After intense negotiations with labor unions, Bolivian President Evo Morales has agreed to raise the country’s minimum wage by a full 20 percent. Effective immediately, the raise will also be accompanied by a 10 percent increase of the basic salary in Bolivia, raising it from 1,200 bolivianos to 1,488 bolivianos throughout the year.
The announcement by Morales is an important development in a country recovering from the legacy of U.S. imperialism. Morales, leader of the Movimiento al Socialismo party, was elected President in 2006 and quickly nationalized the country’s oil and gas reserves, expelling foreign companies. Bolivia’s Gross Domestic Product has tripled to over $27 billion, and open collaboration with democratic structures such as the country’s strong labor unions has been instrumental in redistributing the wealth throughout Bolivian society.
“There has been economic growth, and that’s why we have decided to raise the minimum salary by 20 percent,” said President Morales in his announcement last week.
The raising of the minimum wage in Bolivia is exemplary of the progress that strong people’s movements and progressive governments are making towards reducing poverty in other “developing” countries in the region such as Venezuela and Cuba. Though the logic seems clear—that if more money is being made, that wages and the standard of living should rise—it is a stark irony that in “developed” countries with vastly more resources than Bolivia, that as profits rise, wages actually fall and inequality increases.
In the United States where the GDP reached a whopping $15.68 trillion in 2012, income inequality has reached an all-time high. While corporate CEOS make tens of thousands of dollars an hour, their lowest paid workers make a paltry $7.25. This is an impossible sum to live off of, forcing workers to work two, even three jobs to cover the costs of daily living, let alone housing, healthcare and education.
This increasing polarization of wealth has united workers and communities across the country in fighting for a living wage. Fast food workers in particular have united in the demand for “$15 and a union,” which has gained considerable traction in recent months. A recent concession by the Obama administration raising the minimum hourly wage for Federal Contractors to $10.10 is an important gain, but falls far short of what can be considered a living wage by today’s standards, and moreover does not apply to the majority of workers.
The victory by workers in Bolivia should be an inspiration for working people in the United States. In a country with vastly more resources, our political forces remain tied to the banks and corporations who continue to drive poverty by hoarding the wealth of society. A $15 minimum wage would drastically raise the living standards for millions in this country and would be an important step towards reducing poverty. All progressive and working people should support the movement building towards a $15 minimum wage. Together we are stronger!