Alderman Joe Moore and 34 of his colleagues on the Chicago City Council took a big step towards creating a middle class today by passing the big-box ordinance requiring the most profitable retail companies in the world to pay their workers a living wage.
It's important to remember the context: the federal government has dramatically shifted wealth to the wealthiest Americans and largely impoverished the rest of us, both by increasing the real tax burden on working people (counting state and local taxes, as well as tuition and fees that must rise due to a lack of federal resources to states and cities) and by ensuring wages do not rise by (a) making it harder to form unions and (b) not raising the minimum wage.
And don't forget some of the other big policies that make most of us poorer: eliminating trade barriers and outsourcing jobs to put massive downward pressure on wages. Why are manufacturing jobs disappearing? Because the federal government approved trade agreements where American manufacturers compete with workers who are paid less than a dollar per day.
That's why the Chicago City Council's move, backed by SEIU's vivid and muscular threat to challenge legislators who vote with big business instead of with workers, is so important.
The best retort I've heard to the argument that retailers will avoid Chicago because they just can't afford to buy health insurance for the workers is Eric Zorn's column in the Trib yesterday. Corporate America isn't afraid that their arguments about killing jobs will be proven right... they are petrified that the urban market with billions in purchasing power will lure retailers into the city anyway, and the retailers will pay a living wage, and they will still be enormously profitable!
Because then, the rest of the country will start following progressive cities like Chicago and raise the minimum wage.
Why not all of Cook County?
We should pass a county ordinance raising wages. That would be a boon for the Cook County economy, because you can't outsource retail! And the increase in income for Cook County workers will get spent in Cook County, not sucked up into the profits and distributed throughout the world to the shareholders.
Today makes me proud and happy to live in the Capital of Blue America where elected officials show that government raises our standard of living.