LaborTalk for February 17, 2012

Why Has the AFL-CIO Abandoned the Fight
To Increase the Federal Minimum Wage?
Can Low-Paid Workers Support a Family on $7.25 an Hour?

By Harry Kelber

American workers have been repeatedly told by President Obama and his surrogates that "if you work hard and play by the rules," you can earn a a comfortable Middle Class living.

This turned out to be untrue — a cynical promise — for millions of workers who tried to live by those precepts. Millions of tough, obedient workers ended up in the ranks of the unemployed, many losing their homes and healthcare insurance.

Congress has traditionally been reluctant to raise the minimum wage of the working poor. It took ten years, not until 2007, for it to pass an increase in the minimums, but only as part of a measure to fund the war in Iraq.

The new legislation, signed by President Bush, provided for an increase in the minimum wage in two installments, from the then current $5.15 an hour to $7:25 an hour today.

Raising the Minimum Wage Would Also Help th Economy

For the past five years, efforts to raise the minimum wage a little closer to a "living wage" have languished for lack of a high-pressure campaign, the kind that the AFL-CIO with its more than 10 million members across the country, could launch.

But AFL-CIO leaders have been reluctant to fulfill their responsibility to the working poor, who are trying to survive with wages below the minimum wage line. They have done nothing to rally their members to fight for a higher minimum wage, in a spirit of compassion and solidarity.

Currently, 28 states and Washington, D.C. have a higher minimum wage than the federal government. At least some of these states have tied the minimum pay rate to inflation.

* * * * *

A rise in the minimum wage rate would directly affect 5.6 million workers, who currently earn less than 7.25 an hour. It could also have a lifting effect on another 7.4 million workers, who earn just above the minimum wage.

Finally, workers and their unions around the world are using sit-ins, slow-downs, rallies, marches and pressures on their government to win meaningful minimum pay increases.

Can the AFL-CIO do less?

LaborTalk will be posted here on February 21, 2012 and on our two web sites and on

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