Since The Point News sucks, and didn’t publish my piece, I’m publishing my opinion piece here. It was geared toward an audience at St. Mary’s College but that ain’t happening. It is as follows:
The recent struggle of students and staff on St. Mary’s Campus for a living wage, and caps on executive pay, has broader connotations than one might think. This plan, formally called the St. Mary’s Wages proposal, is deeply rooted in the thoughts of an ancient Greek thinker, Aristotle.
One of Aristotle’s main thoughts in his book, Politics, was that there should be moderation in everything. As Abiola Akanni pointed out in a September 21st op-ed in The Point News, the plan for more equitable wages is very moderate: “…I’m not suggesting that in embracing just wage policies, we would reverse the nationwide story of the dissolving middle class. What I am suggesting, is that in embracing just wage policies we would be putting our money where our mouths are… the St. Mary’s Wages proposal…would set all wages on campus relative to a living wage…Adopting this proposal would guarantee a living wage to all college employees…that wouldn’t deteriorate or disappear even with inflation over time.” This proposal dramatically improves the wagescape, setting up a tiered system that makes sure workers get a living wage, or the minimum amount of money needed to meet basic needs.
Still, there is something even deeper. The two ancient thinkers, Plato and Aristotle, agreed that the community and state have a higher value than the individual. The wage justice proposal does the same by valuing the needs of the campus workers above those of school administration, who have been getting pay raises while everyone else has been suffering. Simply put, this proposal pushes the betterment of the St. Mary’s community, rather than the wants of the individual. On a broader societal level, this struggle is being fought in the hallways and patios of universities, outside of fast food establishments and inside department stores, as workers fight for wage justice and a living wage that will improve their well-being.
Some people may reject this argument pointing out the views of Plato or Aristotle they consider detestable or unwise. This is not the place to talk about how Aristotle strangely and horrifying thought that some were natural slaves, or how Plato thought that that some are born superior to others and that the populace was ignorant. That is a debate one can have in the social justice clubs on campus or in one of my favorite classes, Democratic Political Thought which is taught by Professor Boros. Some, like a commenter on The Point News website, say that the raise proposed under the plan is not enough, which an understandable position and those with similar views should help fine tune the proposal. There are others like the President of the St. Mary’s faculty senate, Alan Dillingham, who told the Baltimore Sun that “you can get a [university] president for probably $150,000, but that might not be the kind of person you want.” A similar point was made at presidential selection search forum on October 4th by a woman in the audience. This point, while seemingly valid is a strange one because under the plan itself, as noted on the official website (stmaryswages.org), the college President would receive $299,760 every year, $25,740 less than they currently make. There are other technical arguments against this proposal as well. Even, Dillingham, who used technical arguments against the proposal, as noted in an article on SoMDNews, said that “these kinds of initiatives are not uncommon at all…these are driven by equity concerns by someone’s sense of fairness…There’s been no real rhyme or reason to the compensation increases given in the last four years,” and said that some framework needs to be put in place for pay increases and salaries.
As this plan affects the whole community, any concerns or suggestions can be incorporated into the final proposal. Let me clear: it is great to have a discussion on the St. Mary’s Wages proposal on campus, as all views on this issue will help build a more constructive plan that will consider the views of the stakeholders of this community: the students, the staff, the faculty and others. To be clear, the wage injustice on campus makes Plato’s idea in Book V of The Republic very applicable: when one is hurt, all feel the pain since all pain and suffering is interconnected. This mirrors what Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in a Letter From Birmingham Jail in 1963: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” In the end, the St. Mary’s Wages proposal will take one step to address the injustice in our backyard: St. Mary’s College.