The best arguments for a living wage are its opponents

The fundamental difference between the left and the right is that the left think people are more important than money.

That statement usually raises the hackles of nice moderate rightwingers, but I’m sorry, guys: I can only go on what your side keep saying. Even though overseas even Tories like Boris Johnson have seen the benefits of a living wage, this is what mainstays of the Kiwi right wing keep putting out:

Wellington Chamber of Commerce is calling on the Wellington City Council to drop its flawed Living Wage proposal after its own legal advice said the changes would not be within the law…

“The Chamber has said from the start that the council’s pursuit of the Living Wage is an ideologically driven decision. The council has a duty to ratepayers to deliver services in a way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses. This is their clear legal obligation under the Local Government Act.

“Delivering services in the most cost-effective way” is one of those statements that sounds really reasonable and pragmatic and ~fiscally responsible~, until you realise that a perfectly logical end point of this is paying people minimum wage to do vitally important work and engineering society to deny them the power to organise and demand better work conditions. Until you realise that people deliver the services. Not robots.

How about this line from Wellington City Council chief executive Ken Lavery:

[The Council] flew in the face of warnings from its own officers and chief executive Kevin Lavery that it would effectively be paying 19 per cent more than the going rate for guarding, noise control and cash collection services over the seven-year life of the security contract without seeing any extra benefit.

People don’t have “a going rate”, Kevin. People need to eat, and pay the rent, and when they’re doing critical jobs like keeping our city running I’m entirely happy to take a miniscule rates increase to cover it.

The living wage doesn’t provide some extravagant “I want a pony” lifestyle. It’s as simple as this:

… councillors also heard from Wellington security guard Tipo Panapa, who said earning the minimum wage made him feel undervalued for the difficult work he does.

His dream was simply to earn enough money to take his paraplegic father to Lyall Bay for fish and chips on the beach once a week, he said.

The benefits are obvious and demonstrated. When people have enough to take their dad for fish and chips once a week, they’re happier. They’re more engaged with their work because they know their employer cares about them as people, not as “a going rate”. Less turnover, lower recruitment costs, more experienced people doing the work of guarding our city and cracking down on those damn noisy teens across the road. More money going into local businesses – like the fish and chip shop which I’m pretty sure would be delighted to get more regulars.

The arguments against the living wage, time and time again, boil down to “over the last thirty years we’ve worked damn hard to make sure people’s income hasn’t kept up with productivity or the cost of living, and that’s a feature, not a bug.”

And when that is the argument against, why wouldn’t you be in favour?

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