full benefits.  In addition, stockholder taxes on foreign investments that affect our own workforce would receive the same treatment.

  •  History of Federal Minimum Wage in a Chart (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson, Meteor Blades

    Data from the Department of Labor with inflation adjustment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    You'll notice that when Republicans control Washington, inflation reduces the effective minimum wage. Then when liberal Democrats control Washington, they raise it back up, though not nearly to the level of 1978.

  •  Most employers (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, Eric Nelson

    will pay as little as they can possibly get by with.

    Most just don't give a rats ass less whether or not it is a livable wage or not. The general attitude is that market forces are at work here when it comes to pay for their employees, thus, the government needs to butt out.

    Yeah right. The market does have some influence, but by and large it comes down to greed.
    As unions have waned so have wages. No suprise there. Oh, and that other little tidbit called healthcare insurance is another thorn in their side.

    Employees are expendable and like a row of sharks teeth another body can replace the one that was let go. No sweat off the back of the employer. Thay have the gold and make the rules.

    The advantage of power that larger corporations weild in this battle are well known. Some corporations on the other hand have found that having a strategy where you pay people decently and treat them with a modicum of respect pays in the long run for said company.

    Without some form of government or union influence, we the worker are at the mercy of our employers. If they thought they could get by with it they would have us pay them to work.

    "We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." Louis Brandeis

    by wxorknot on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 05:10:13 PM PDT

  •  Exactly what this country needs. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    More history lessons. The ignorance of our own history is appalling and shockingly widespread. You can bet your bottom dollar that every doofus who argues that employees should shut up and be grateful they have a job at all (as if the job is the end-all, be-all, not the compensation, fulfillment, or dignity) knows next to nothing abut our nation's history.

    The problem with going with your gut as opposed to your head is that the former is so often full of shit. - Randy Chestnut

    by lotusmaglite on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 05:25:20 PM PDT

  •  The first wage law upheld (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Meteor Blades, Eric Nelson

    Minimum wage laws were finally upheld in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, which is often considered the end of the Lochner Era as well.

    Elsie Parrish was a hotel chambermaid at the Cascadian Hotel in downtown Wenatchee, WA (it's still there, but it's senior citizen apartments now - I drive past it every time I'm in Wenatchee). She was fired when she asked to be paid the difference between what she was making and the WA State minimum wage.

    A local attorney took on her case and lost at the circuit level, the decision based on previous US SC decisions holding against the minimum wage. The WA AG joined when it went to the WA SC, where Parrish won. West Coast Hotels took the case to the US SC and lost.

    The case was before the SC during FDR's attempt to pack the court, but the decision was the result of Republican holdover Owen Roberts switching his vote (he went on to support all New Deal legislation). Roberts also dissented in Korematsu, where liberal justices like Douglas and Black upheld Japanese internment.

    It's also interesting that some of the early minimum wage laws (WA's and WI's as well) only applied to women and, in some cases children, and were opposed by feminists at the time, who felt that women didn't need special treatment.

    It's never too late to have a happy childhood - Tom Robbins

    by badger on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 05:26:33 PM PDT

    •  The issue, as I noted, was that getting... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eric Nelson

      ...a minimum wage required focusing on workers whose situation would resonate with enough of the population and enough legislators. That happened to be women and children.

      Social feminists did not oppose the minimum wage for women. They felt it was a redress for the economic and social inequalities of the time.  And those feminists who did oppose the minimum wage for women gave the courts an excuse for shooting down such laws without in any way supporting the equality the Equal Rights Amendment feminists of the 1920s supported. The division among feminists fell along class lines for the most part.

      Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

      by Meteor Blades on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 06:06:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  When the minimum rises (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Meteor Blades, Mike08

    so do all other wages in the low-to-mid range. Over the last thirty years the US has become a low-wage nation with increasing poverty levels, and the shamefully low minimum is a big factor.

    "A lie is not the other side of a story; it's just a lie."

    by happy camper on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 05:55:03 PM PDT

  •  I wonder how many of the commentators (0+ / 0-)

    are currently surviving on minimum wage jobs and have actually "felt the pain" including not getting enough minimum wage hours to receive health benefits and getting sick and homeless. All the talk and no way out to solve the situation.

    •  Such a vivid post (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mimi

      We see just so many people in our labor force that are "working" and have little-to-no benefits.  A huge number of the latest "jobs gained" figure we've seen of late is part time workers with no benefits and no real future.  

      It's just so sad.

      - If you don't like gay marriage, blame straight people. They're the ones who keep having gay babies.

      by r2did2 on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 01:05:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  "minimum wage" is different in various states (0+ / 0-)

    If $8.00/hr. is what the fed determines as mininum wage...that means a whole lot to South Carolinians and those living/working in Louisiana.  It means squat for those working in California and Alaska.  

    This should be tweaked, IMO.  Cost of living should play a part here.

    - If you don't like gay marriage, blame straight people. They're the ones who keep having gay babies.

    by r2did2 on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 01:08:02 PM PDT

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