How to Help Fast-Food Workers

By:  Sheldon Richman
08/06/2013
       
How to Help Fast-Food Workers

Doubling the minimum wage may seem like a good way to help fast-food workers, but it would hurt them instead.

So what should we do? We must sweep away the government-created barriers to income earning, barriers that protect established businesses from competition and rob the most vulnerable people of options.

Last week, fast-food workers engaged in 24-hour strikes throughout America to bring attention to their struggle to make ends meet. They have been demanding an increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour and the right to organize unions.

The low minimum wage, however, is not the cause of their problems; it’s a sign of deeper factors holding them back. In fact, the minimum wage distracts us from the radical changes we must make if low-income workers are to advance. Those who fixate on the minimum wage unwittingly do struggling workers a disservice.

What workers need is greater bargaining power, and that comes primarily from having options. Unfortunately, the corporate state, which people mistake for the free market, closes off options. Anything less than removal of these obstacles is a cruel hoax on those seeking better lives.

What’s wrong with simply doubling the minimum wage? The answer is that wages are not arbitrarily set. Even in a corporatist economy, they result from supply and demand. This can be seen in an extreme hypothetical example, in which the minimum wage in the fast-food industry is raised to $100 an hour. What would happen to employment? It’s easy to see that it would plummet as the industry itself faded away. Why? Because, given the price of fast food, workers can’t possibly produce $100 worth of value for their employers in an hour.

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