Pharoah Bloomberg: Paying Workers Enough to Live Is 'Communism'
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“We really did create both the kind of public currency, the phrase 'living wage' that is so, so popular and in all respects has expressed the frustration with low wages,” Jen Kern, the minimum wage campaign coordinator at NELP and a longtime living wage organizer, told AlterNet. “We created these policy ideas and tactics, going to a city council, the paid sick days or are now using these. We created the idea of using public money as leverage for labor standards.”
The movement tapered off a bit toward the end of the 2000s, mostly because so many victories had been won, Kern noted. But now activists are reviving the tactics and applying them differently, often more narrowly, to specific industries or locations, to economic development spending in cities like New York and Los Angeles, where politicians talk big about bringing jobs to town but remain quiet about the quality of those jobs.
As Luce noted, many of the living wage campaigns (including the current one in Long Beach) are tied to union organizing campaigns, and unions have used them to create broader community coalitions, bringing in people like the hunger-striking students in Virginia or the faith community that was such a strong part of New York's campaign.
The Great Recession has pushed wages downward dramatically. NELP found last summer that 73 percent of the jobs that had been created since the so-called economic recovery began have been low-wage jobs, paying less than $13.52 an hour. The rebirth of a nationwide movement for a living wage couldn't come at a better time—and it looks like Occupy might be getting in on the act. A new Web site is calling for June 20 to be a “global day of festival to demand a universal living wage.”
“Policy makers in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and now a majority of the New York City Council have come to understand that the pleas for jobs that rise up from their neighborhoods are not pleas for a 60-hour workweek in two or three part-time jobs that leave children unattended and barely pay the rent, but pleas for one good job with a decent wage and benefits,” Price said.
Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @sarahljaffe.