I’d like to start and end with a few lines from Percy Shelley’s poem The Mask of Anarchy. “What is Freedom?- ye can tell That which slavery is, too well- For its very name has grown To an echo of your own. ‘Tis to work and have such pay As just keeps life from day to day In your limbs, as in a cell For the tyrants’ use to dwell.”
According to a recent report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Low wage workers have gotten significantly older and more educated between 1979 and the present. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in 2012, nowhere in the United States could a full time worker at minimum wage afford a two-bedroom apartment for themselves and their family. In this Commonwealth of Virginia, the hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment or home is $20.26. We reside in the 9th most expensive State in the Nation. In order to afford such a home, a Worker would need to and strain and sweat for 112 hours per WEEK. This relates to working about 1.3 jobs, if you even make the “estimated mean renter hourly wage” at $15.62. The difference is $4.64, about $5. An extra Five Dollars an hour is about what it would take for most Wage Workers to just be able to afford rent and utilities and not have to worry about whether they have enough money for gas for work the next day, or if they have enough to pay for childcare, or enough to afford fresh vegetables for dinner instead of going to the drive thru or microwaving instant pasta for the third time that week. 1 in 4 people in the City of Richmond are in poverty. Something is obviously very wrong with our society when 25% of our population lives in economic poverty. This is why I demand a living wage. If we are to survive at all this at least is necessary.
But the capitalist class has thus far refused to allow this. The current institution of a minimum wage, a worthy concession of its time, sets the wage floor. In order to maintain and expand profit, the Capitalists do all in their power to keep our wages and us as close to the floor as possible, right under their shiny loafers. As we have seen so flagrantly with this so-called Great Recession, the Capitalists have taken our wages; the profits scoured from our sweat and our stress and our toil, and pocketed or lost them. Then they ran to Washington and unapologetically asked for more money to start over, and got it! This is the Workers’ money. This is the Workers’ rent check. This is the Workers’ food. This is the Workers’ education. This is the Workers’ healthcare. This is the Workers’ first vacation in three years. This is the Workers’ wants and needs and hopes and dreams. If these Capitalists really want their economy to succeed, and their “free market” to liquidate and balance, and maybe even want our society to advance a little bit, then perhaps they should liquidate their own coffers and balance our credit cards, and underwater mortgages, and student debt.
The need for a living wage is more important now than ever. With costs of simply surviving rising ever higher and wages remaining stagnant, Workers and their families are left floundering. For the first time in generations, children now are expected to have lower social and economic advancement than their parents. I demand a living wage for all Workers within the City of Richmond and State of Virginia and I personally endorse and advocate for a General Strike to reach this goal.
This however leads me to a further question still. Are we only to attempt to wrest power from others within a system designed to work against us and create division and competition? Or are we to create our own power within our own system, replacing this hegemonic capitalist structure that oppresses us every day with one that benefits and lifts us all, one that allows us to reach our true potential as human beings.
“And these words shall then become like Oppression’s thundered doom, Ringing through each heart and brain, Heard again-again-again…Rise like Lions after slumber in unvanquishable number- Shake your chains to earth like dew Which in sleep had fallen on you- Ye are many-they are few”