A Living Wage
A full time job should keep you OUT of poverty, not IN it! Is that not the cure prescribed by politicians and much of the public for poverty: to merely have people who are homeless and on assistance get a job? Meg R. looks at the issue of a living wage.
Although never a sufficient solution to end poverty, the attainment of a full time job used to provide some recourse for the reduction of the intensity of poverty experienced.
However, this is no longer so as the ‘working poor’ are the fastest growing population experiencing poverty. In the last fifteen years, real wages have fallen significantly for middle and low income earners, especially for women, immigrants and youth. In 2005, 41% of Canadian low income children lived with families where at least one wage earner was employed full time (2007 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty).
The downward pressure on wages contributing to increasing poverty has become a defining characteristic of the last three decades. It is representative of the global polarization of income and concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few elite.
This concentration is facilitated through the adoption of neo-liberal policies accompanying economic globalization which favor profit over people. A key component of such policies is the reduction of the costs of labour, primarily wages. Governments and businesses adopt these policies at the expense of workers, especially those already marginalized in society. As a result, workers in Hamilton and around the world are struggling to provide food, shelter, health care, education and child care for themselves and their families. The increasing levels of poverty and number of working poor provide living proof that it is time for a living wage.
We must challenge the ideologies of the elite, businesses, and government officials. We must also hold them accountable for their cost cutting actions that rob people of decent standards of living. The people of Hamilton, especially those living in poverty, along with other student groups, members of the labour movement and social justice activists must join together to secure an environment within the city that upholds human dignity for all.
Although not an easy task, it is by no means an impossible task. A living wage campaign has already taken shape in the city and action plans are being carried out. This initiative is a city wide, inclusive movement that seeks to secure wage rates that enable workers to support their families above the poverty line and maintain a dignified standard of living. The coalition is providing a multi-pronged campaign of public information and mobilization to compel prominent decision makers in Hamilton to change their wage policies. The living wage coalition is closely linked to the Coalition for Fair Income and Employment at McMaster University, and living wage movements across the country and North America.
The times of greatest success for social change have been the times when people throughout an entire community have come together to pursue a common goal, despite their differences. It is has been their shared consciousness that has enabled them to overcome elitist employer and governmental barriers that relegate them to impoverishment and the margins of society. It will be our shared consciousness that overcomes Hamilton’s pursuit of profit over people. It will be our shared consciousness that compels businesses and the government to become responsible for the standard of living of those they employ.
The movement begins when we meet to share ideas and forge common ground; it continues when we act against the decreasing wage rates and increasing poverty rates. Our work in this area ends when every worker in Hamilton is guaranteed fair and living wages.
GET ACTIVE>> To join the Living Wage Coalition of Hamilton, contact Deirdre Pike, Social Planner at the SPRC at 905-522- 1148
(Original version of article published in Poverty Watch, Spring 2006, Volume One, Issue 4, a publication of the Income Security Working Group).