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Minimum Wage increase is an insult to workers in Michigan: Time we realize that workers have more power than politicians

December 6, 2021

On Friday, MLive posted a story about the minimum wage in Michigan, stating that after the New Year, the minimum wage will go from $9.65 to $9.87.

$9.87 is an outrageously low wage, it is so low that it is insulting to workers, no matter what kind of work you do. The soon to be $9.87 an hour minimum wage in Michigan does not even cover the most basic necessities. In fact, a $9.87 wage would not even cover the cost of rent for people in Michigan. 

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, people in Michigan need to earn at least $15.62 to cover the cost of rent. For people living in Grand Rapids, even earning $15.62 would not be enough considering what the cost of rent at many places in the city. 

Of course, $15.62 an hour is what a single person would need for a one bedroom apartment. If you are a single parent, and need a two bedroom apartment, then you would need to earn $18.55 an hour, just to be able to afford rent. This doesn’t necessarily cover the cost of utilities, food, health care, transportation and you can pretty much forget about having money left over to do something entertaining. If you add student loans to the equation or child care costs, you are likely to go into debt or to have two jobs just to make ends meet.

Clearly, the politicians who pass minimum wage laws have rarely ever worked for at minimum wage, especially once they were out of high school. And when I say politicians, I’m not just talking about Republicans, but Democrats as well. Think about it. Earlier this year the Biden administration had originally proposed an increase to the federal minimum wage, up to $15 an hour. Even with the Democrats controlling the White House, the Senate and the House, they could not get a $15 federal minimum. wage increase passed, especially with several Democrats voting against the proposed increase.

A more effective way to raise wages, to get employers to pay a livable wage, is to organize in your own workplace and to support workers who are organizing to demand just wages. In fact, as we have seen in recent months, more and more workers are realizing that they have a great deal of leverage and power, even if it is just withholding their labor until employers begin to respect them with paying a more just wage. We have seen this with Kelloggs recently and lots of other places that are already unionized. However, even in places that are not unionized, especially in the service industry, many places are beginning to pay $15, $18 or even $20 an hour because there are lots of workers who will no longer submit to working for less than what they can reasonably live off of. 

The history of the labor movement, especially in the earlier part of the labor movement, has demonstrated that by organizing themselves and making demands of employers, they were able to win better wages, benefits, safer working conditions, etc. In fact, all existing labor laws were the direct result of workers organizing, engaging in strikes and other tactics to win their demands. Politicians have never initiated living wage demands, workplace safety demands, worker benefits, etc., those things have come about because of the organized efforts of workers themselves. In fact, according to Cloward and Piven’s book, Poor People’s Movements, most major labor victories happened because of spontaneous worker actions, especially the sit-down strike. 

According to Jeremy Brecher’s book Strike!, there were 48 sit-down strikes in 1936 and 477 sit-down strikes in 1937. All of this happened before most of the New Deal policies were put into effect. In fact, most labor historians acknowledge that the tremendous amount of labor unrest was what pushed the Roosevelt Administration to adopt the New Deal Policies in the first place.

All of this is to say that workers have more power than bosses and if we are organized we can not only win a livable wage, but we can create a world that is not dictated by Billionaires, corporations or the Capitalist Class. 

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