‘Fight for $15 and a union’ marks Labor Day with walkouts

FAST FOOD WORKERS WALK OUT IN ST. PAUL on Labor Day to demand living wages and the right to unionize without employer intimidation, law-breaking and repression. Photo courtesy Fight for 15 via PAI Photo Service.

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The “Fight for $15 And A Union” movement, which touched off the continuing and expanding crusade of low-wage workers nationwide for decent pay and the right to organize, marked Labor Day with massive walkouts from fast-food eateries from coast to coast.

And they punctuated those actions in up to 400 cities with huge marches in Chicago, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities and elsewhere.

The walkouts were designed to shine a spotlight on the fact that millions of workers – fast food workers, retail workers, adjunct professors, port truck drivers and home health care workers among them – still are forced to toil for poverty wages and face employer repression.

In addition to the fast food workers, aided and organized by the Service Employees, health care workers walked out nationwide, with help from SEIU and National Nurses United.

But this time, there was also a political twist to the walkouts, as the low-paid workers vowed to go after and defeat politicians, notably Republican governors, who aid and abet business’ exploitation of workers.

“Five years ago, a few hundred fast food workers walked off the job to fight for fair pay,” Fight for 15 said. “Since then, 22 million workers fought for and earned tens of billions of dollars in raises – and became one of the most powerful worker movements in history.

“Yesterday, on Labor Day, we took that power and aimed it even higher. We went on strike in hundreds of cities to launch our campaign to boot racist, anti-worker governors out of office in 2018. It was epic. It was historic.”

Fight for 15 said it “marched shoulder to shoulder” with Cathy Glasson, the SEIU Local 199 President in Iowa who has already thrown her hat into the Democratic gubernatorial primary there. The governing GOP eliminated bargaining for many Iowa public workers and vetoed city and county minimum wage hikes.

Fast food workers also heard from gubernatorial hopefuls Jerry Springer in Ohio, Andrew Gillum in Florida, two candidates in Michigan – both marched in Detroit – and three who also marched in the Chicago Labor Day parade.

There, they joined SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and the Rev. William Barber, the North Carolina NAACP president who created the “Moral Mondays” movement in the Tar Heel State. “We are fighting for the soul of the nation,” Barber said.

“Potential gubernatorial candidate Mahlon Mitchell joined us in Wisconsin to share his union values, saying, ‘We’ve got two hands, one to lift ourselves up and one to bring somebody along. That’s a union,’” Fight for 15 added. Mitchell, former state president of the Fire Fighters, ran for lieutenant governor in a prior election and may challenge notorious union-busting GOP Gov. Scott Walker next year.

“What happened yesterday was so much more than a strike. It was history in the making. Workers like us are poised to have a major effect on the outcomes of gubernatorial races in states across the country, and it’s about time,” Fight for 15 declared.

“We’re tired of too little pay for our hard work. Disgusted with elected officials promoting racism. Done with wage cuts and attacks on unions. Come 2018, we’re doing something about. Yesterday was an amazing way to kick it off, but it was just the beginning.”

Not all the Labor Day marches concentrated on the low-wage workers’ issues. In Racine, Wis., marchers challenged U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) to stand up for the “Dreamers,” the 800,000 undocumented young people whom GOP President Donald Trump plans to evict from the U.S. In Milwaukee, Voces de la Frontera took up the same cause (see separate DACA stories).

“We need something to live on,” 27-year-old Tay Polite, on strike from her job at McDonald’s in St. Paul’s Midway district, told Michael Moore of the Union Advocate. “Even with a job we’re still struggling to support our families.

“For as much as we work and as hard as we work, we deserve that $15 an hour,” she said. The Twin Cities strike pushed a $15 minimum wage for St. Paul and funding for enforcement of the new minimum wage ordinance in Minneapolis.

“Many people are currently working two and three jobs to support their families,” St. Paul Regional Labor Federation President Bobby Kasper said. “Working families are just not able to get by with the current minimum wage. We need to stand behind striking fast food workers and keep working to get families back in the middle class.”

Politicians joined in, too. Ironworker Randy Bryce, who seeks the Democratic nomination to unseat Ryan, joined the workers in Racine and Sheboygan, Wis. And Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., declared in an op-ed that “Working people deserve the same freedom as CEOs to negotiate a better deal for their family.”

He promised to introduce “a major overhaul” of “our antiquated labor laws.” That would include raising the federal minimum wage, now $7.25 hourly, to $15, enacting paid family and sick leave and “providing workers with the freedom to negotiate with their employers so they can share in the economic growth they help create.” He was not specific otherwise.

Other lawmakers joining the low-paid workers in their marches – or their picket lines – included Reps. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., in Kansas City and Keith Ellison, DFL-Minn., in St. Paul and Iowa Democratic congressional candidate Pete D’Alessandro, who declared his goal as “everyone in this country has a chance to organize in a proper union.”

Maricopa County, Ariz. (Phoenix) supervisor Steve Gallardo told the crowd of fast food workers who walked out of McDonald’s there that “unless we are united…corporations like McDonald’s will continue to use Latino workers, and not give us the decency we deserve.”

Source: PAI