Sunday, August 05, 2007


Last Wednesday I attended a meeting with three low-paid US workers.

Extraordinarily low wages and the pressure to work two or three jobs just to try to pay the bills is the stark reality of the US Industrial system - and low paid American workers are warning Australia not to follow the downward spiral.

Iris Flores (centre, right, talking to cleaners in Adelaide) is a 36 year old full time bus driver from North Charleston, South Carolina who earns US$11 an hour and also works part time as a cleaner for US$8 an hour to make ends meet. Iris has three children & lives in a trailer home. She has no paid annual leave, no paid sick leave and cannot afford health insurance. She saved all last year to buy a car but had to use the money for a minor medical procedure. Her daughter works for $2.50 am hour as a waiter and is dependent on tips to make up her wage.

Allen White is 41 and works full time as a day porter/cleaner for a building complex in Charleston, South Carolina for US$9 an hour. After tax and pension contributions, he takes home just US$220 a week, has no paid sick leave and despite being at the same firm for ten years, has only five days paid annual leave. He lives with his mother and teenage daughter. His mother works night shift and the daughter is still at school.

Dolores McCoy is a 74 year old cleaner from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who benefits from a union agreement that covers her workplace. She cleans 21 floors of an office five nights a week and earns US$13 an hour, has 4 weeks paid annual leave, ten days sick leave, health insurance and a pension fund. A couple of years ago, her job became non-union following a change in contractors and she and her fellow workers lost their conditions and wage rates. They had to fight for 18 months to get the job to be union again.

Australian workers at the meeting were staggered to hear that the US minimum wage was only $5.85 an hour, and that it had only been raised once in the last ten years - by 75 cents!

The evening before the meeting I attended, the three US workers met activists from the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union who are waging a campaign for a "Clean Start" in the cleaning industry.

This exchange of international working class experience will do much to encourage all involved to make long term commitments to being activitists for the working class.

The Youtube link below is a short documentary on the three visiting US workers.

Cleaner activists in the LHMU campaign for a fair deal for cleaners.

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