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Susan Green

High Wage Myth: 40% Get Under 65¢ Hourly

(18 December 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 51, 18 December 1944, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The “forgotten man” has again been pushed into public view. The hearings on Senator Pepper’s sixty-five-cent minimum wage bill have done the trick. And, lo and behold! we discover a curious phenomenon. Whereas, when the big white father, FDR, came into power some twelve years ago he spoke of a mere one-third of the nation being forgotten men, the hearings in Congress reveal that this unfortunate group now constitutes TWO-FIFTHS of the workers of the nation.

Yes, you read that right. Forty per cent of America’s workers make less than sixty-five cents an hour during this so-called war boom when workers are supposed to be rolling in money.

A breakdown of the situation shows that these substandard workers are found in large numbers in every branch of industry and agriculture.

To illustrate: In the manufacturing trades, one out of every four workers makes less than sixty-five cents an hour. In the retail trades, EIGHTY-SIX PER CENT of the workers are so poorly rewarded for their labor. Three hundred thousand railroad workers are in the same boat!

What does such miserable pay mean in the bread-and-butter equivalent?

A sixty-five-cents-an-hour minimum would equal a weekly wage of $26 on the forty-hour basis. If luck holds for fifty-two weeks a year, at sixty-five cents an hour wages would add up to $1,352 a year.

Many reliable estimates from labor and other sources show that today it takes about $3,000 a year for a family of four just to maintain itself on the ragged edge of decency. Put $1,352 up against $3,000, and what does it look like! Yet forty per cent of America’s workers get LESS than what that looks like because they earn less than sixty-five cents an hour.

But here is still another way of estimating how substandard are the substandard workers of the country. The cost of living budget of the Works Progress Administration is fixed at $1,730 a year for a family of four. Furthermore, this is admittedly “an emergency standard which may be necessary under depressed conditions.” It is also admitted that this WPA budget might prove to be “harmful to both health and morale” if continued for any length of time. Of this there is indeed no doubt. For this figure of the WPA is so shockingly inadequate that it allows a pittance of only $16 a month for rent for a family of four!

“American Way of Life”

Bad enough, isn’t it? But still a sixty-five cent minimum wage adds up to only $1,352 a year – which is $378 less than the miserable WPA budget. And keep on remembering that FORTY PER CENT of America’s workers get EVEN LESS than that!

Such is the American way of life!

Philip Murray, president of the CIO, testified at the hearings on Senator Pepper’s sixty-five-cent minimum wage bill that in 1943 THIRTY PER CENT of the families and other consumer units of this country received less than $1,500 a year. He stated that 7,093,000 consumer units got below $1,000 in that year, while 5,130,000 got along on between $1,000 and $1,500 for the whole year. Thus we see that some 12,213,000 families and other consumer units are worse off by over $230 to $730 per year than people on WPA. In the same year, 1943, war profits of industry were 303 per cent over the 1936–39 peace levels! Such is the American way of life.

These congressional hearings made very graphic the plight of the forgotten men and women of this country. Many of them were there in person. Mrs. Christine Gardner, Piedmont, N.C., a cannery worker, broke down when she testified that one of her children died because she was unable to afford proper medical care. Mrs. Ruth Decker, another cannery worker, stated that her fellow workers had to take up a collection to get her some clothes so she could get to the hearings in Washington. John Vernon, textile worker, father of seven, testified to receiving the munificent wage of 51½ cents an hour. There were laundry, workers, shoe workers clothing workers at the hearings, all victims of substandard wages, wages below sixty-five cents an hour.

There was likewise produced in evidence an advertisement by the Postal Telegraph Co., which speaks for itself. The ad is for a manager for its Atchison, Kan., office. Here it is:

“Qualifications – combination Morse and Teletype operator. Must have knowledge of operating routine and ability to turn out satisfactory copies in both Morse and Teletype. Must be able to make up payrolls, to rate messages, speedily and accurately. Also experience in handling foreign and domestic money orders and special collections necessary. Must have knowledge of accounting practices, daily statements, call and delivery desk. Must have past successful record on both productive and developing selling in an office of this size. Must be neat in appearance and work. Must be aggressive, persistent, resourceful and industrious. WAGES $.30 AN HOUR.”

Are there any words in the dictionary to describe the gall of this big business company! Presumably the $.30 is written with the dollar sign instead of just 30c to make it look like more. But it is still only twelve dollars a week!

Above, in brief outline, is the shameless exploitation to which forty per cent of America’s workers are submitted. It is time for a full stop. THE MINIMUM WAGE MUST BE RAISED!

But should labor fall on its knees in thanks and adoration before Senator Pepper and the advocates of his sixty-five-cent minimum wage bill – as the CIO and AFL seem to be doing?

A Dollar an Hour Minimum!

True the sixty-five cents an hour minimum is better than the forty-cent minimum now on the statute books. True, sixty-five cents is better than fifty cents, below which regional boards of the WLB now consider wages substandard, acknowledging to that meager extent that there has been a rise in the cost of living since the passage of the Wagner law. True, sixty-five cents is more than fifty-six cents, the figure conceded by the WLB to the Textile Workers Union when it asked that wages below sixty cents be considered substandard. But the following is also true:

A sixty-five-cent minimum wage still leaves the income of forty-five per cent of the workers of this country so low that it is $378 per year less than the emergency budget allowed by the Works Progress Administration!

Is this all that the workers who have made this land the richest in the world are entitled to?

At the above mentioned hearings the representatives of the railroad unions demanded A ONE DOLLAR MINIMUM HOURLY WAGE. Answering the bosses’ false argument that this will add to the cost of living, these railroad union men pointed out that there are “spreads” of more than 100 per cent between the cost of production and prices demanded of consumers leaving ample room to raise wages without raising prices.

The Workers Party has a demand in its platform reading: “For a $1.00-an-hour minimum wage law, with time and a half for overtime, double time for Sunday and holiday work, and equal pay for equal work for all industrial and agricultural workers.”

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