by Jennifer A. O’Keeffe
“Servants, labourers and workmen of different kinds, make up the far greater part of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconvenience to the whole. No society can surely be ﬂourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged.”
— Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, I .viii.36
The quote from Adam Smith is of great note, as Adam Smith is frequently used by conservative politicians and economic ‘experts’ who claim laissez-faire economics to be the ideal and to counter any social-economic measures or initiatives by governments that may affect the economy. Of course, as evidenced by Adam Smith’s statement, laissez-faire is but a facile interpretation of Mr. Smith’s theories, ill-defined and misunderstood – often deliberately – by those who seek unfettered profit without thought to the economic well-being of all, without thought to the common weal. The current situation facing the average worker in Vancouver is an apt example of the failure of an economic philosophy that neglects the essence of Adam Smith’s thought – economic equity – in favour of prosperity for a very few, while the majority labour in poverty.
For those who earn the present minimum wage of $10.25 an hour while living in North America’s most expensive city, life is an endless struggle: the affordable housing crisis – exacerbated by an artificially-inflated real estate market and a city council that gives first consideration to its financial supporters – developers and corporate interests – has resulted in not only an unrealistic rental environment, but in an untenable living situation. Due to the unnaturally high rents, the costs of everything are elevated, as both individuals and businesses seek to maximize profit, causing additional stress upon the lowest-paid workers who increasingly find themselves marginalized and disenfranchised from the comforts enjoyed by those fortunate enough to earn a proper ‘living wage’.
The actual ‘living wage’ in Metro Vancouver is estimated to be in excess of $20.00 per hour, thus the current minimum wage as legislated by our provincial government, is about half the needed amount. This means, naturally, that workers receiving the ‘minimum wage’ are lacking nearly half the income necessary for their survival – clearly not the ‘equity’ Adam Smith referred to – with the consequence that many, many of Vancouver’s lowest paid workers must find second, or even third, jobs, simply to pay the bills and survive to continue working in our over-priced city. Obviously, this disparity is not merely unacceptable, but untenable: more and more workers, families, skilled trades- people, professionals et al are being forced to relocate to other regions, other municipalities as life in Vancouver is prohibitively expensive – people can no longer afford to live here or pay the unrealistic rents, if they are able to find a place to rent, if they don’t find themselves victims of price-gouging landlords’ or ‘renovictions’.
It is for this reason that COPE has stated our intent to raise the minimum wage – by amendment to the city charter – firstly, to $15.00 per hour, with the goal being a minimum wage that is a ‘living wage’, beginning with city workers, larger corporations, et al. If Seattle’s workers can do it, then Vancouver’s workers can do it too and COPE is determined to help the working people of Vancouver achieve this goal by assuming a leadership role in the push for a proper ‘living wage’ for the people of this city.
After all, as Adam Smith observed over two centuries ago: “ No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” Please join with COPE in moving forward with our plans to instigate a proper ‘living wage’ for the average working person now struggling just to survive in the economically hostile environment of Vancouver.
As was noted in a recent Vancouver Sun article, nearly 60% of Vancouver’s wealth is controlled by only 3% of its population! It is long past time to end this disparity and furnish the working people of Vancouver with the economic means to more than mere survival. It is time for the working people of Vancouver to be paid a proper living wage for their labour. While business interests may protest, we must bear in mind Adam Smith’s summation of such argument: “ But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconvenience to the whole.”
Please, come join COPE in our fight for a fair, equitable society and a fair, equitable, living wage.