The inherent and insurmountable contradictions within capitalism are sharpening and have become more apparent in the current context of profound economic and environmental crisis. One of the main symptoms of these contradictions is the “growing gap” between the “99% and the 1%”, or more precisely the majority that work, and shrinking minority that own. Consider the following:
The global corporate class has $32 trillion hidden in off-shore tax havens.
Canadian corporations are currently sitting on over half a trillion dollars on their balance sheets.
In 2011, Canadian CEOs made $7.7 million on average, or 285 times more than the median Canadian wage of around $27,000 for a single earner.
Top executive compensation at the 50 largest employers of low-wage workers – (firms like WalMart, Target and McDonald’s) – averaged $9.4 million last year.
On the other hand, union jobs disappear, two-tier contracts are forced on us, pensions are clawed back, youth unemployment hits 20% in some areas, prices sore and wages drop or stagnate. The minimum wage in Ontario has been frozen for three years by the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals and their banker-backed “austerity” agenda. In fact, since 1976, the minimum wage in Ontario has been in deep-freeze. In today’s dollars, the minimum wage 35 years ago was the same as it is today. The result is poverty and desperation for hundreds of thousands of Ontarians, especially youth:
More than 800,000 Canadians were working at or below minimum wage in 2009.
Canada ranks as having the sixth lowest average minimum wage rate in the OECD
Presently, an Ontario worker earning minimum wage lives 19 per cent below the poverty line.
More than 400,000 households in Ontario rely on food banks. Almost half of them have at least one family member working full time.
Since the minimum wage was frozen three years ago, gas prices have risen 24 per cent, egg prices 21 per cent, transit 10 per cent and baked goods 12 per cent.
Low wageworkers also have much lower rates of insurance coverage for vision, dental, prescription medication and hospital care services, leaving them and their families in a general poorer state of health.
Raising the minimum wage will increase the take home pay for 14% of Ontario workers that make at or around minimum wage (3/4 of a million people).
Poverty wages and the attack on the working-class
The YCL Ontario recognizes that the main goal of the capitalist class is exploitation for profit by obtaining commodity labour as cheaply as possible. Our poverty is their profits.
The current poverty minimum wage rate is a weapon directed at precarious workers and marginalized communities. It is a tool that reproduces the inequalities of racialized and gendered labour, disproportionately affecting women, immigrants, youth and workers of colour. This attack on the most marginalized sections of the working-class has a depreciating effect on the whole working-class. When any of us are forced into poverty, it allows the capitalists to lower wages across the board.
We have seen this in the expansion of the classification of jobs that are now minimum wage; jobs such as bank tellers, security guards, childcare workers, personal home support workers, teaching assistants and flight attendants.
The expansion of low-wage jobs is not just a problem for young workers. Between 2004 and 2012, the number of minimum wage workers aged 35 years and over has increased by 10%, rising from 17% to 27%.
Big business has always resisted rises in living standards and wages, and this can be seen in their opposition to any proposals to increase the minimum wage rates. Often bogey arguments like “prices will rise” and “we’ll lose small business jobs” are the favorite talking points of the ruling class. In the first instance, we must acknowledge that the relation to wages and prices are not that simple, as wages to a strata of the working class in Canada (albeit a large one) aren’t the only purchasers of consumer goods. Furthermore, if we don’t fight, which is what the capitalists want, we have no chance of even keeping up with price hikes, which are increasing faster than wages.
As for the plea on behalf of small business (usually on the part of big business) we must note that the principle threat to small business is from monopoly capitalism, that over 50% of minimum wage workers work for businesses with over 100 employees, and that no-sized business should have the right to pay poverty wages.
The fight for a living wage
At the YCL-Ontario’s last convention in June 2012, we adopted the demand of $19/hr as the current minimum wage necessary for Ontario.
If the “high” minimum wage of 1976 had been maintained its relative value would be approximately $15 an hour. Settling for the same wage as the working-class had won 35 years ago would represent a historical concession, in the face of increased productivity and technological advancement that the working-class has not benefitted from.
We must also look at the “minimum wage” in relation to the need for a “living wage”. The demand for a living wage, which has already been won in some municipalities in British Colombia and the United States, puts forward that wages should be set at the minimum hourly wage necessary for each of two workers in a family of four to meet basic needs and participate in their community. The living wage calculations do not leave room for savings of any kind. In 2008, the Canadian Auto Workers and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimated that “two working parents raising two young children would need to earn $16.60 an hour each, with both parents working full-time and year-round, to be able to live adequately within the Greater Toronto Area”.
In order for a Torontonian to live above the Low Income Cut Off (as defined by the City of Toronto) a single adult with three dependents needs to be paid $21/hr, or with two dependents $17.32/hr.
By calling for $19/hr, which is 75% of the average provincial wage, and putting forward the demand for a Guaranteed Annual Income the YCL-Ontario is presenting a way forward that would drastically reduce poverty in Ontario and reflects the immediate needs of the working-class as it faces a vicious assault in the form of austerity.
Support the “Raise the Minimum Wage” campaign
Throughout the Spring of 2013, there has been renewed interest in building a movement capable of winning a higher minimum wage. As the YCL-Ontario supports all progressive campaigns to raise the minimum wage, we enthusiastically endorse the “Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage” which has already held actions in 15 Ontario cities.
The campaign is built around the demand for an immediate 37% increase to Ontario’s minimum wage to $14/hr, and the indexation of the wage to cost of living increases.
“Raise the Minimum Wage” is coordinated by ACORN, Freedom 90 (a foodbank volunteer union), OCAP, Social Planning Toronto, Toronto and York Region Labour Council, the Workers’ Action Centre, and more. We call on all progressive youth and our allies in the youth and student movement to get involved with the campaign and grow this movement.
The YCL-Ontario fights alongside our sisters and brothers engaged in this important campaign as a part of winning $19/hr. We can’t go from $14 to $19 or towards a real break with losing to poverty if we don’t educate ourselves about what’s happening with profits, prices and what we get paid. Winning also means we have to be united across Ontario in one fight, not divided by different rates.
We will win!
A superficial view of current Ontario politics could be depressing and demobilizing. It seems that Ontarians are up against very strong and reactionary forces, emboldened by the economic crisis and convinced that workers should pay for the capitalist crisis. For example, throughout the last year we have seen a Liberal party that is determined to use draconian legislation to undue collective bargaining rights in the public sector.
The Tories under Hudak are now talking about “the right-to-work” which really means setting the clock back 60 years on labour legislation, as well as continuing to use rhetoric demonizing the poor which saw massive cuts to welfare rates and ODSP in the 90s. The ONDP have just helped pass a budget with the Provincial Liberals which puts in place a five year austerity plan which will do great harm to working people, the unemployed, women, youth, and many more. Although the NDP’s demand of 15% off car insurance is welcome, they failed to challenge the Liberal-Tory underlying assumption of the need austerity.
The Wynne government has announced the convening of an “advisory panel” to investigate the minimum wage. This is a common tactic to ensure that action is either inadequate or ignored, while having the government distanced from the “consultation” and recommendations. For example, thousands of people were consulted by the Social Assistance Review Commission which was convened by the McGuinty government. It’s very mild recommendation was to increase assistance rates by $100 a month. The government has since ignored even this watered down request.
It is clear that there is no solution in the current Legislature. This means that progressive policies, like raising the minimum wage, will be fought for and won in the streets. We’ve done it before, and we can do it again! The first Canadian minimum wage laws were won for non-union workers around 1920 by trade unionism and political action. Until the 1970s there were different rates for men and women. This wage discrimination was eliminated by the women’s and labour movements.
Mass independent and escalating political action to resist austerity and demand new policies that meet people’s needs is the winning strategy. Campaigns such as the raise the minimum wage campaign, are a part of a broader fightback, and need to be linked together to start winning victories.
As the student strike in Quebec demonstrated in 2012, victories can be won from even right-wing political parties. These victories will also lay the groundwork for people’s movements to have their own political voice within parliament.
New coalitions between labour and people’s movements are forming and they require activists’ full attention. The Ontario Common Front is a coalition between the anti-poverty movement and the Ontario Federation of Labour. It includes more than 100 organizations and is a promising development. The Idle No More movement has provided new opportunities to make alliances between First Nations peoples and settler communities against the Liberals in Toronto and the Tories in Ottawa. As austerity creates more enemies and allies for us, unity is key to our strength.
The Young Communist League is fighting against the attacks on democracy and civil rights and for a Charter of Youth Rights that defends the rights of students and youth to employment, democracy, culture and leisure, full equality, free education, and other rights. This campaign is one vehicle that we can use to bring together movements like the campaign to raise the minimum wage with other social movements.
As a revolutionary organization, the YCL-Ontario recognizes the need to struggle for immediate reforms as a part of a much larger historic revolutionary process. Only through increasing the working-class’ capacity to struggle can we lay the foundation to win socialism.
We think the biggest problem facing the country, and indeed the entire world, is a capitalist system that puts profits before people. We say that it is time to get rid of capitalism and build something better – a system that defends peace, working people, the environment and democracy. We call that socialism! If you agree with this, join us and get involved!