Minimum wage helps employers, not `unskilled' workers

Published: Monday, September 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 31, 2003 at 11:15 p.m.

I'm a construction worker at the stadium at the University of Florida. Last Friday (Aug. 22), a co-worker and I were talking about how lousy his minimum-wage pay is for the day labor job he's working at the moment.

Minutes later on our morning break we read in The Sun the letter titled "Minimum wage increase not a cure for all workers," and had a good laugh.

The author says "increasing the minimum wage kicks people off the bottom of the economic ladder," and those workers "with no skills or education" will lose out to the "better qualified applicants" if the employers pay more than the measly $5.15 per hour minimum they offer now.

What is really being said here is that the employers are doing workers a favor with the minimum wage set as it is. Are they?

What are the facts? First, never forget that the current minimum wage is actually a huge step backward in workers' conditions of work and life. That's because $5.15 per hour has less buying power than the minimum wage of the 1960s - 40 years ago.

The worst thing about life for workers under capitalism is that we are constantly forced to compete with each other, and the biggest division that is sown is the one between those lucky to be working at the moment, and those out of work.

I'd bet nearly every worker has asked for better pay or better conditions from their employer, but they end up getting told, "If you don't like it, I can get someone else!" In truth, this is the biggest weapon employers use against their employees. But to make the threat work, the employers, viewed as a group, must have large layers of the working class in tough, even desperate conditions, so they have to work for low pay.

Raising the minimum wage is the only decent human thing to do for workers in the worst economic and social conditions. But more than that, raising the minimum wage will help every person who works for a living, whatever your "rung on the ladder." It will make it a bit harder for the employers to make those threats about "getting someone else." It will help weaken the dog-eat-dog competition.

I happen to make $11 per hour, twice what my day labor co-worker makes. Why? I am not twice as "skilled" as he. All that talk about "qualified" versus "unskilled" that formed the basis of the author's argument is mostly nonsense. Those who cry the loudest about this in society are generally trying to justify why they may receive so much more for doing so much less than many minimum-wage workers do to earn their keep. Many of the lowest paid jobs are tremendously skilled. Two examples of this are garment workers and meatpackers.

What really gets wages moving up is when we get together and fight for higher wages and better conditions for all workers, here, and for our fellow workers around the world, too.

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