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A Conservative for Justice

California’s Coming Minimum Wage Restoration

by RALPH NADER

If you haven’t yet heard of Ron Unz, you may soon. The conservative, successful software developer, theoretical physicist from Harvard and former publisher of theAmerican Conservative magazine is launching a California initiative that asks voters in November to raise the state minimum wage to $12 per hour (it is now $8 an hour and is going to $9 an hour by July, 2014).

In commencing this effort, Mr. Unz is uniting conservatives and liberals in supporting this initiative and is hopeful that Silicon Valley billionaires or megabillionaires will help fund this citizens’ campaign.

If this sounds quixotic, put that reaction on hold. Mr. Unz’s mind seethes with logic. He believes that a left-right coalition behind a higher minimum wage makes perfect sense. Conservatives, he argues in many an article, would see a decline in taxpayer assistance to low-income people – food stamps, housing aid, Medicaid, etc. – if employers, not taxpayers, paid workers about what labor was paid in 1968, adjusted for inflation. And liberals have always believed in this social safety net on the grounds that workers earned it and that nobody, with or without children, working full time should be living in poverty.

Next month, my new book elaborates on the power of emerging left-right coalitions on many issues (Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State).

My 2009 book Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! (a work of political fiction) showed in realistic detail what a few very wealthy, enlightened people could do to build a democratic society and persuade Congress and others to advance numerous overdue improvements for workers, taxpayers and consumers.

So Ron Unz is in the vanguard of a re-alignment of American politics (Unz.com). He is ready to collect the signatures to get the minimum wage initiative on the ballot and passed (the polls are very favorable) by asking Silicon Valley’s fabulous wealthy to put up a few million dollars.

Here is an excerpt presenting his case in a paid adjustment that was printed in the Daily Post newspaper this week.

“Enacting a $12 per hour minimum wage in California would transform our low-wage society and allow our state to once again lead the nation.

The California cost of living is far above the national average, which is why we have the highest rate of poverty in America—worse than Mississippi, Alabama, or West Virginia. That’s why a minimum wage of $12 per hour is very reasonable for our state.

Adjusted for living costs, a $12 minimum wage is California is about $9.25 at the federal level. That’s less than what President Obama has proposed and what conservative Bill O’Reilly of Fox News has endorsed. But a $12 minimum wage would lift millions of Californians out of poverty.

$15 Billion per Year. That’s how much working families would gain if the California minimum wage were raised to $12 per hour.

American taxpayers would also save billions of dollars each year once those low-wage workers no longer require Food Stamps and other anti-poverty assistance from the government.”

Then comes his appeal to the super-rich:

“Would you like to change the world? An investment of less than $2 million today would get our initiative on the November ballot. It would raise the annual incomes of low-wage California workers by $15 billion starting in 2016. $2 million for $15 billion. That’s a better ratio than was achieved by the early backers of Apple, Google, or Facebook.

California law requires the identities of all donors to be disclosed. So the people of this state – and of the whole nation – will know who helped to raise the wages of California workers by $15 billion per year. They will know who acted to lift millions of California workers out of poverty and to take them off Food Stamps and other government programs funded by the taxpayer. That person could be you.

There is more information at www.HigherWages.org or contact me at Ron@HigherWages.org.”

My guess is that he will soon attract some big donors. Ron Unz has won state-wide initiatives before when no one gave him a chance. He believes this one is another winner. California is poised to make history.

Unfortunately, progress on raising the minimum wage in Congress has stalled. U.S. Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D-NV) is having problems with some of his own Democrats (he has postponed the Senate vote on the $10.10 per hour minimum wage over three years) until next month.

Who do these Senators purport to represent on this basic issue of fairness for 30 million workers making less today than workers made in 1968, adjusted for inflation? They’re not representing these workers who clean up after them, produce and serve their food, take care of their ailing parents. They’re representing rich campaign contributors, the Walmarts, the McDonalds and the other big companies that employ two-thirds of hard-pressed low-income workers in this country.

With eighty percent of the American people, including a majority of Republicans, behind raising the minimum wage, it should not be too hard to move these Senators into the Yes column. Surround their Congressional offices with demonstrators from the thirty million Americans and their supporters. Flood them with e-mails, calls and letters demanding that they come back home for personal meetings with the voters to answer workers’ questions on the minimum wage.

These resisting or on-the-fence Senators are Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR), Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Senator Tom Carper (D-DE).

Just show up people, and you’ll see these fluttering politicians running for cover and supporting justice for the people.

For more information, visit timeforaraise.org.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.