Richard Carlbom helped organize the successful campaign to legalize gay marriage in Minnesota (first weddings happen Thursday—but don't check the Target registry!). He may turn his attention to efforts to raise the minimum wage. If he does, he has a messaging strategy that South Dakotans pressing a minimum-wage ballot measure may want to keep in mind:
Other issues can capture the imaginations of people. Take minimum wage. We can talk about that in a different way. I see us now talking about minimum wage as the workers versus big business. I don’t think that will ultimately win.
What we need to say is that minimum wage is about making sure people don’t live in poverty. Poverty is a serious problem, not just in the Twin Cities but throughout the state of Minnesota. I’m convinced that [if] we connect with people in a meaningful way about the impact of poverty in society, and the fact that the minimum wage is a surefire way of lifting people out of poverty and into new opportunities, we can capture the imaginations of people. This is about treating people with dignity, and making sure they themselves have an opportunity to determine their future, rather than struggling day by day to put potatoes and bread on the table.
We can move this from partisanship and class warfare into a deeper conversation. What do we want our communities to be about? Do we want our communities to be about people who pay rent and put food on the table? Or do we want our communities’ single-greatest effort each week to be making sure that we fill the food bank on Sundays? [Richard Carlbom, quoted in Lori Sturdevant, "Minnesota Sees the Outcome of a Grass-Roots Effort," Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2013.07.27]
Big business is exploiting workers. That exploitation may be worse in this generation: now that we've adopted the two-income family as the norm, employers can excuse low wages for their workers by assuming those workers' spouses can land the jobs that provide living wages.
But Carlbom doesn't want us to waste time portraying anyone as the enemy. Carlbom says the best way to sell the minimum wage (not that it needs much selling, according to the Hart Research poll we discussed earlier this morning) is to speak in terms of treating every person with dignity.
Carlbom may be harkening to the living-wage argument I've been formulating with respect to work and pay. A minimum wage says that no matter who you are, no matter how much education you have, no matter what work you do, if you surrender your time and liberty to an employer for half of your waking hours, you deserve pay that will meet your basic needs. A minimum wage says your labor, your liberty, and your life have value and that none of us should get our cheeseburgers and clean toilets and crisp white motel sheets without paying for that value.
Raising South Dakota's minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 doesn't get anyone but single workers with no family above the basic living wage hump. (Huffington Post and Wider Opportunities for Women contend I'm being generous; their data say that even a single worker needs $10.20 an hour to make ends meet in Hanson County, the cheapest county in the USA). But it's a step toward recognizing the basic dignity of all workers who show up to do what someone else tells them to do.