thomasjasen Tuesday, August 6, 2013
POOR PEOPLES CAMPAIGN
Slave wages are meant to barely cover the basic necessities of living in America. Before the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act for minimum wage, all workers living in poverty fought a constant struggle against inflated company store credit, rising tides of inflation, the cost of living, and consumer price increases. At the time of Kings historic march on Washington, many black workers were regarded as cheap labor that was brutally used until easily discarded.
Years later, capitalistic greed again armed itself against the minimum wage by claiming that a living wage was unpatriotic. President Johnson connected the dots between low wages, the ravages of poverty and the listless economy when he led the second War On Poverty in America. Infusing the economy is the same reason President Obama wants to raise the minimum wage. Improving the lifestyle of the working poor is also why Martin Luther King supported family wages. His last fight defiled the corporate canyon and glass ceiling that degraded the working poor for its gender, class, race, or religion. Living on starvation wages in the richest country in the world is not right. However, what is right depends on who says it.
A Republican politician says that earning low wages is a litmus test for becoming a citizen. Business owners say that low wages keep down business expenses. Still, other conservatives say that low wages is about maintaining a cultures inherited class status. All of these reasons miss the humane reason for paying living wages championed by President Obama and Dr. King.
Working forty hours a week to support your family should not force a wage earner to live in low income housing, require food stamps, or buy second hand clothing. That earning $5 dollars an hour in an economy that requires $14 an hour means having to do without basic necessities. If working wages had kept pace with corporate profits and worker productivity, minimum wage would be at $21 an hour. McDonalds recently completed a financial planning strategy for its 40-hour a week employees making 8.25 an hour at its fast-food franchises. In a surprising revelation, the financial planners recommended that McDonalds low-wage employees get a second full time job and not pay home utility bills if they are to afford a respectable life in America.
The prevailing minimum wage is not high enough to neither afford a two-bedroom home at fair-market rent anywhere in America nor put a family of three over the federal poverty line. Over two-thirds of women earn minimum wage and 55 percent of minimum wage earners are white. And nearly 150 million Americas must subsidize their meager incomes with federal food stamps or housing subsidies.
Living in America should not be about being poor and destitute for 81 million Americans listed as the working poor. Closing the wage gap is about getting a foot up and not a hand out. Most of these conservatives believe that low wage jobs accommodate the meager needs of a young person living with his parents. They have no idea that many of these jobs have become the mainstay of support for many American families. Without earning wages that support a family, the breadwinner cannot afford health insurance, cannot afford healthy foods, or save for a rainy day. Everyday becomes an exhausting and stressful struggle to make ends meet until the next day for survival presents the same challenges.
Yet, while record profits are recorded on Wall Street, one monetary mogul of a tycoon empire believes that any type of wage guarantees is not profitable to business owners. This billionaire and others like him want Americans working for the same dirt poor wages earned by unprotected, underpaid and overworked workers in developing countries. This Koch brother believes Americans earning $34,000 a year should count themselves lucky among the world’s poor. Do the rich have a hidden agenda to make poor Americans grovel like the wretched of the earth in the 1930’s? Is Americans rich again advocating for longer soup lines while living a gilded lifestyle on the backs of the poor working class?
This is the political mindset that keeps the hardest working Americans from seeing their income rise with the rising income of the powerful and the privileged. Lower class attempts to advance ones status is being stymied by unwritten laws that limit a fair shot at the American dream. Surveys prove that Americans on the lowest rung of the economic ladder have little if any chance of advancing into the hierarchy of the educated elite. Many conservatives believe in the theory that backbreaking or mindless work only deserves low levels of pay.
Back when the industrial workers of America were the backbone of this country, they demanded and received higher wages and benefits. Without their sweat equity the rich would not prosper and this nation would not be sovereign. Today’s service industry of fast food workers, office workers, secretaries, computer technicians, and other low-income workers are now the backbone of this country’s economy. Their hard work of repetitive but necessary skills is the sweat equity that drives this country’s engines. Both politicians and businesses benefit from low wages, high insurance costs, and substandard housing, when employees choices are restricted by corporate decisions. Economic inequality keeps wages low and gives politicians a stage to make false promises that constituents vote for. Monetary greed violates the constitutional declaration that all Americans have a right to pursue the happiness that makes them a commendable citizen.
Since King had thrown down the gauntlet about too many black men being killed on the front lines of the Vietnam War, he realized that American policies of racial segregation were also met to separate the poor military draftee from the rich draftee. That being black was a byproduct of a country that favored material wealth over the humanitarianism of saving both white and black soldiers. The Poor Peoples Campaign was considered by President Johnson and the F.B.I to be a communist plot to stop the war in Vietnam and too feed Americans undeserving poor. Hoover called the planned march on Washington a traitorous attempt by poor people to circumvent the dictatorial powers of the United States government.
King’s 1963 Poor People’s Campaign wanted to declare a war on poverty that highlighted racist servitude after slavery. He saw the conspiracy to circumvent the poor into a permanent lifestyle for generations of Americans. Before he was murdered, he was trying to secure the rights to survive through the economic freedom of paying jobs. In 1963, there were nearly 30 million Americans living as the working poor. Today there are nearly 150 million Americans who work full time and earn income below the poverty level.
King believed that government bureaucracy and authoritative methods condoned the rich by encouraging America’s black and white races to fight over the same job. King also explained to the media that using race, as a wedge to separate the common goal of all Americans was remorseful to democracy. By the end, King saw segregated unions, government bureaucrats, and corporate gigolos protecting their way of life while alienating blacks and poor whites from sustainable housing, quality education, and affordable healthcare. Conservatives see a regulated minimum wage as government intrusion upon profit margins and a pampered gift to the undeserving poor.