There is a burgeoning labour movement in Ontario, and one key component of it is the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage. On February 15, hundreds of people attended the Rally for a $14 Minimum Wage at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto. This was just one rally among many held all around the province to demand a $14 minimum wage.
Anti-poverty and labour groups have been organizing this province-wide campaign for almost a year now. Although the Wynne government has promised to unfreeze the minimum wage, proposing to increase it by only 75 cents to $11 and tie it to inflation starting June 1, these measures fall short of the central demand for $14. A $14 minimum wage would put full-time minimum wage workers 10 per cent above the poverty line, whereas the proposed $11 still leaves them about 16 per cent below it.
The lively Toronto demonstration took to the streets to deliver a message that workers deserve a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. After marching down Yonge Street, the demonstrators took their message to the Eaton’s Centre – a centre of retail activity and a site where hundreds of low-wage workers earn their living. Protesters occupied the mall to chant, explain the campaign, and leaflet.
“We’re here to continue fighting for the working poor,” said Beixi Liu of the Workers’ Action Centre. “Eleven dollars is a good direction but is not enough,” said Liu. Tim Vining said: “People work and play by the rules and end up living in poverty.”
It is also important to note that certain groups are disproportionately affected by low wages. Hailey King pointed out that most of the people on minimum wage are women. Marcelle, who works in a factory, stated: “Most people of colour have less opportunity.” Nadia, currently unemployed, recalled working at Wendy’s a few years ago on minimum wage. “I used to cry and say to myself, what am I working for?” She also said she sometimes went hungry because she had to pay the bills and rent.
Liberals and NDP
As Andy Lomnicki, Vice-President of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto said: “We’re here to protest the minimum wage not going up to a level where it should. The Liberals have suggested that $11 is a good place to land, but I think a lot of people that are out here today are saying that that’s not anywhere near close enough.”
Sid Ryan, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, criticized Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath for not supporting the campaign to raise the minimum wage. “If we are the party of working people, why are we not speaking up to raise the minimum wage? That’s not acceptable.”
Good for business?
Horwath is not supporting the campaign out of concern for small businesses, though Liu argued that increasing the minimum wage to $14 would not only be good for individual workers, it would be good “for the economy, the community and business.” A $14 minimum wage would generate about $5 billion in economic stimulus. As Liu notes, when workers have more money, they spend it in local businesses.
The upbeat demonstration sent a clear message that union and non-union workers will continue to mobilize for decent work and fair wages. Next month, the Campaign will be mobilizing its members and supporters to join all those marching on International Women’s Day on March 8. One of the slogans for this year’s march is “$14 minimum wage now!” along with “Public services are women’s services!” and “GenSqueezed: We demand our future!”
To join the fight for a $14 minimum wage, contact the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage.