There is no question about the origin of minimum-wage legislation. It came from trade unions. Trade unions did not want to face competition from workers who were not members of a union. They wanted to make it illegal for businessman to take advantage of offers to work for less than what the trade union members were able to extract from employers, based on their monopolistic position in the industry. The federal government, through the Wagner Act of 1933, had made it illegal for businesses to offer low-wage jobs, if half of the employees, plus one, voted to unionize the business.
What was happening, union leaders understood, was that blacks were in a position to break the stranglehold of the unions in some industries, because they could go to employers and use their competitive edge: a willingness to work for less money per hour. The way to stop this, the union leaders understood, was to make it illegal for any employer to hire anyone at a wage below the mandated minimum wage. This would stop competition against trade unions.
From a political standpoint, it was incumbent on the trade unions to keep the voters, and also keep Congressmen, from recognizing that minimum-wage laws are discriminatory against groups that already suffer from discrimination. It was seen as politically incorrect in the late 1960’s to discriminate against blacks, but this was what minimum-wage laws did from the beginning. So, it was imperative that this line of reasoning be kept away from students in colleges and universities. This was why Williams’ argument was devastating. Students and teachers could not refute it. It made them feel guilty, because they were pushing for legislation that imposed additional burdens on members of racial minorities who were already suffering from discrimination. The laws took away the victims’ most effective tool for getting employed, and therefore getting an opportunity to prove their worth to their employers and also to coworkers.