Raise the minimum wage
Ten years ago this week I suggested to Bill Clinton we ought to try to raise the minimum wage. It hadn't been raised in years. Some ten million people worked at the minimum wage, most of them heads of households. The timing seemed good. Elections would be coming up in the fall. The vast majority of Americans were in favor of raising the minimum wage. Yes, Republicans controlled Congress and it would be a big fight. But the fight was worth it. We won. Millions of working poor got a raise.And while we're at it, let's increase labor law enforcement. Copious restaurants, garment factories, and nursing homes have been shown to routinely violate labor laws. Don't forget that Walmart, which currently controls about 10% of retail spending, is a persistent target of investigations. Indeed, the regular contributor to Republicans was getting so many complaints that they cut a deal with the Republican Department of Labor allowing them to investigate the allegations on their own.
Message to Democrats: It's time to do it again. Current estimates are that 12 million Americans are at the federal minimum wage (now $5.15 an hour). Almost all the 1996 increase has been eroded by inflation. Democrats should propose increasing it to at least $7 an hour. Force Republicans to vote on it. If they refuse to, or they vote it down, make it a big issue in the fall campaign.
And in memory of International Worker's Day, a memorial for the people killed by police while protesting in support of an 8 hour day, a story from Utah Phillips.
One of the things you have to do in this world is keep track of the people that you owe. I think of Lucy Parsons.“Shoot Or Stab Them” by Ani DiFranco & Utah Phillips from the album Fellow Workers (1999, 2:43).
Lucy Parsons from the Haymarket. Why her husband was a Confederate lieutenant from Texas, she was a black woman from Waco. They got married, if you can believe that, after the war. She had seen her kin lynched from the lamp posts down there, so they couldn't live there together.
They moved to Chicago, where they became organizers, anarchist organizers. They organized a big demonstration for the 8 hour day in 1886, the Haymarket demonstration. Well, a bomb was thrown, people were killed. Well, Albert Parsons and some others were framed up on that, they were executed by the state of Illinois – political prisoners.
Lucy lived well into this century. Died in 1940.
One time, she was speaking at a big May Day rally, back at the Haymarket in the 1930s. She was incredibly old. She was lead carefully up to the rostrum, a multitude of people there.
She had her hair tied back in a tight, white bun. Her face a mass of deeply incised lines, deep-set beady black eyes. She was the image of everyone's great-grandmother. She hunched over that podium, hawklike, and fixed the multitude with those beady black eyes.
She said: "What I want, is for every greasy, grimy tramp to arm himself with a knife or a gun, and stationing themselves at the doorways of the rich, shoot or stab them as they come out."
She was just pissed.