This past summer, I had an opportunity to be a camp counsellor at the annual Canadian Labour Congress Kids Kamp on the shores of Clear Lake. Every year, workers from throughout Manitoba send their children to the week-long camp to learn about the labour movement and its place in Canadian society. The camp has the unique feature of allowing the campers (workers) a negotiated contract with the counsellors (management) outlining bed times, snacks, recreation times, learning times, and a grievance procedure. Aside from orienteering, nature hikes, and canoeing, the campers are given lessons on labour history, equity and human rights, workplace safety and health, and a topic du jour. This year, given many of them will soon be entering the workforce, minimum wage was selected for discussion and study. To help the students better understand what it’s like to live on minimum wage, a few luxuries had to be introduced to the camp. The campers were treated to some technology and shown an episode of Morgan Spurlock’s television show, 30 Days. The premise of Spurlock’s series was to immerse a person in a world (within the U.S.) completely different from their own. For example, a Christian stays with a Muslim family or a straight man lives in a gay community, all for 30 days. Spurlock’s flagship episode put himself and his fiancée, Alexandra, in the world of minimum wage earners for 30 days. 30 days on minimum wage. Could you live on the US minimum wage of $5.15/hr? Spurlock and his fiancée discovered how difficult it was and fast. Scrimping by on a steady diet of beans and rice, the two held down jobs in the service sector and the temporary manual labour field. They lived in a run-down area of Columbus where ants were their roommates and crack dealers their neighbours. As owning a car was out of the question, public transportation and walking were the only modes of transport, while cabs ate heavily into the monthly budget. Compounding the problem was the reality of no medical insurance. The bills incurred would take months to pay off. All in all, the experience was no cake walk. The two concluded that it was untenable for anyone to live on minimum wage at its current level. His fiancée pleaded with viewers at the end that “America could do better” for its workers. The episode was an eye-opener for the campers. Being between 10-15 years of age, many of them realized that they will soon be joining the workforce, and as younger workers, they too would be filling minimum wage jobs. Granted, there are stark differences between working and living conditions in the U.S. and Canada. Unlike the U.S., Canada has universal health care, which would have alleviated the medical bills incurred by the two minimum wage guinea pigs. But there are other medical expenses that would still hit Canadian minimum wage earners pockets hard such as prescription drugs, eye care and dental care. Nevertheless, these students got it. They realized that even on Manitoba`s minimum wage of $9.50/hr (rising to $10/hr Oct. 1), workers were still falling behind and living well below the poverty line. If 10 to 15 years old get it, why don’t 40 to 50 year old politicians get it? Why is it some politicians who make $50/hr can dictate whether someone deserves $10/hr. Manitoba workers deserve not only a decent minimum wage, but also a living wage. Let’s do better for Manitoba workers and see that bar raised to 60% of the average wage. That would bring us to $11.80/hr. Let’s keep moving forward on minimum wage, because we can indeed do better. – Dave Sauer, President, Winnipeg Labour Council