OBSERVATIONS Workingclass Heroes .WHEN YOU think of the four to eight million Americans who are work ing this fall for $3.35 an hour because George Bush, allegedly of Texas, vetoed the bill to pay them .$4.65 an hour, think, too, of the 15 Texans in Congress, six of them allegedly Democrats, who helped kill this pay raise for the working poor. First among them is Senator Philip Gramm, who, having been elected statewide, belongs to all Texans. Gramm, the professor from College Station, the freemarket theoretician who incessantly alleges that he is a champion of “the working men and women of Texas,” not only voted against the increase in the minimum wage; on May 17th, he declared: “The plain truth is there ‘should be no minimum wage law, period.” Last among the fifteen is the Democratic Party’s Greg Laughlin, of West Columbia, the Congressman from the Fourteenth District; who belongs, therefore, to the people of Aransas, Austin, Bee, Burleson, Calhoun, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Goliad, Guadalupe, Jackson, Lavaca, Lee, Matagorda, Refugio, Victoria, Waller, Washington, Wharton, and parts of Brazoria, Gonzales, and Williamson counties. Laughlin let Hispanic progressives know, when he wanted their support for the election, that he was with them. After he voted against the Democratic-sponsored minimum wage, some of these Hispanic progressives confronted him about it. His explanation contained the assertion that the Mexican American Chamber of Commerce told him to vote that way. His confronters pointed out to him that the Mexican American Chamber of Commerce had supported his Republican opponent. Laughlin took a walk and didn’t vote on whether to override Bush on the issue. The 13 other Texans who refused a costof-living pay raise for the working poor were members of the House, five of them “Democrats,” who voted to sustain the George Bush veto of the increase. Those 13 Texans provided very nearly half of the margin by which the increase was defeated in the U. S. House this summer \(the vote was 247 to override Bush, and 178 not to override, just 37 votes short of the required Reader of the Observer, who is your Congressman? \(We have no Congresssalaried people represent you and therefore belong to you? For decades now it has been true that Texas provides the largest bloc of reactionary votes in the U. S. House. By their stand against minimally decent pay for the working poor, these 15, seen as a group, are each and all enemies of employees. They stand for privilege and corporate power. They do not give a damn about people who have problems making ends meet. The Congressional pay of every one of them should be knocked down to $3.35 an hour let them see how they like it and then they should be returned to private life as soon as possible. BEFORE CALLING the roll of the last 13 of these rogues, I would like to review some points in a short argument for raising the minimum wage. The argument was made by Lane Kirkland, head of the AFL-CIO, and published in the Washington Post the week before the House failed to override George Bush’s plutocratic veto. “As wages have risen over the years,” Kirkland said, “Congress has acted six times to increase the minimum wage, each time keeping it near 50 percent of the average hourly earnings of all non-supervisory workers. “However, during the eight years of the Reagan Administration there was no increase in the hourly minimum of $3.35, which Congress had set in 1977 to take effect in 1981. Never in 51 years has the minimum wage remained unchanged for so long. It has now fallen to 35 percent of average earnings, the lowest ever. Since the last increase, consumer prices have risen 37 percent, meaning that just Co keep pace with inflation, today’s minimum wage would have to be $4.58. Thus the proposal minimum wage’s lost buying power, but not until 1992. “The minimum wage’s erosion,” the top labor leader said, “affects far more than teen-agers. Out of the more than eight million Americans who earn the minimum wage or less, 84 percent are heads of households. “A high proportion of these people hold jobs in the growing service-industry sector janitors, restaurant and hotel employees, retail workers . . . A worker paid the minimum wage would take home $6,700 about $1,158 less than it takes to support one adult and one child at the poverty level, and about half what it now takes to support a family of four at that level. “An economic system should allow more reward for hard work and lawful conduct, and should not subsidize with tax dollars, in the form of public assistance payments, what employers ought to be paying in wages. The American people understand this, as shown by the 76 percent who told a Gallup Poll last summer that they favor an increase to $5.05 an hour by 1992. “In recent years, the employers’ lobby has prevented any increase, using the same discredited arguments it has used against every minimum wage proposal since 1938, \(that an would lead immediately to high rates of unemployment, inflation, and commercial bankruptcy. “After the six times Congress has raised the minimum wage, employment has actually gone up, with the single exception of the 1975 recession. . .. Teen employment increased following the 1978 adjustment, which followed warnings that it would erase nearly 400,000 teen-age jobs. In addition, the 11 states that have enacted higher minimum wage levels than the $3.35 an hour required by the federal government have had no increase in unemployment. “A healthy minimum reduces the cost of government by enabling millions of working people to get off the welfare rolls,” Kirkland said. HERE NOW, along with the aforementioned Phil Grammstander and Greg Laughlin, are the rest of the 15 enemies of salaried employees, all of them Republicans unless otherwise alleged, with a few of their explanations of why they voted against the working poor: Houston’s Bill Archer, an attorney and businessman from the Seventh District. Denton’s Richard “Dick” Armey, a professional economist who earned his homa, from the Twenty-Sixth District in Denton and parts of Collin, Cooke, and Tarrant counties. Armey argued, on May 11, that $4.65 an hour “will destroy jobs across the nation, and legislate away the right of the working poor to remain working.” Dallas’s Steve Bartlett, pregident of a corporation, from the Third District, parts of Collin and Dallas counties. Bartlett, a smart, smooth operator, was a leader in the debate to block $4.65 an hour. He quoted 4 SEPTEMBER 1, 1989
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