Sunday, February 05, 2006

Wages and America

Recently, I was at a UU sermon and it was just before Martin Luther King's Day. It was an excellent sermon by Lisa Purcell. She talked about how Martin Luther King wanted equality of rights for all people. Dr. King was not only about Civil rights, however, but about all rights. And one of the biggest rights, which effects a huge amount of people, is the right to fair wages.

Since the early 1970's (30+ years) the minimum wage has not gone up in America to even match inflation costs. The currently the minimum wage in Pennsylvania is $5.15 an hour. FIVE DOLLERS and FIFTEEN CENTS. If you worked full time (40 hours) this would equal $210 a week, $840 a month, 10,008 a year (before taxes!). Who could possibly live this way? In fact, many people live this way, day to day with little or no government help and very little or no voice at all in the political realm.

Recently, a few politicians got together and tried to raise minimum wage but this was shot down by the current majority in Congress. They wanted to raise the minimum wage to something like $7 an hour. This is not much of a raise and would still be minimum compared to a living wage.

By the way, have you ever thought about what a living wage is? A living wage is one in which you are able to pay your bills, have extra for emergencies, etc. A living wage is one where you do not live pay check to pay check and need assistance.

Ms. Purcell stated that if we had linked the minimum wage with inflation it would be $9.16 This is four dollars more than what people earn at minimum wage.

Some of you might be wondering or thinking well, what the heck does that have to do with me? Why should I care? Well, you should care because if you ever need to start your life over again, you could be there working at 5.15 an hour (or slightly more if you lived in California…but still at minimum). Or you could be an elderly person with little resources and need to pick up an extra work to make ends meet. This is important because many people are suffering financially for no real reason.

Last year, tax breaks were given to the top richest Americans. These are people earning a million a year and more. Did the tax breaks benefit the poorest? No. In fact, we've learned that programs for the poor, the disabled, and more are going to be cut.
As a side note, Bush was reported to have said he looked forward to signing the bill that would cut aid to Medicaid, Medicare and student loan subsidies. Of course, cutting the funding to a trillion dollar war might save the most money, but who am I to say anything?

Again, what does this have to do with you? Well, if you want people to have a safety net and don't want people to starve, reduce treatable illnesses, want children and their parents to have warm homes and food, want the elderly to be taken care of then you know this bill IS wrong. And this, more importantly, does not have to be.

How do we can we do anything, you ask. Well, there is a lot we can do. First, is to realize we have more power than we realize. Voting is one of the most powerful tools we can use. Never let anyone make you give up your vote. Generations before knew this and marched, fought and cried to vote. We still have that power but unless we use it we give it away.
Secondly, be aware of distractions. People will try to sway you to misuse your vote. This could be someone that never talked to you before or someone that you trust and see as much as once a week. I’ve noticed that the loudest speakers usually have nothing to say and usually will say things that hurt people rather than heal or unite.
Thirdly, remember what is most important to you. Are you on a fixed income? Are you living from pay check to pay check? Remember this and see which person talks about this issue. There will be people out there that try and muddle things up with controversial issues and most likely issues that take away rights from people. Why would you want people to lose rights? Yours could be next.

Anyway, I’ve come to think about a few things that are important to me. Responsibility. People need to be responsible. They need to be held accountable for their actions and what those actions have caused. Actually, we all know this. If you’re driving along and hit someone’s car you are held accountable. You take responsibility and pay through insurance or pocket to fix the other person’s car.

Another aspect of responsibility is taxes. We all pay taxes. Either they come out of our paychecks automatically or from purchasing. However, taxes have become such a dirty word to some. Taxes, used wisely, are meant to improve the lives of the people in which those people have given up part of their wages/income/purchase. Used correctly, you will see neighborhoods with good streets, proper lighting of the streets, programs that educate (public schools, libraries, access to the internet in libraries) and help make lives stable and most importantly benefit everyone's sense of commonality and safety.

What does this have to do with minimum wage? Minimum wage is a manmade thing. It was created by man, set at a certain price by man and can be changed by man. Wages need to be fought for and changed. We can change how laws are used to service the rich and ignore the poor.

In the past, CEO's earned 10 times the highest paid worker. Now, CEO's earn 1000 times the lowest paid worker. Does this have to be? No. Again, CEO's are part of a manmade corporation and can be changed by man by creating laws in every state which would limit a CEO to 10 times the lowest paid worker wages. We have the power to create laws which benefit and aid the majority of people instead of favoring the 1% (ultra-rich) that just received a huge tax break.

Just as the Taft Hartley act was established to keep businesses from allowing their workers to form unions (such as Walmart, Target, etc), these things can be changed to better people, give them power and a voice, and improve their lives.

All these things I've mentioned have come to carry huge weight just by mentioning their names: Taxes, unions, minimum wage, and implied communism. But what does that tell you? There certainly is a campaign to break up the few groups left to the working man.

People say unions don't work. They are full of corruption, etc. And yes, there are some that definitely follow this. There are some that should be hauled out and revamped. However, there are some that are doing very well such as Teachers union (that are fighting to have health insurance covered by the govt. instead of the teachers pockets), a few nurses unions (that are fighting to keep their pensions and other rights) and others that are fighting to keep their jobs in America. Tell me, is this wrong? Why aren't we saying lets fight with them? Let's vote for people who care about things like being paid in a fair manner. Vote for the people who have not forgotten the quiet voices of the working poor. For their voices are the ones we should be listening to not the blowhards who mean to distract by ANY means.

This all comes down to pros and cons. If you are one that sits on a fence and wonders, if you are one that says politics, I hate it, don't bother me, I won't vote. Weigh the pros and cons. Who will benefit from your inaction? What will YOU lose? I'd rather have a quiet voice than no voice. I will vote. I would rather vote for fair wages and people's rights. I would rather we have more rights then take rights/freedoms away. But we can't sit on fences and be inert. We must vote wisely and not be swayed by crowds or warmongers.
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Some say politics are not good. Nobody likes politics. However, they effect us in such deep ways to ignore them is the sure sign you will be moved by politics without any choice of your own. And that is the most frightening thing of all. It would be like ignoring a sore on your body. It might go away without cleaning or antibiotics or it might fester and swell. It might even lead to gangrene and an amputation. In fact, it most likely would. Do not ignore the darkness out of fear. Do not let it go without treatment.

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.

by Rev. Martin Niemoller, 1945



A few hundred years ago, many people were not allowed to vote in the US. Some only recently were allowed. In the 1920's women won the right to vote. Another fact, before women could vote, they had to fight to have property rights, employment and educational opportunities, divorce and child custody laws, and increased social freedoms. These things were not granted naturally and had much opposition from both men and some women. But the majority of women and some men kept fighting and did earn these rights for women. We must remember them and how we do have such strength in our hands with just a single vote.

All these things had to be earned and we have to keep them safe for ourselves, our children and for our brothers and sisters. An excellent quote from Dr. King says exactly what it is we need to remember.

Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.... You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

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