"There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid, or day laborer," Martin Luther King Jr. wrote thirty-five years ago in his book Where Do We Go From Here. "There is nothing except shortsightedness to prevent us from guaranteeing an annual minimum and livable income for every American family."
As the nation celebrates Dr. King's life this weekend, Sen. Edward Kennedy and a broad alliance of religious and community groups are honoring King's dream of social and economic justice with a bold new vision for a national living wage. The Let Justice Roll Campaign--a unique coalition of more than fifty groups including ACORN, The Center for Community Change, the United Methodist Church, and the Union of Reform Judaism, among others-- kicks off its "Living Wage Days" this weekend.
Events will be held across the country, including in Quincy, Mass, where Kennedy, who vigorously led the fight to boost the federal minimum wage in 2005, will speak on the critical need for an increase. If you or your organization would like to take part in the nation-wide movement, click here to sign up and here for a resource guide.
The timing of this effort couldn't be more appropriate. While the states are pushing ahead on the minimum wage (and the New York Times and other media have just begun to notice!) the federal minimum wage has been at a standstill for more than eight years. If we don't see an increase by September, it will be the longest the country has ever gone without one.
As Dr. King would say, "Now is the time for all of us to move forward, not retreat, on the road toward a more just society. Now is our timewe cannot wait."
UPDATE: Maryland's Wal-Mart Law Is Official!
Yesterday, Maryland's legislature overturned Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich's veto and passed the Fair Share Health Care Act, a bill we've been following since last April. Thisbreakthrough law makes Maryland the first state in the nation to require that Wal-Mart devote a share of its payroll to health benefits for employees. "We don't want to kill this giant," Del. Anne Healy, the bill's lead sponsor in the House, told the Washington Post. "We want this giant to behave itself."
More than half of Wal-Mart's 1.3 million employees nationwide are forced to rely on Medicaid programs because they're not covered by the company's health insurance. But Maryland's precedent could have a major impact on the rest of the country, where similar acts are being introduced in 33 other states.
We wrote back in April of '05, "[W]ith continued pressure from activists and legislative action from the states, America's corporations could face a future in which social responsibility is no longer optional." Yesterday's news is a big step in this direction.
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Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.