WORKERS in more than 230 cities in the US walked out to join mass protests against poverty level pay last Wednesday in what is undoubtedly the largest movement of workers and youth in modern US history.
According to the organisers over 60,000 took part in the campaign organised around the demand for a $15 an hour minimum for all low paid jobs – double the amount of the current federal pay minimum of $7.25.
Mary Kay Henry, international president of the SUIU union said of the campaign – ‘It’s raised wages for 8 million workers.’
In fact the campaign has gained an unstoppable momentum since its beginnings two years ago when 200 fast food workers in New York came out on a one day strike.
Since then the movement has mushroomed and spread far beyond the burger and chicken bars run by giant multi- national companies like McDonalds and now embraces every sector that pays poverty level wages.
News reports from around the country recorded that home-care assistants, Walmart workers, child-care aides, airport workers and adjunct professors were amongst those demonstrating and striking for a living wage, consistent full-time hours and the right to join a union.
In New York protesters gathered outside McDonald’s forcing the store to close up to prevent them occupying.
In a clear sign of how the fight over low pay has become intricately involved in the struggle of oppressed black workers and youth the demonstrators lay down on the pavement outside to stage a ‘die-in’ a tactic used during the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests following recent spate of police shootings of unarmed black workers and youth, linking the economic struggle of workers and youth the whole issue of state violence.
Also in New York students joined in the campaign, gathering at Columbia University and marching to Time Square.
Speaking to the press one student explained that many face the choice between buying food or textbooks saying: ‘It’s important for students to be involved because even if we aren’t working for McDonald’s or Walmart, we are still on McDonald’s or the Walmart type of wages.’
Speaking of the involvement of students in the campaign Mary Kay Henry, international president of the SUIU union which has helped organise and fund the campaign, said: ‘It’s – for me – the representation of how the student movement is infusing this economic movement.
‘That’s a new dimension to the Fight for $15 and the union that we haven’t seen before.’
Speaking of a nationwide campaign by the union amongst students she added: ‘I saw students everywhere on fire to fight for their future and link arms with these workers who were being underpaid to change this low-wage economy’.
In a further interview Henry said: ‘There is not a price tag you can put on how this movement has changed the conversation in this country.
‘It is raising wages at the bargaining table. It’s raised wages for 8 million workers. I believe we are forcing a real conversation about how to solve the grossest inequality in our generation. People are sick of wealth at the top and no accountability for corporations.’
Speaking at the protest meeting held in San Francisco one of the ‘Fight for $15’ organisers and a SEIU representative and nurse, Karen Joubert, told the rally:
‘When you pay someone a decent wage, it helps him to get better healthcare and take care of his family.
“Many of our members who work at fast-food restaurants are not college students. They’ve worked there for 12, 15 years. They are working three jobs so that they can raise a family. We want to see them get better wages.’
What started as a one day strike by 200 cooks and order takers in New York at the end of 2012, a strike that was ignored and written off at the time by fast-food giants and bourgeois press, has now swept the country going far beyond its small beginnings into a mass movement sweeping the whole of America.
Even the staid world of academic industrial relations professors have been moved to hail it as groundbreaking in the history of working class struggles.
Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at the Massachusetts Clark University, hailed the campaign as marking a huge change and comparing it to the civil rights movement that swept America in the 1960s, he said:
‘What is really significant about the Fight for $15 movement is – most labour disputes, look inside, they’re about a group of workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement.
‘In the Fight for $15, unions are helping to organize on a community basis, a group of workers who are on the fringe of the economy. It’s not about union members protecting themselves. It’s about moving other people up. This is the whole civil rights movement all over again.’
In what is clearly a desperate attempt to head off the rising tide of anger about low pay, an anger that is spurring on a mass movement of workers and youth against the economic devastation being experienced by millions as a result of the capitalist crisis and the determination of the capitalist class to extract every penny of profit out of the most extreme exploitation, companies like Walmart and McDonalds have announced paltry increases in their hourly rate.
These ‘concessions’ have been rejected by the working class who will not be bought off by increases just below $10 an hour, or the unsuccessful call by president Obama for congress to agree a national minimum wage of $10.
They are determined to fight for $15 and intend to step up the struggle, winning even greater support across the country in a fight that will inevitably see the powerful American working class coming head on into conflict with a bankrupt capitalist system that cannot even afford to pay a living wage.
This struggle has not just swept America it has gone global inspiring workers around the world to join Wednesday’s action, establishing in practice the internationalism of the working class.
In Britain the Bakers’ Food and Allied workers Union, working in conjunction with the US campaign, organised protests in London, Glasgow, Sheffield, Manchester, Darlington, Leeds, Birmingham, Leicester, Cardiff and Southampton around the demand for a £10 an hour minimum wage and an end to zero hour contracts.
In London over 50 low paid hotel and other workers demonstrated outside the Marble Arch branch of McDonalds.
They went on to briefly occupy the restaurant forcing the management to allow their workers to speak to trade union representatives.
Even royalty cannot escape the anger over low pay as the Queen faces industrial action by members of the royal household.
Low paid staff represented by the PCS union at Windsor Castle voted by 84% to operate a work to rule over a pay demand after suffering years of pay restraint – the action is to start at the end of the month.
Similar demonstration took place in Brazil, New Zealand, India, Morocco, Japan and across Europe.
As the world crisis of capitalism deepens by the hour this international mass movement is being transformed into a revolutionary movement of workers and youth determined not to be ruthlessly exploited in order to maintain the profits of the tiny capitalist class.
It places the world socialist revolution firmly on the immediate agenda.