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Democrats Support Minimum Wage As a Way To Get Elected In Midterm Elections

Minimum wage will be a major issue the Democrats hope will give them victory in this year’s election as a recent New York Times article shows. They hope to remove any doubts within the minds of voters due to their botched attempt at a successful Obamacare rollout by emphasizing this pressing issue.

Democrat Donkey

Political expediency leads to Democratic support for a new minimum wage.

Throughout the U.S., the issue has drawn numerous protests by fast food workers, for instance, and even is one platform Socialist Alternative member and recently sworn-in Seattle City Council member, Kshama Sawant, campaigned upon. The difference, however, between Sawant and the Democrats is that the former focused on the $15 per hour increase, while Democrats are cautious and prefer it to be lower at around $10.10 per hour.

Democrats hope to get candidates to focus on the issue, while Republicans still talk about Obamacare ahead of the midterm elections. In the piece, there is clear indication this is the preferable option for Democratic victory in Congress:

‘The more Republicans obsess on repealing the Affordable Care Act and the more we focus on rebuilding the middle class with a minimum-wage increase, the more voters will support our candidates,’ said Representative Steve Israel of New York, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

In Nov. of last year, Gallup poll found 76 percent of Americans would support a minimum wage increase to $9 per hour, while 69 percent would do the same with the addition of it being inflation-proof.  At the same time, another Gallup poll found 50 percent of small-business owners disapprove of raising to the minimum wage and 60 percent state it would harm small-business.

The gamble taken upon the Democrats is not lost upon them and they acknowledge it will hurt some, while helping others. Indeed, the NYT article mentions some Democrats hadn’t made a decision yet due to their environment:

But in a sign that some moderate Democrats are uneasy about inflaming their local business communities, the imperiled Democratic Senate incumbents in Alaska and Arkansas, Mark Begich and Mark Pryor, have yet to embrace the ballot measures.

It must be noted the Obama administration and the rest of the Democrats prefer raising the minimum wage to $10.10, which seems to be their ideal level. Obama had previously mentioned he would raise it a meager $9 per hour, which doesn’t help considering the rhetoric coming out from numerous activists groups pushing for a much higher minimum wage.

Yet, the issue doesn’t seem to be one focused on the well-being of Americans. The entire NYT article focused upon how well the issue would work for the Democrats, rather than how well it will work for Americans. Gone are the days where Franklin Delano Roosevelt once remarked to a crowd at Madison Square Garden before the 1936 election:

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

The “business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering” group are all on the side of the Democrats, along with the Republicans, understanding that this will not place much of a dent in their profits. If it’s to calm the growing restlessness among the populace, then they will accept it.

If one Democratic politician made such a claim they welcome the hatred of the “enemies of peace,” then they would be crucified and excommunicated immediately. The reality is the rhetoric of any capitalist politician is one of accepting the status quo and fixing things through extremely slow and small methods.

We can easily understand what Obama thinks of the “enemies of peace,” considering he spoke at a Wall Street Journal CEO dinner last November. In fact, the entire speech is worth reading to contrast with Roosevelt’s attitude, but one of the most telling parts was this:

I mean, in most countries, you’ve got — you know, people call me a socialist sometimes, but, no, you’ve got to me real socialists. You’ll have a sense of what a — what a socialist is. (Laughter.) You know, the — I mean, I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace. Stock market’s looking pretty good last time I checked, and, you know, it is true that I’m concerned about growing inequality in our system, but nobody questions the efficacy of market economies in terms of producing wealth and innovation and keeping us competitive.

We can investigate why the sudden attitude toward minimum wage increase has appeared with Karl Marx once remarking in The Communist Manifesto:

The executive of the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

In this case, and as Obama remarked in his speech, it’s a fight “inside the 40-yard line” and no one is questioning why the line even exists. While Americans are in favor of minimum wage, it must also be noted they are extremely unsatisfied with Congress with the last approval rating at 14 percent. The same goes for Obama as his approval rating slipped through 2013 from 52 percent to 41 percent.

Perhaps indicative of the general feeling of government, an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research study found only five percent of Americans believe U.S. democracy is working and doesn’t need any changes. 51 percent remarked it would need a “lot of changes” or needs to undergo a massive overhaul. It’s telling, however, that 70 percent of Americans don’t believe the U.S. government can solve issues this year.

This all relates back to minimum wage as an issue for the Democrats to print out stickers and make picket signs only to ditch them after the elections are over. Again, this relates to how the issue of livelihood was avoided in favor of the chance of total victory.

Democrats aren’t discovering this is the issue they’ve never used before because they’ve done it before. An article from Labor Notes last year explored this much further by stating at the time:

Just a few years ago, Democrats were capitalizing on the issue’s popularity. Six states ran minimum wage ballot initiatives in 2006. All six passed with flying colors, and the measures gave a turnout boost to Democrats in off-year congressional races.  The momentum of those victories propelled Congress to raise the federal minimum for the first time in a decade, in early 2007. Barack Obama promised in 2008 to increase it again to $9.50 an hour by 2011. Nothing doing. Four years later, the federal minimum still sits at $7.25, and Obama’s not talking about it. … It took a 30-city coordinated protest by unions and community organizations in July just to get congressional Democrats to make a symbolic gesture on the issue.

It makes sense these protests would get hijacked from Democrats interested only in being elected. It’s no coincidence this is an issue in 2014 when midterms are now a serious issue for them. It’s not like they had other issues to campaign upon. It just happened to be the “Year of Minimum Wage.”

This isn’t to put down the efforts of activists and workers supporting minimum wage increase. Indeed, their efforts strike at the more pressing issue of the instability of the capitalist system. But having one of the contributors to the system parade the issue around like something they’ll get done is not the way to having a better livelihood.

One aspect of labor in the U.S. is similar to what journalist Naomi Klein wrote about in No Logo. Specifically, when writing on the temp workers, “almost every major labor battle” is focused upon “enforced casualization” rather than wage issues. Companies wanted to have less costs associated with their employees, so they decide to go for temp workers.

$10.10 is a perfect wage for Democrats to rally around, considering it avoids any discussion of temp workers and the suffering they experience. The fact of the matter is, however, temp workers are on the rise as “permanent temp.” Journalist Sarah Jaffe highlighted this rise and referenced the change shifting from outsourcing to jobs returning home:

A 2010 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that ‘while manufacturing’s share of total national employment fell from 16.2 percent in 1990 to 9.8 percent in 2008, manu- facturing’s use of temporary workers greatly intensified.’ Because the BLS categorizes temp workers as service employees regardless of the kind of work they do, the agency has no good data on how many of those “lost” manufacturing jobs simply migrated over to staffing agencies. But according to a 2004 report from the Council of Economic Advisers, a third of all temp service employees work in the manufacturing sector. ‘If the official manufacturing employment statistics are adjusted by this amount,’ the authors found, ‘the decline in the level of manufacturing employment in the 1990s is eliminated.’ In other words, a good number of jobs were simply outsourced right here at home, offloaded from company payrolls onto staffing agencies.

There are numerous tragic stories of temp workers losing their life at their jobs with Day Davis as one example. ProPublica investigation found Davis working on his first day as a temp worker for Bacardi’s after gaining the job through a temp agency.

He was told to sweep broken glass and clean the floor after some Bacardi had spilled underneath a palletizer, a machine that stacks cases of Bacardi rum. Meanwhile, an operator was above him trying to sweep broken glass and clean the sticky residue. After completing their job, the operator and another person started the machine after a few minutes and 60 cases, weighing 2,000 pounds, were then clumped into a square and fell on top of Davis.

He died as a result of the weight of the cases.

The tragedy of this individual’s death is difficult to comprehend. Numerous issues were brilliantly raised in the investigation piece, but it only indicates how much of a risk temp jobs are.

Temp workers are at risk of being given “DNR” or “Do Not Return” from the company that talks with the temp agency in charge of giving them jobs. As the piece indicates, this is what contributes to high rates of injuries:

This is a major reason why temps may get injured at even higher rates than the ProPublica analysis showed. “The temp agency is in this position of rehiring them over and over again or not hiring them,” said Linda Forst, an environmental and occupational health sciences professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “So that’s a huge disincentive to report” workplace injuries, she said. “I think the number of temp workers who report is really low. I think it’s the tip of the iceberg.”

It’s a shame the efforts of Democrats to emphasize $10.10 as a minimum wage will avoid discussion of the entire system as a whole. Obama even has a different view of how America really is as he states in the meeting:

[Americans] don’t expect us to march in lockstep. There’s a reason why we’ve got two parties in this country. They do expect that we are constantly thinking about how are we making sure they can find a job that pays well, that their kids can go to college and afford it, that we are growing and competitive, that, you know, we are dealing with our fiscal position in a sensible way. And — and if we keep them in mind consistently, then I think we’re going to be successful.

Americans barely trust the two-party system as, according to an October Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans would support a third-party. Only 26 percent of Americans believe both parties are doing a good job. It barely registers as a significant level of support.

Using minimum wage as an one-issue topic will distract attention from other equally pressing issues such as the NSA and climate change. Again, it’s a shame politicians refuse to stand up and even threaten the establishment.

It is telling when comedian Bill Hicks gives an image of politics in America off of his album Rant In E-Minor:

I’ll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here. “I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs.” “I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking.” “Hey, wait a minute, there’s one guy holding out both puppets!” “Shut up! Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control.

We can’t afford to go “back to bed” as we are faced with a life or death situation. It must take a movement for real change to occur. As Sawant told The Nation‘s John Nicols over what her victory can signifies:

“I would say that this is simply the first wave in a storm that is about to be coming to the United States in [the form] of a demand for social change,” argues the new council member. “When named me one of the five political heroes of 2013, my first reaction was: ‘Why am I there…?’ Why aren’t the fast-food workers who went out courageously on one-day strikes all over the nation? They are the real political heroes as far as I am concerned. And it is important to mention them because they are signs that we are heading into a period of political change.”

Such change with the movement is much needed for the deteriorating way of life in the United States.

Image by DonkeyHotey released under a Creative Commons license.

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Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan is a freelance journalist in Queens, NY and written for publications such as The Nation, In These Times, Truthout and more.