11.18.2013

low-wage workers rising: strikes and demos planned for the day after u.s. thanksgiving

Low-wage workers in North America are on the move. This movement has been building for more than a decade, and it's beginning to reach a critical mass.

And could any workers need it more? Fifty-two percent of fast-food employees’ families rely on public assistance to put food on the table or to get medical care. McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC - hugely profitable, multibillion dollar corporations - are being subsidized by taxpayers to the tune of almost $7 billion a year! Ordinary working Americans are picking up the tab so that these corporate giants can pay poverty wages. (Don't believe it? Watch what happened when a long-time McDonald's employee called the company's help line.) We're not talking about teenagers picking up pocket change. A full 89% of low-wage workers contribute at least 50% of their family budget.

It would be a full-time blogging job to keep up with all the organizing, between Walmart workers, fast-food workers, retail workers, and baristas, but when I open my email from the various mailing lists, I'm overwhelmed with respect and solidarity.

The workers' efforts have produced some tangible gains. California will raise its minimum wage to $10 by 2016 (just as Ontario workers begin the fight to raise our $10 minimum to $14). Walmart has committed to allowing more part-time workers to transition to full-time work, which would not only increase their pay considerably, but make them eligible for health benefits. (This was widely reported as "Walmart Commits to Hiring 100,000 Veterans".)

These results have fueled greater activism, which in turn helps workers in other states and provinces, and other industries, find their courage, too. Baristas in Halifax, fast-food workers in Chicago and New York (and more than 50 other cities!), Walmart workers in Los Angeles... the list goes on. There have been ongoing protests, including civil disobedience with dozens - in some cases, hundreds - of arrests. Workers have been threatened, intimidated, and harassed, and they have continued to organize, willing to lose their jobs to improve working conditions for others. In the cases I know of, solidarity actions and legal actions have been successful at getting those courageous workers reinstated.

If you don't think these actions are vitally important for workers, for our communities, and for our entire society, you may not understand the nature of this workforce. The blog I Can't Believe We Still Have To Protest This Shit, written by Trish Kahle, has some amazing research on fast-food workers: "Everything you think you know about low-wage workers is wrong".
Myth #1: Low-wage workers are mostly teenagers, college students with summer jobs, or people who are only supplementing a second income.

Each of these statements is categorically false. 35 million workers in the US make less than $10.55/hour. That’s 26% of the total workforce. 57.4% of low-wage workers are over 30. Only 16.6% of minimum wage workers are teenagers. While low-wage jobs are known for their high rate of turnover, that rate has declined significantly since the beginning of the recession five years ago. And finally, 89% of people with low-wage retail jobs contribute at least 50% of their family budget.

The statistics disprove the myth, but I think it’s important to also confront the logic behind it, which is that it’s morally and economically acceptable to ruthlessly exploit some people and not others. . . . .

Myth #3: Raising the Minimum Wage/Providing Living Wages Would Tank the Economy, or $15 an hour isn’t realistic.

. . . .I did some math, and the store I work at could afford to pay us $30/hour and still be making more than $10,000 in profit each day. Another store I investigated could pay its employees over $50 and maintain a profit margin.

And once again, I would like to point out that workers didn’t tank the economy five years ago. Banks did.
I highly recommend reading this post, not only for the facts Kahle has so painstakingly sourced, but for her razor-sharp analysis: go here to read and see links.

In a week or so, things are going to get really interesting. The strange non-holiday called "Black Friday" by some - also known as National Buy Nothing Day, and for me merely "the Friday after (US) Thanksgiving" - has become a flashpoint for Walmart workers and low-wage workers everywhere. As we are so often told, this is the biggest shopping day of the year in the United States. It will also be the biggest low-wage protest day in history. You can support "Black Friday" actions with a small donation, or better yet, by joining a protest on Friday, November 29, 2013. Find an action near you at Black Friday Protests.

Fight for 15

Low Pay Is Not OK

OUR Walmart

Walmart Watch

Black Friday Protests

"What if the minimum wage were a living wage?", from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

11 comments:

James Redekop said...

Chutzpah: Wal-Mart has a donation drive to raise money for needed Wal-Mart employees.

John F said...

If I may connect this issue to, er, municipal politics, I noticed that Doug Ford was waving his finger and screaming "what union are you from?" at detractors in the public gallery at the Toronto city council meeting yesterday.

I'm beginning to think that the Ford brothers are the best thing to happen to the union movement in years...

laura k said...

Chutzpah: Wal-Mart has a donation drive to raise money for needed Wal-Mart employees.

Friggin amazing. Or not. Thanks for posting. :)

If I may connect this issue to, er, municipal politics, I noticed that Doug Ford was waving his finger and screaming "what union are you from?" at detractors in the public gallery at the Toronto city council meeting yesterday.

Cuz it's all a big left-wing conspiracy, donchaknow. We're forcing the mayor to smoke crack, consort with murderers...

I'm beginning to think that the Ford brothers are the best thing to happen to the union movement in years...

I confess I hadn't thought of it that way! Nice!

John F said...

Isn't it interesting how two of the owners of a multimillion dollar company portray themselves as champions of the working class? It does explain their union stance, though.

laura k said...

Isn't it interesting how two of the owners of a multimillion dollar company portray themselves as champions of the working class?

They took a page from the Resident's playbook. If people believed that George W Bush was a down-home, regular guy, they'll believe anybody who puts on that costume.

laura k said...

More "advice" from McDonalds. This might be funny if it weren't so insulting.

John F said...

Wow. Was there a particular moment at which McDonald's became a dystopian parody of itself?

In other "Let's Kick The Poor!" news, the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation wants to turn EI into personal unemployment accounts. Normally, I would complain about the lazy-parasites-are-stealing-from-Real-Folks subtext, but it's actually in the regular text:

“Workers in Ontario, Alberta and B.C. and their employers paid $103 billion more into EI than they collected in EI benefits between 1981 and 2009,” said Thomas. “Meanwhile workers in Newfoundland and Labrador collected $14 billion more than they put in.”

James Redekop said...

Some people seem to have a great deal of trouble with the concept of "insurance". What part of "spreading out the risk" is so difficult?

laura k said...

“Meanwhile workers in Newfoundland and Labrador collected $14 billion more than they put in.”

This is disgusting. Shameful.

John F said...

Since my last comment, I've been browsing the CTF website. Their main strategy, like so many of their ilk, is to pit people against each other. The logical endpoint of their philosophy was stated by Margret Thatcher, when she said "There is such thing as society."

laura k said...

That's why our first and best strategy is solidarity.