Apr 29, 2013
In Chicago, retail and fast-food workers protested their low wage situation on April 24th. Carrying signs that read “Fight for 15” in bold print, and chanting, “We can’t survive on $8.25,” workers gathered at 5:30 that Wednesday morning in downtown Chicago in front of McDonald’s and spent the day demonstrating and marching to tell their story. At least a few hundred workers actually walked off their jobs to protest. They were joined by hundreds more in a well-planned demonstration of between 500 and 1,000 protesters. This demonstration against McDonald’s, Subway, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Sears and others – almost 30 workplaces – gained the attention of the national news media and brought attention to the plight of service sector workers across the nation.
This protest followed on the heels of a similar demonstration in New York City a month ago and the Walmart employee actions of November of last year. It was organized by unions and community groups: SEIU, a community organization called Action Now and a newly organized union, Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC). It was supported by the Chicago Teachers Union. The unions clearly view the growth of the part-time workforce by three million jobs since 2007 as an opportunity for organizing.
While the U.S. economy is supposedly in a recovery, the politicians fail to mention that the job loss of the recession period took out jobs paying $14 to $21 per hour. The recovery added jobs that in their majority (58 percent) pay $12 or less per hour.
According to MIT Living Wage Project, a single parent with one child in Chicago needs to earn $21 an hour to have a living wage and needs an average of 26 to 30 hours of work. The Chicago demonstrators, by comparison, may earn $7.25, $7.50, $8.25 or $8.60. After working for years at a company like McDonald’s, a worker may have to work other part time jobs as well, and collect food stamps to be able to survive. One demonstrator spoke out to say that her wages weren’t even enough to take advantage of her McDonald’s health care plan!
No health care, no savings plans or pensions, coping with a constant reduction of hours, many workers end up working two or three jobs. To make it worse, some are burdened with student loan debt of $20,000 to $40,000.
It took a lot of courage for those who actually walked off their jobs to protest to do so. That is a spirit that can inspire others to fight for their rights while turning the spotlight on their greedy employers. When workers are encouraged by their struggles, they can also move outside of the confined policies that current union leaderships may propose. Instead of depending on the National Labor Relations Board for protection against firings, which is risky at best, workers can mobilize their own forces in such a way as to protect each other. And instead of making a limited fight for $15, they can fight for wages beyond the limited concession contracts that unions are proposing.
Why not fight for more? Every worker deserves a living wage no matter what service they provide. When the working class fights back against the concessions, the fight of the service sector should be a part of that equation and not a special category at a lower wage.
As some of the demonstrators noted, there is more than enough money in the coffers of the wealthy of the Magnificent Mile and the Gold Coast alone to pay them a livable wage.