Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A referendum on the minimum wage

Unite has responded to the government's decision to raise the minimum wage by a miserly 50 cents an hour by requesting a citizens initiated referenda on the issue. The proposed wording is pretty clear for a CIR:

Should the minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour and then in steps over the next three years until it reaches two-thirds of the average ordinary time hourly rate as recommended by the 1973 Royal Commission into Social Security?
There's now a wait of several months while the Clerk of the House seeks submissions and approves the question before they can start collecting signatures.

The referendum has already attracted the support of the Alliance and the Maritime Union. Tane at the Standard is less keen, complaining (in essence) that the CTU wasn't asked about it and suggesting that without their backing it could fail, which is "the last thing the wider movement needs right now". To which I'd suggest that if the CTU doesn't back a basic campaign like this, then the wider union movement has far bigger problems than Unite's enthusiasm.

The referendum campaign is a good idea. It involves the public, and gives the left an opportunity to campaign to build a left-wing consensus on this issue. It applies public pressure to the government to keep them from going back down the radical free-market path (and brings out their inner nasty if they don't). And it sends a clear steer to Labour on what their policy should be and what we expect them to do when in government. It is essentially a challenge for Labour to rediscover itself in opposition and put its money where its mouth is on this issue. And if they don't rise to it, they're worthless.