There has arisen a peculiar phenomenon over the past seven years. Conservative legislatures in states such as Florida and Wisconsin have passed statutes that limit the ability of cities and counties to raise minimum wages and pass other legislation to advance the interests of workers.
This has become part of a well-oiled operation by the political Right to restrict the ability of working people to improve their living standards. This effort has emerged in response to increasing demands around the U.S. for raising minimum wages, including the achievement of what is frequently referenced as a “livable wage.”
Given gridlock in Congress and the unwillingness of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives to do anything about the declining living standard of U.S. workers, many labor unions and other worker organizations have turned their attention to the fight at the state, county and municipal levels. Locally-based campaigns have been conducted, and frequently won, improvements in minimum wages and other employment standards.
Most recently strikes have been carried out by many fast-food workers demanding increases in their salaries. Conservative state legislators have struck back by attempting to strangle democracy at the local level. Despite all of the conservative political rhetoric about local control and local initiative, when it comes to the rights of workers, this is quickly forgotten.
Replacing local control are directives from the state capitals made at the request of business lobbies that see the only way to improve their – business – situation as being through ruining the situation of the worker. In the November 2014 elections, there will exist the possibility, in many states, to turn this around. In addition to court action challenging such outrageous state legislative actions, the most powerful response should be success at the polls by candidates who are actually interested in representing working people. The crushing of the working person, in the name of improving the climate for business, obviously does nothing positive for working people. It also does nothing positive for democracy.
It actually represents a further demonstration of the evolution of the U.S.A. toward nothing short of a plutocracy: a society dominated by a small minority of its wealthiest citizens.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. He is the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions.”