Monday, October 30, 2006

Been a Long Time, Been a Long, Lonely, Lonely Time

It's been a long time since I've posted anything of worth, which has probably slowed "Monk-mentum" quite a bit. But for the various one or two people who still check out this blog every so often, let me guide you to sevendaysatminimumwage.org. It's a campaign being run by ACORN and AFL-CIO (!!!) to get the issue of low-wage labor back into the political discussion. Whether the blog-o-sphere can affect massive change is an open question (at least for this blogger) but the stories (a number of the best ones collected by Chicago Carless's Mike Doyle) are riveting and gut-wrenching.

I'm often skeptical of "There are no Children Here" esque social criticism, that attempts to put a "human face" on poverty and other social issues. These accounts can often have the odor of individual pathology that allows readers to avoid asking the real and hard questions of systemic injustice and bad policy as opposed to bad behaviors and bad circumstances. Seven days, and especially the Mike Doyle interviews, strenously avoid that trap. The articulate women interviewed by Doyle frimly grasp that they are trapped in what is more and more the reality of the post-industrial economy in the United States (if you don't believe this to be the case, ask me and I'll send you some of the research on this).

We are rapidly moving towards a two-tiered labor force: the highly paid workers jet-setting through the global economy and the low wage workers who serve them. Moving up from low wage to medium wage to medium high wages is becoming less and less of a possibility because of the disintegration of what are called internal labor markets or job ladders in firms. While we've been distracted by intern oral sex, wars in the Middle East, and a booming stock market, the strong middle class job generating economy that sustained the United States in the 20th century is disappearing.

This is not an inevitable economic pattern nor is it necessarily make good macro-economic sense. Which is why campaigns such as Seven Days are so important. I'm becoming more and more convinced that the heart of social justice is economic justice. While a higher minimum wage won't solve these issues, it's a great first step on the high road to economic development. We've seen the low road, and boy is it wanting.

4 comments:

Mike Doyle said...

For anyone who hasn't seen it yet, I invite you to come take a look at "7 DAYS @ MINIMUM WAGE", the video blog of hardworking Americans struggling to make ends meet on poverty wages, sponsored by ACORN and AFL-CIO and hosted by Roseanne Barr, that Jack scribed about above (heya, Plankmaker).

We originally expected to end the project after the initial week, but due to its success it's been been extended through Election Day, November 7.

The interviews are pretty stark and honest, and they've been viewed by more than 30,000 people since the project began on October 23 (they can be seen at www.sevendaysatminimumwage.org or on YouTube under the user name, "7daysatminimumwage").

ACORN and AFL-CIO launched the blog as a way to get contemporary audiences to join in the national debate over fair wages.  We hoped, naively or not, that Paul and Susan, Jessica, Jeffrey, and the other poverty-wage workers who agreed to tell their stories to America, would become Internet celebrities in the fight for social justice. That's actually starting to happen.  A few days ago, part one of Jessica's harrowing interview, in which she describes raising four kids while getting a degree and begging her employer for full-time hours and benefits, became YouTube's top video in the News & Blogs category (the real heartbreak is in part two, though, if you're brave enough to watch it).



We've also had more than 60 bloggers across the country (much like you) take up the cause and write about or link to the 7 DAYS blog, gotten coverage from Air America, National Public Radio, and, with Roseanne Barr, a national Associated Press article. Last Sunday, we were honored to have celebrated labor-rights journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch, as the guest for an hour-long webchat.



Now we want to know what everyone else thinks about the project and the fairness of minimum wage in general. Personally, I don't think an hour of human labor should cost the same as a large latte (you know, the drink we probably all had on our way to work this morning?)  Imagine having to work an hour at your job just to pay for that coffee--or being forced to raise a family on that kind of income because the government said you weren't worth being paid anything more.  Millions of people face just that dilemma every morning, every day, and it just pisses me off that they have to be in that position.



I invite you all to come visit the blog site and tell us what you think about the $5.15 federal minimum wage, however you want to do that. Post a comment under one of the videos and tell us your opinion or your story.  Or pick up a video camera like I did and interview a friend or neighbor working for poverty wages and post the video on YouTube or your own blog and tell us about it. And as far as YouTube goes, the comments some of our participants have received there have run the gamut from supportive to downright hateful (so we've been taking our blows, too). If you feel like entering the debate their, check out the comments under Jessica's videos and see if you agree with some of them (I bet you won't, some of them are just plain obnoxious). 



For those of us who worked on 7 DAYS, we never considered the project a simple campaign tactic, or a partisan appeal or political story.  We wanted 7 DAYS to be a humanistic project. From the beginning, we tried to engage the blogosphere from the heart. We empathize with the people who told us their stories not because we feel sorry for them, but because we ARE them. Me, and you, and every American of any wallet size working to make ends meet--none of us is any different than a minimum-wage worker, and circumstance could deliver any of us into a minimum-wage income in an instant.



Last week, 30,000 people heard that message.  Some were convinced.  Some weren't.  Were you?  Come tell us.



Speech over ;-)

Mike Doyle said...

Thanks again for covering 7 Days at Minimum Wage. With Election Day finally upon us, I wanted to let you know what the project team is up to in support of the six minimum-wage ballot initiatives in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio.

I won't kitchen-sink you with all the details--you can browse the 7 DAYS project website for that, at http://www.sevendaysatminimumwage.org/site/?page_id=23 . But if you do click through, you'll find information about phone banks, door-knocks, prayer vigils, canvassing, election observations, and watch parties sponsored by ACORN and AFL-CIO throughout the six key states. (You can also find a lot of this last-minute info on ACORN's www.raiseswages.org and AFL-CIO's www.americaneedsaraise.org ).

It's obvious why these increases are important: an hour of human labor should cost more than a Starbucks venti latte. That the federal government thinks it's ok to pay you or me or anyone else $5.15 an hour is positively obnoxious--and most of those hours are below full-time and without health insurance.

I know I'm angry about that, and sad for the way the people we interviewed are forced to live because the law says it's ok to keep them earning below the poverty line. I know how deeply that fact affected me through my work on 7 DAYS. If the project touched just one other person out there to go to the polls and help raise their local minimum wage, then I know we've accomplished what we set out to do.

Please remember the folks we interviewed when you consider your state's or your city's minimum wage...or the next time you tip anyone, anywhere, for that matter. Do click through and see how to support minimum-wage increases in your state. And most of all, thanks for watching. Good luck to everyone on November 7!

Peace...

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