Before the ’06 elections, more than a few skeptical voices asked what substantial progress could be achieved through the peoples’ massive get-out-the-vote campaign. We had tried before and failed. Yet after the ballots were counted, even the most cynical admitted that an uncommon opportunity was at hand. There comes a time — when we must seize the opportunity to plant the seeds of real change.
A living wage for all is an essential part of that change. I’ve done a lot of reading lately about a living wage. A concept that sticks in my mind from my studies is that we have a great work ethic in this country — but we have a lousy wage ethic. Hard work does not pay for a decent living. There comes a time — when the economic books must be balanced.
Democracy is the approach. You could say that it’s a promise found in our Constitution. There comes a time — when the American people must take another progressive step.
It is good that we want to fulfill America’s democratic promise. How do we accomplish this task? We can do so by nurturing a majority. We must recognize that the largest party in the United States is not the Democratic Party, not the Republican Party. It’s the party of the unorganized — the unable — the unmoved — the non-participatory — those who play no role in the affairs of the community, workplace, government or other institutions. There comes a time — when we must welcome and enlist the unorganized.
However steely our determination may be, it will not get the job done unless we put together a great army of citizens who want to reconstruct the nation. Those who doubt the necessity of assembling this army of solidarity, or those who meditate that an elite faction can lead us forward to victory, need only observe an isolated body of striking workers doing battle with a large corporation on the picket line, their signs and banners waving as they watch the oblivious world go by. No matter how clever is the union leadership or how brave is the rank and file, the bosses will defeat the strike. There comes a time — when we must heed the lessons of struggle.
Only the working people can fulfill America’s democratic promise. The wealthy may join the movement; they must not be turned away. Nevertheless, change will originate from the workers and their families — the 75 percent who rely upon wages or salary for daily bread. We need not fabricate their grievances, because they are genuine, born at the kitchen table. I say this because the kitchen table is where families pray, eat, talk, laugh, dream and calculate. There comes a time — when we must acknowledge that a real revolution means that there is room for everyone at the table.
I cannot think of a more fundamental grievance than poverty. No one should labor and suffer from want for the basics: food, housing, clothes, transportation, etc. According to recent statistics released by the Economic Policy Institute, about 488,000 people in Illinois go without necessary income for the basics. Only a living wage would provide these things.
If we fail, or if we neglect, to lift up our less fortunate sisters and brothers, then the weight of their misery will surely drag us down. In the book of Proverbs 31:9, it says, “Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” There comes a time — when we must realize that the smart way to go is also the caring way.
Tim Mills (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a member of UAW Local 592 in Rockford, Ill., and chair of the rank-and-file Jobs Campaign. He made these remarks at a “living wage coffee talk” hosted by the local Unitarian Church, Rockford Peace & Justice Action
Committee and Rockford Urban Ministries, March 19.