FAST food workers in 15 cities across America came out on strike on Tuesday demanding a nationwide $15 minimum wage, union recognition rights and better protection from the coronavirus pandemic that has devastated the US, with low paid workers bearing the brunt of infections and deaths.
For eight years, low paid workers in the fast food industry have been campaigning for an increase of the federally set minimum wage of $7.25 an hour in a struggle that has been joined by other workers in low pay jobs.
Workers at McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s, joined by home care and nursing home workers, came out on strikes called as the new administration of president Biden attempts to push through his centrepiece $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package which is set to include the increase in the minimum wage to $15.
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) this increase would raise the wages of 27 million US workers and lift nearly one million out of absolute poverty.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union which helped organise the Fight for $15 campaign, said the increase would be ‘a huge step forward in deciding to end poverty work in America. The impact Covid-19 has had on working people has made it crystal clear that our economy is broken for the millions of people who can’t afford to provide for their families.’
During his presidential campaign, Biden pledged his support for this increase but has since expressed doubts that that it would survive inclusion in his relief package, given the opposition of not just Republicans but from amongst the ranks of the Democrats.
Biden, with a small majority in both houses of the US government, is more concerned with reaching deals with Republicans and Democrats – who are all insisting that any increase during the pandemic would hurt businesses at a time when they are facing declining profits due to coronavirus.
Even the ‘left’ democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who has been at the forefront of demanding an increase in the minimum wage, has fallen in line with this position. Sanders has proposed a separate stand-alone bill that would raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2025, saying: ‘It was never my intention to increase the minimum wage to $15 immediately and during the pandemic.’
On Tuesday, Sanders tweeted his support for the strike, writing: ‘I stand in strong solidarity with fast food workers all over this country who are going on strike today to demand $15 an hour and a union. The Senate must raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour with 51 votes this year. We have got to end this crisis of starvation wages in America.’
Despite these fine words it is clear that Sanders and Biden are sacrificing any immediate increase in the minimum wage by putting it off until 2025 in order to get approval of the $1.9 trillion relief fund to bail out collapsing US capitalism.
Ending starvation wages is clearly secondary to the profits of the bosses.
Since it began with a single strike by fast food workers in 2012, the fight for $15 an hour has become a mass movement both in the US and across the world. It has forged links with others like the Black Lives Matter movement and has won the overwhelming support of US workers.
With millions of American workers losing their jobs and facing poverty, they will not be prepared to accept the promise of a wage increase in five years’ time but will be demanding an immediate increase.
What is clear is that Biden and the Democrats are offering no solution to the misery and impoverishment of the millions of US workers being driven into the gutter by a US capitalist system in the grip of the deepest economic crisis in its history.
Workers must demand that the trade unions break with the Democrats and establish a Labour Party, with a section of the International Committee of the Fourth International playing the decisive role in it. This will abolish poverty by leading the powerful US working class in the struggle to overthrow capitalism, expropriate the bosses and bankers and go forward to the Socialist United States of America.
This is the struggle that the US workers have begun.