Thousand across US join ‘Strike for Black Lives’

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McDonald’s fast food workers marching in Chicago during the ‘Strike for Black Lives’

Tens of thousands of US workers walked out of their jobs on Monday in solidarity with Black Lives Matter movement and other minority groups suffering racism.

Workers and youth from a broad range of industries including fast food workers, home health aides and janitors walked off their jobs in a call to end ‘systemic racism’.

The industrial action was called ‘Strike for Black Lives.’

The strikers also demanded corporations raise wages and provide healthcare and paid sick leave.

The industrial action particularly targeted large businesses such as Amazon, Uber, Lyft, and McDonald’s, among others.

The day of strikes and protests was organised by 60 different labour unions and racial and social justice organisations, from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, SEIU, UNITE HERE trade unions to the Movement for Black Lives to the US Youth Climate Strike Coalition.

‘All over the United States, farmworkers, nurses’ aides, hotel housekeepers, Uber, delivery, truck and bus drivers, airport cabin cleaners, Amazon warehouse workers, Walmart associates, and more walked off the job to demand an end to police violence against Black people and call on companies to move beyond tweeting that Black Lives Matter and take real action to improve Black lives,’ organisers said in a press release.

The ‘Strike for Black Lives’ website stated:

This is a moment to transform our economy and democracy but until we dismantle racism and white supremacy, we cannot win economic, climate or immigration justice. On July 20, workers demand:

1 To win higher wages, better jobs, and Unions for All, we must ensure that Black workers can build economic power. To win Healthcare for All, we must address disparities in accessibility and quality of care. Action on climate change must centre on communities of colour. Immigrant communities stand in solidarity with Black workers to build power together. Education, housing, and criminal justice reform must start by listening to Black workers and leaders. We will support and align with Black-led organisations and their demands.

2 to begin to rewrite the rules and reimagine our economy and democracy so that Black communities can thrive. They must ensure fair and safe voting in-person and by mail so everyone can fully participate in our democracy. As we continue to address the Covid-19 pandemic, we must protect the health and safety of all workers, returning people to work and into public spaces with a rational, safe, well-managed plan designed with workers and community stakeholders.

3 This includes corporations raising wages, allowing workers to form unions, providing healthcare, sick leave and expanded healthcare coverage to people who are uninsured or have lost coverage as the result of losing their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic, child care support and more, to disrupt the multigenerational cycle of poverty created by their anti-worker attacks. Workers must have ample personal protective equipment (PPE) and have a voice in the plan to create safe workplaces during and after the pandemic.

4 Every worker in America must have the freedom that comes from economic security and equity in opportunity. We demand the immediate implementation of a $15/hour minimum wage, fully-funded healthcare coverage and paid sick leave for all.

US media reported that people in over 200 cities participated in the strike. In New York, a large number of people marched outside the Trump International Hotel to demand the adoption of the HEROES Act, legislation that would provide financial aid to households struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Democrat-majority House of Representatives passed the bill in May but has since been blocked by the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.

Nurses, doormen and cleaners also joined the demonstration in New York in sweltering heat.

‘We are the ones who have kept the economy going and have kept everybody safe and in NY specially have kept the numbers down. We should be respected and compensated for that,’ said 42-year-old doorman Jordan Weiss.

Demonstrations were also held in several US cities

Organisers encouraged workers unable to participate for the full day to take a knee, hold a moment of silence or walk off their jobs at noon local time for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in memory of George Floyd and other victims of police violence.

In New York City, essential workers marched in the blazing sun and 100 Teamsters Local 808 building service workers took a knee in honour of Floyd.

In Washington, D.C., workers holding signs spelling out ‘the heroes’ gathered outside the Capitol in support of the HEROES Act, the proposed coronavirus relief package.

In Chicago, fast food workers marched to a local McDonald’s where several workers had tested positive for the virus.

Fast food workers in Florida walked off the job

In Durham, North Carolina, crowds observed a moment of silence before breaking into chants calling for $15 an hour. They also painted ‘Strike For Black Lives’ in block letters on the street.

In Detroit, workers at five nursing homes participated in a walkout to protest over low wages and poor working conditions, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

In San Francisco, 1,500 janitors walked off the job

A number of Democratic politicians joined in, expressing support in person and through written statements.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke to crowds outside Trump International Hotel in New York, where he pledged to fight for racial and economic equality and passage of the HEROES Act.

Sen. Ed Markey, Rep. Joseph Kennedy III and State Rep. Liz Miranda all spoke at a demonstration outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston.

Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren also tweeted statements of solidarity.

Harris wrote: ‘Racial inequity touches every aspect of life – from economic justice to environmental justice. Dismantling the very systems that lead to these injustices won’t be easy, but it is possible.’

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union – which represents nearly 2 million members in the public sector, health care and property services – told Here and Now radio programme that essential workers were inspired by the movement for black lives in response to Floyd’s death, and sought to unite the fights for racial and economic justice.

She said they want corporations not just to say they value black lives, but to show it, such as by paying employees living wages and making sure essential workers have all of the protective equipment they need to safely do their jobs during a pandemic.

Henry cited reports she has heard from SEIU members, positioned on the front lines against the virus, about unsafe working conditions.

She said: ‘Nursing home workers are still struggling to get personal protective equipment. Fast food workers are being told to wear doggie diapers instead of being provided masks by their employers when infections occur.’

Many of Monday’s demonstrations took place outside of McDonald’s outlets. Young workers at a number of locations have accused the company of lacking proper safety precautions, and three black employees in Florida recently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the chain, alleging racial discrimination.

Angely Rodriguez Lambert, an Oakland McDonald’s worker and a leader in the Fight for $15 campaign and a Union, told reporters: ‘We’re going on strike because McDonald’s and other fast-food companies have failed to protect us in a pandemic that has ravaged Black and brown communities across the country.

‘We’re going to keep joining together and speaking out until McDonald’s and other companies respond with actions that show they really value our lives.’

Mounting evidence shows the coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately affecting Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans.

SEIU leader Henry stressed that the dangers posed by the public health crisis have highlighted the need for a unified fight for racial and economic change, which Monday’s widespread demonstrations represent.

She said: ‘I think it’s a historic moment, a new level of intersection between our fights.

‘The labour movement is owning that until Black communities can thrive, none of us can thrive.’