Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Fast Food Anyone?

What do you think about the fast-food workers walking off their jobs recently?

You can’t be worried over every little thing, right? If it’s not Syria, it’s the government closing down, and what with the NSA and Google scouring your emails, you’ve got enough on your plate. Besides you don’t really know anyone who works in McDonald’s or Burger King.

Well you might soon enough.

I first noticed the change in guard some years back in a god-forsaken rest stop on that nightmare called Route 95. It was the middle of the night and, as usual, the only joint open was the Golden Arches. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first but then realized that the cashier was in his late 40’s, the French-fry shoveler even older.

A recent report on teenage unemployment confirmed that many young people nowadays have to compete with older, more qualified, workers for entry-level, minimum pay jobs.

Since the Labor Department projects that 60% of new jobs created in the next seven years will be lower paying positions in retail, health care and such services it would behoove us all to take an interest in the fast-food token strike.

The real question is – how can anyone afford to work at McDonald’s and all other retailers that offer a buck or so above minimum wage? One would need a car to commute to the rest stop on Route 95; while apartment rents are just too high in most inner cities to be covered by such low paying jobs.

The minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour. Republicans, as you might imagine, want no part of an increase. Meanwhile President Obama would prefer a bump to $9 and congressional democrats pine for $10.10 an hour; however, even these Dickensian raises would be phased in over a 30-month period. Are our politicians living in the real world?

Now you may be shedding tears for McDonald’s and wondering if I’m conspiring to drive the Golden Arches out of business – or even worse risking an increase in the cost of your Big Mac. But McDonald’s workers in Australia are paid $14 per hour, while even French franchises can afford $12.
Yes, they do charge some cents more per item, but they also provide benefits for all but part-time high school workers. So what gives?

It makes you wonder if those two stellar congressional legislators Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy - both of whom oppose a raise in the minimum wage - ever heard of their fellow Irish-American, Henry Ford.
Now Mr. Ford was far from a socialist. But he recognized the value of a middle-class employee. Pay them enough and they’ll have the wherewithal to buy your product!

That lesson seems to have been long forgotten. American workers have never been as productive, a.k.a. fewer workers are being paid less for more work. Not coincidentally, corporate profits are at an all time high and keep increasing each quarter.

Hallelujah for those invested in the stock market but what about those who must jingle for change in their pockets to top off a tank of gas or buy a subway card to travel to one of these minimum-wage jobs.
We now live in a service economy, driven by retail sales. The new patriotism demands that we all step up to the counter and spend. But that’s becoming increasingly difficult as we slither towards a minimum-wage culture.

It’s hard to understand why Americans are allowing their dreams of a middle- class life to evaporate with so little resistance. Placing their faith in politicians is the ultimate exercise in futility since both parties are funded by the monied corporate class.

Perhaps the humble fast-food workers are making the first real stand for economic sanity. In any case they deserve our support; with many estimates projecting that 50% of all US jobs will be on the lower end of the pay scale in 10 years, it may be only a matter of time, and a flip of the coin, before you or I will be out there protesting with them.

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