Behind the NJ Legislature’s Vote to Increase the Minimum Wage
By John Leslie
source: Socialist Organizer
New Jersey’s Democratic-controlled Senate approved a bill to raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour in March from the current $7.25. Future increases would be linked to changes in the U.S. Consumer Price Index. The bill will now be considered in the lower house, which passed a similar law in May. The Assembly must approve a version with a new effective date. of March 1, 2013. Republican Governor Chris Christie is expected to veto the measure, which he claims puts an undue burden on small businesses, especially those affected by Hurricane Sandy in October.
The Democrats majority needed to override a veto. Senate President Steve Sweeney introduced another bill that would amend the State constitution to raise the minimum wage and tie it to the CPI. If this bill is approved by both houses, it would bypass the Governor and be brought before the voters in a referendum.
New Jersey last raised the minimum wage to meet the federal minimum in 2009, under Democratic Governor Corzine. At the time, the Democrats, who controlled both houses of the Legislature and the Governorship, could have raised the minimum wage to a living-wage level. So why didn’t they? It’s a game. Democrats love to talk about the minimum wage or labor law reforms when they know there’s a snowball’s chance in hell it will pass.
The Democrats passed a raise in the minimum wage, knowing full well that Christie will likely veto. For the Democrats it’s a win-win. They get to posture as if they really care about the working poor, but they know this won’t really go anywhere. Later on, they can blame the Republicans and Christie for the poverty around them.
Despite the limitations of the Sweeney proposal, labor and community organizations should fight for its passage in a referendum, while making the case for an even larger raise for the working poor.
$8.50 isn’t enough!
The paltry $8.50 minimum passed this past week is for working people struggling to make ends meet. Indexed to inflation the minimum would be double what it is now. The majority of the new jobs created in the US are low wage, many of them part-time. In 2010, the top 3 job categories are in industries that experienced growth were retail sales, cashiers and food service workers. All 3 are low wage, with median wages less than $10 per hour.
Thirty-five million US workers earn less than $10.55/hr. Another eighteen million earn just a few dollars more. The majority of low wage workers are women and oppressed nationalities. Contrary to assertions by Republican opponents to a raise, there is little evidence of a negative effect on unemployment.
Low wage workers are fighting back
Recent wildcat strikes and Black Friday protests at Walmart shows the potential for a fight for living wages for all low-wage workers. Fast food workers in New York City have also gone on strike demanding a raise to $15 per hour. To win such a struggle will take solidarity and a mass political struggle that combines demands for increased wages, national health care and jobs for all. Such a movement, to be successful, must break with the Democrats and take steps towards building a working class political party