Saturday, August 22, 2009

Minimum Wage Fight Must Go On

Minimum Wage Fight Must Go On
by Stephen Von Sychowski

On November 1st, 2001, BC’s minimum wage increased to $8 per hour. I was working that day. It was at my first job, Super Save Gas. We were minimum wage workers with no benefits, no job security, no paid vacation, and all things considered, this was the best news any of us had heard since we entered the workforce.

Almost eight years later, the wages of BC’s lowest paid workers haven’t increased a single cent. In fact, with inflation sitting just under two percent, their real wages in terms of buying power have plummeted significantly leaving over 350,000 working for poverty level wages.

It’s no wonder that the $10 NOW campaign, which calls for an immediate increase to $10 per hour, a subsequent increase to $11, indexing to inflation, and abolition of the “training wage,” has garnered the support of 80% of British Columbians. Already over 70,000 people have signed the petition for $10 NOW and young workers have organized rallies, pickets, petitioning sprees and other actions to voice their demands.

On May 12th, as the polls closed on another provincial election, minimum wage workers watched in horror as their impoverisher, Gordon Campbell and the Liberal Party, returned to power aided by immense corporate funding, dismal voter turnout, and a weak campaign by the opposition New Democrats characterized by tame, toned-down policies hopelessly aimed at trying to please both the workers, and their bosses.

During the election campaign the $10 NOW campaign was effectively put on hold while the majority of its volunteers flocked to electoral work for candidates who pledged to support their demands. Without the backing of a mass movement of young and underpaid workers demanding an increase during the election the debate was quickly portrayed as an abstract debate between two political parties. Meanwhile Gordon Campbell was represented by the media and the Liberal Party as the candidate to be trusted on economic issues like minimum wage because, ironically, of his business experience. The issue was thus largely disarmed during the election period and was not effectively used to rally anti-Liberal forces to fight back or even simply to vote.

Since May 12th, the $10 NOW campaign has been slow to recover its pre-election energy and exuberance. Yet it is necessary now even more than before to fight for BC’s low paid workers. BC, like the rest of Canada, is in the midst of a global capitalist economic crisis. The temporary boom caused by construction and development for the 2010 “Five Ring Circus” is dissipating, and homelessness is increasing dramatically. There’s no doubt that those living on poverty level wages desperately need an increase.

In four years it will be too late for many of these workers. Furthermore, in four years the powerful corporate forces that Gordon Campbell’s Liberal Party represent may succeed in returning him to office yet again if a mass, militant movement against their policies can be built in advance of the election. One of the most important lessons of this provincial election for young and underpaid workers is that elections are not the be all and end all of political struggle. It’s true that we must fight to elect a progressive, anti-Liberal majority in the next election. But we can and must put political and economic pressure on the Campbell Liberals now in order to force progress on the immediate needs of working people for work and wages. Nobody is going to hand it to us, but together we could take it.

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