By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
A business owner in my community responded to my previous article onthe minimum wage. I explained that community businesses should join the movement for a living wage and the workers’ movement should join with community businesses in freeing them from the grasp of the corporations insurance companies and other leeches. In other words, the fight for a minimum wage is also a fight against the banking system, the system of land ownership, the taxation system, the class system, agribusiness, the domination of big business etc.
Unfortunately, this business owner spoke against raising the minimum wage and began his opening remarks to me with a lecture about the failure of Stalinist totalitarianism (he called it “Russian style communism” as if there is a national brand of communism) but then went in to more detail.
He rejects collectivism as it, “goes against human nature”, and not sustainable. He does make some exceptions, “education, insurance and social safety nets”, he writes, can be provided by society. In other words, all those other minor details like health care, Medicare, unemployment pay, education and who knows what other social necessity that the private sector cannot provide in society can be provided by the taxpayer through the state.
He writes further that, “It is this human spirit and drive for personal gain that has created the many luxuries we take for granted today.” This statement confirms that simply because someone asserts something doesn’t make it so. He goes on to make the claim that it is a person’s desire for a better life is what lifts all boats as they say. This is the age-old argument of course and is bogus. All history proves him wrong as modern history is the struggle of the exploited against the exploiter. Slaves against slaveowners, serfs against feudal lords and the British peasantry as I pointed out recently were dragged kicking and screaming off the common land and in to the marketplace in a process that lasted three centuries.
The natives of the “New World” went through a similar process, dragged from their ancestral lands as did the people of West Africa who undoubtedly resisted kidnapping and also their enslavement in a far away land. Their struggles as all our as struggles for emancipation and the ending of the purchase of human beings and the use of our life activity for personal gain, continue to this day.
Every freedom we have today was one through collective action, from the masses collectively confronting the oppressing power. The history of all human society is this way.
What this person’s argument amounts to is that his view of freedom as a business owner is to pay as little as possible in wages that deny his employees’ children a college education so his kids can get one. “We mustn't force higher wages on small business owners and kill their incentive to be in business.”, he writes. Well, his incentive is a better life, an incentive we all have but to do that he has to make profit and that profit comes from the labor power of his workers. By keeping wages as low as possible it will allow him and his family to live in a safer neighborhood, a nicer home, bigger car etc. In other words, his more secure existence is secured through denying it to others. This is his philosophy in a nutshell.
As I wrote in my earlier commentary, “So what happens when an employer can’t pass the cost of a forced wage increases on to the consumer? Where do the increased wages come from? Well, their profits of course; the income of the business owner. But they are not going to say, “I can’t pay higher wages because I will have less for myself” or “I have to raise prices because I live in a nice neighborhood and will have to move if I don’t.” By saying that they will have to lay people off which means the worker accepts a lower wage or no wage, or increase prices which means the business goes under and there’s no job and no service, the motive seems egalitarian as opposed to self serving. This is not always intentional, sometimes the system works behind the backs of its participants.”
The community business has many other expenses. There is the landlord, the insurance company, and in no way should a community business hiring a few workers be responsible for providing them with health coverage. A universal health care system is what must do that. Medical care should not be a business. But they take the easy way out and either lay workers off, cut their wages or raise prices if the market will bear it.
A minimum wage should be presented as a basket of goods. Everyone should receive a wage that covers what is needed for them to live a decent and secure life, a percentage of this basket for shelter, food, entertainment etc.
Instead of taking the easy way out (for them) the small business owner should join with the worker and direct the fight at the people with money, the billionaires big landlords (the largest landlords in the country are capital management companies), they must challenge the system. Their existence as a small business owner business is not secure as anyone in this situation knows.
But in the last analysis as the example we give here shows, the private sector has not and never will provide a decent life for the vast majority of Americans. For the rest of the world, capitalism means starvation and disease; it’s that simple. The author says as much when he says, communistically I might add, that the necessities of life musty be provided by the state.
Capitalism never provided a secure life for most people here in the US even during the Post War Boom from 1950 to 1970 where the material conditions for the so-called “American Dream” were present. We must not forget as well, that a brutal and violent Apartheid system existed in a fifth of the country during that so-called dream. And mass consumption and excess living has turned in to a nightmare for both humans and nature.
I repeated a quote from a book I read the other day that explained that the US never invaded the tiny island of Grenada to corner the nutmeg trade. US capitalism doesn’t demonize Chavez and Castro because they are dictators, good grief, the US has supported and sheltered some of the worst despots in modern history and is home to some of the world’s most infamous mass murderers including Henry Kissinger. It opposes these regimes because they show that the private sector is not so efficient when it comes to our needs as human beings. It undermines their argument that the market is the answer to all things when a little island like Cuba, blockaded for a half century by the most powerful nation ever existing has a life expectancy equal to the US and an infant mortality rate fare better. All due to a socialized medical system
The ideological war against the collective form of anything except a collective formed and directed under their guidance and with their goals in mind, is what US capitalism wages war against including here at home as it privatizes public property and services and eliminates decent public sector jobs.
The workers’ movement must reach out to that section of the petty bourgeois, those community businesses that are open to struggling with us for the end to corporate power and landlordism and the dictatorship of capital over human life. And as I said before, if they claim they can’t pay the wages people need, open the books and let the movement decide.
But when small business or the private sector refuses or cannot pay a wage that workers can live on, the public sector must.
Here is the comment to my last commentary on this subject.
Communism is a failed system Richard Mellor. Even the great Marx and Lenin couldn't pull it off.
Look how Russian style communism failed it's people. How did the eastern communist countries thrive compared to their counterparts in the West? The fact is Richard Mellor , collectivism beyond education, insurance and basic social safety nets is not sustainable because it goes against human nature. People want and need more than equality of outcomes.
The freedom to succeed or fail drives them to dream of a better life and to create it. Take incentive away and you destroy human spirit and drive.
It is this human spirit and drive for personal gain that has created the many luxuries we take for granted today.
I believe that in a great country like ours, no one should be homeless, starve or be refused medical care because they are poor. I also believe our government officials need to get out of the pockets of the powerful oligarchy. But we mustn't throw out the baby with bathwater and ruin our democracy because some people are struggling.
We mustn't force higher wages on small business owners and kill their incentive to be in business. This only forces more workers into the clutches of the major chains and franchises who's profits go to Wall Street and the politicians who enable their crimes.
No Richard Mellor, your ideology does not work. What we should do collectively is to start buying more from small business owners in our own communities. If they had more customers, they would surely share the success with their employees and at the same time, create more jobs.
* Marx explained the issue of wages and prices 15 years ago and it's still worth reading