Power Shift — Wage Indexing Now!

Delhi, India  A friend on the phone commented that he could hardly remember waking up happy the day after an election in the United States. Another friend from Vancouver peppered me with emails about the power shift and what it would mean. Landing in India for meetings around our campaign to impact any changes in the foreign direct investment in retail (www.indiafdiwatch.org) there were a million questions about what the change in Congressional control would really mean for everything from nuclear agreements to retail expansion.

Our friends from other countries of course ask what the Democratic Party “platform” will be on the Iraq war. They come from political traditions and cultures where parties actually have platforms and some modicum of discipline around core issues. The truth is that the vote this week reflected a huge national discontent around the progress of the war in Iraq and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s immediate resignation was evidence of that in spades, but it did not reflect a consensus among Democrats or virtually anyone else.

The only thing that seems really certain is that the next two years may allow us to escape some of the ideological excesses of the last six years of the right agenda. The edge in control of each house of Congress thankfully means a salad toss of committee chairs and rankings. Some of the over-the-top political antics in the run-up to the election for example in Senator Grassley’s attempt to target ACORN will hopefully die on the vine now that reason, restraint and reconciliation will be needed to forge new operations in Senate Finance as well as the rest of the committees. Interestingly, we may now see Congress as again a place of debate on what is needed in this country in coming years, rather than serving as a forum for rolling back what has been in place.

Minimum wage increases are overdue. The people have spoken everywhere they can on this issue, and fair minded people everywhere know that $5.15 per hour as the federal standard is a definition of inadequate wages. We will get this done, and we are confident the increase will be real, since the wait has been extended. The critical issue for ACORN, labor and others needs to be winning indexing of any new federal standard to increases in the CPI (consumer price index) or any other federal benchmark that is acceptable. We can not continue to allow the wage floor to sink underneath low wage workers. Robert Reich, Labor Secretary under President Clinton was ready for this in 1992, but political will evaporated in the aborted effort to win something on healthcare. We ended up with nothing. We need to put indexing front and center. It’s right and its fair and it’s time. Let’s do the job once and do it right, rather than being forced to run the same campaign over and over again.

This should be an issue that all Democrats can actually agree on. Both Houses of Congress need to fly this flag.

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