The Government recently announced a 50 cent increase in the minimum wage to be payable from 1 April, bringing it up to $15.25 per hour. This new rate will see someone working a 40-hour week getting a pre-tax weekly wage of $610, although it should be noted many thousands of minimum wage workers are part-time, and work fewer than 40 hours per week.
Often such an increase is met with the complaints of a loss of jobs, but before our bosses start pleading poverty even the Government seems unconcerned by this and confidently declared that the 3.4 % increase will not “hinder job growth.” Indeed, economists are increasingly of the opinion that gentle rises in minimum wages are at worst neutral and at best actually creates jobs. When low-income people got a pay increase they tend to spend it in their communities and help the local economy.

While any increase in the wages of workers is always to be welcomed a minimum wage is not the same as a living wage, and those behind the Living Wage Movement maintain that even this rise still sees the minimum wage well below what people actually need to live a full life.
The living wage is seen as not just meeting subsistence needs, or a basic cost of living, but also takes into account larger social and cultural needs, such as having money to spend time with family, time for enjoyment, time for education and self-improvement, and enabling a more dignified existence. The Living Wage Movement calculates that the rate for a worker to be able to participate as an
active citizen in the community, and not just survive, should be a minimum of $19.80 per hour. This movement has had some success at getting its voice heard and, there are now nearly 50 fully-accredited living wage employers in New Zealand, up from 27 last year.
Tales of workers struggling for, and getting, higher wages if they can, is always a good thing, but is it enough? The Living Wage Movement will improve the living conditions of some workers; and any struggle is good for developing confidence in the workers’ own sense of ability to change the world in which they live. Real and achievable struggles like this are more valuable than abstract plans and theorizing, even defeats can be used to teach valuable lessons, such as the importance of solidarity and unity, and demonstrating the common interests of the working class against the exploiting class.
Admittedly wage battles, like all immediate struggles, are limited, but, at the end of the day, a working class that is not able to take the basic step of fighting for an increased wage will be unlikely to manage to organise and fight to completely change society, which has to be our ultimate aim, as all victories under the existing capitalist system are partial. Rising prices, cyclical periods of rising unemployment, and attacks on working hours and conditions will continually erode better wages that have been won through struggle.
A fight for a living wage may be a step in the right direction, but has to be linked with the knowledge that better wages are not enough since wages are always less than the value of what the worker produces, with the surplus value being claimed by the employers. A better-paid wage slave is still a wage slave; and higher wages do not remove this exploitation and the resulting inequalities. If we want to end the permanent fight for better wages we need more than redistributing income from the employer to the worker, we need to see the establishment of a society that would not be divided into employer and worker.
No amount of reform will eliminate the irreconcilable clash of interest between the capitalist and the working class. The wages system cannot be made fairer. So while supporting workers’ struggles for better pay, we also say that instead of just asking for a fair day’s wage we need to demand the abolition of the wages system, and ultimately widen the struggle to take the means of production into common ownership and under the democratic control of the whole people.