Thomas Geoghegan: "King Was Really a Labor Leader, Too"

[T]he March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963, began as a labor march, a project of A. Philip Randolph, who was president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a vice president of the AFL-CIO.[...] As conceived by Randolph and [Bayard] Rustin, the great event was not just a “March on Washington,” or even a “March on Washington for Civil Rights,” but “the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” And yes, jobs came first. One purpose was to raise the minimum wage from $1.15 to $2.00 an hour (about $15 in today’s dollars, more than double today’s minimum of $7.25). That focus suited King: By 1963, he was on his way to being a “union man,” even a kind of labor leader.

Paul Krugman: "Love for Labor Lost"

You might ask why we should provide any aid to working Americans — after all, they aren’t completely destitute. But the fact is that economic inequality has soared over the past few decades, and while a handful of people have stratospheric incomes, a far larger number of Americans find that no matter how hard they work, they can’t afford the basics of a middle-class existence — health insurance in particular, but even putting food on the table can be a problem. Saying that they can use some help shouldn’t make us think any less of them, and it certainly shouldn’t reduce the respect we grant to anyone who works hard and plays by the rules.

Robert Reich: "Trimmings for Labor Day"

More than 35 million Americans now live below the poverty line. Many of them have jobs. The problem is these jobs just don’t pay enough to lift their families out of poverty. But wait a minute. Over this same period, productivity has grown by nearly 25 percent. That means the typical American worker is now producing a quarter more output than he or she did in 2000.

So if wages have flattened or declined for the bottom 60 percent, yet productivity has increased, where have the gains gone? Mostly, to corporations and the very rich. All of which gives some context to the strikes in recent weeks at fast-food chain stores, such as McDonalds, where workers are demanding a raise to $15-an-hour from their current pay of $8 to $10 an hour.[...] 

Few of these workers are teenagers. Most have to support their families. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of fast-food workers is over 28; and women, who comprise two-thirds of the industry, are over 32. The median age of big-box retail workers is over 30. These workers typically bring in half their family’s earnings.

They deserve a raise.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

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