Workers in the US have won a significant victory in their struggle for dignity and a living wage.
This week Walmart announced that within one year, all current Walmart employees will be paid at least $10/hour, and that newly-hired workers will start at $9.00/hour, with a real opportunity to earn $10/hour with six months.
While still far below a basic living wage of $15/hour, the increase does represent a recognizable improvement over the poverty-level $7.25/hour (the US federal minimum wage) that most Walmart workers now earn. And because Walmart is the largest private employer in the country - almost 1% of all employed Americans work for Walmart - the move creates pressure on McDonald's and other behemoth low-wage employers to get with the program.
McDonald's is feeling that pressure. In Chicago, the workers organizing under the banner Fight for Fifteen Chicago also realized a hard-won and significant victory: full-time hours and reliable scheduling. Since most fast-food workers are adults with families to support, the opportunity to work full-time is an important piece of the survival puzzle.
Naturally, Walmart announced the wage increase as a smart business decision, never mentioning the ongoing - and growing - worker movements like OUR Walmart and Low Pay Is Not OK. But do we imagine Walmart enacting these sweeping wage hikes without workers organizing and demanding it? Surely Walmart investors weren't suddenly seized by an attack of compassion. Lower wages equal higher profits. That's the only compassion capitalism understands.
From one perspective, the Walmart pay increase is table scraps - no, crumbs - at a gluttonous feast: Walmart's net sales were $473.1 billion last year; shareholders received $12.8 billion in profits.
But these wage increases will make a very real difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of working people. Equally important, this victory is incentive for low-wage workers to continue their fight for a living wage - and motivation for all workers to continue our struggles for dignity and respect.