Not Far Enough

We’ve come far but not far enough. It pays to know history, even a bit of it. During the Great Depression, the struggle for a living wage and dignity in the workplace culminated in 1930’s Labor Laws. The imbalance of power of desperate workers and company greed forced the government to support the right to unionize and created social security. A forty-hour workweek was mandated, child labor was banned and a federal minimum wage was instituted.

Sounds good, right? While a step in the right direction, companies took to the courts for decades and successfully struck down minimum wage laws. One claim was that companies’ constitutional right to freely contract with workers was taken away.

Caveats to the law became the norm. There were minimum wages for women. There were word games like “they’re not employees, they’re independent contractors”. And there were the Southern Democrats holding on to the racial divide. There was no way they could accept an equal playing field. So the expansively written minimum wage law was whittled down by exclusions. These exclusions omitted occupations held disproportionally by Blacks, Latinos, women and poor. 

The 1963 March on Washington brought another turning point towards human dignity. The Civil Rights Act ended legal segregation in public places and prohibited employment discrimination.

Yet industries still exclude workers from fair pay and decent working conditions. If you are a farm or domestic worker, you know what I mean. If you process maple syrup or work in the motion picture industry, you know what I mean. (For a great podcast on this visit Reveal).

We’ve come far but not far enough. The value of human dignity must exceed the drive of greed. And each of us must ensure it. 

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