Michigan’s Minimum Wage — a Victory for Labor?

A call to raise the minimum wage is happening all over the United States, a call Michigan just answered. The way Michigan went about implementing the raise is a different story, which may also shine light on how other states may implement their changes. Michigan’s Public Act 138 of 2014 to raise the minimum wage is not the victory for labor it claims to be. In fact, it’s more of a political expedient used as an attempt to sidestep a petition to raise the wage to $10.10. The act itself mainly does two things: First, it raises the minimum wage from $7.40 to $9.25 over the next four years. Second, by 2019, after the minimum wage reaches its target rate, the state treasurer is allowed to adjust the rate to “reflect the annual percentage change in the consumer price index”. As pointed out by the Mackinaw Center for Public Policy the act was passed for two main reasons: One, so that Republicans could combat higher voter turnout for the Democrats, and two, so that Governor Rick Snyder could secure votes from Democratic leaders for a bill that would put 1.5 billion dollars into repairing roads.

By passing this act, however, the state government has created a bit of mess. While proud of pushing the state government to increase the wage to its current rate, the Raise Michigan Coalition feels that 300,000 voices won’t be heard. This is due to the fact that the petition to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 takes issue with the old wage law. Since the new law is in effect, the petition may become a moot point, as groups such as the Michigan Restaurant Association argue, and will not become an issue to vote on in the November elections. If the petition is moot, then 300,000+ people may feel as if they have been ignored by their government. If the petition isn’t moot and makes the ballot, then democracy has spoken, and victory may be that much closer – right?

Well, this whole issue does not really improve the lot for labor. In the words the Industrial Workers of the World, labor law “is set up by the bosses and their government and courts system to keep you and me, the working stiffs, from coming together and fighting for our piece of the pie, for fear that we’ll want, and some day be able to take, the whole thing.” By pushing for reform, we are not helping labor, but giving the employer class what they want. With higher wages comes the push to automate jobs faster than people who can secure a living without having to be employed. Those who do not lose their jobs to automation will then have to deal with an even bigger workload due to a smaller workforce. As J. Edward Carp points out

Raising the minimum wage is a short term solution that creates more problems than it solves. Doing so only hastens the replacement of workers with machines, and without addressing the basic structure of state capitalism, with its socialization of costs and policy of ensuring that gains in productivity accrue to owners, not to workers, such a development would be disastrous.

By trying to be expedient, those laborers who are supporting the push for a higher minimum wage are accidentally making a bad situation worse.

Capitalizing on this issue though are the politicians in the state government. Both parties can now say they supported (or smear those who supported) the new law as “trying to bring recovery to Michigan” and being a friend to the people. If they were really our friends, then they would get out of our way instead piling on hundreds of regulation and licensing laws which keep us at the bottom and allow corporations to do business without threat of competition. Instead of falling prey to political pandering, we should focus on dismantling the state which keeps us from improving our lot, and create a market freed from both state and corporate rule.

This isn’t to say that I don’t understand why certain laborers would push for a higher minimum wage. Many people in minimum wage jobs are trying to support themselves and their families while also having to pay off student loans, car loans, etc. and did not ask to be put in this system in first place. However, pushing for reform is not the way to relieve the people of Michigan. Instead, let’s show every politician and boss that we don’t need them; we can find prosperity on our own.

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