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April 14-15: international days of action in the Fight for $15

By: 
Pam Frache

April 28, 2016

April 14 and 15, 2016 marked a new high point in the Fight for $15 movement in North America and around the world when workers in over 300 US cities and 40 countries mobilized together to demand fair wages and decent work.

Since its beginnings in 2012 when fast food workers and Walmart employees launched strike action to demand a $15 minimum wage, workers have been winning victories on minimum wages, paid sick days, fair scheduling, union rights and more. The US National Employment Law Project (NELP) estimates that, as a result of the Fight for $15, some 17 million workers across the US have won pay raises, far exceeding the employer-centred approach that characterized the living wage campaigns of the 1990s.

Victories

In just a short period of time, several cities won $15 minimum wage legislation, including SeaTac and Seattle, WA and San Francisco and Los Angeles, CA. Last year in New York, the state wage board implemented a sector-wide $15 minimum wage for all fast food workers. At the time, Governor Andrew Cuomo, pushed by the widespread support for the campaign, promised to table $15 minimum wage legislation as soon as possible. As a down payment, he instituted a $15 minimum wage for all employees directly hired by the state government. In early 2016, Cuomo launched the “Drive for $15” campaign using a customized RV to visit communities across the state, rallying support for a statewide $15 minimum wage. On April 4, 2016, New York governor Cuomo and California governor Gerry Brown both signed into being the first two statewide $15 minimum wage laws in the US.

Rebecca Cornick joined the April 14 Fight for $15 rally in New York’s Times Square. Four years ago, she was working at KFC and was among the first workers to strike for $15 as part of the Fast Food Forward movement. Today, she’s a Fight for $15 organizer: “Right now I am in the South trying to help out and make sure that they win $15, because not only New York and California deserve it. We all deserve it.” Even though she’s now organizing in the south, she wanted to be in New York City for the national day of action in part to celebrate the NY wage victory and to inspire workers to fight elsewhere. “I am here to support all workers. One by one we are going to knock down every state until they win $15 like we did.”

The energy and excitement of the Fight for $15 – including its remarkable victories – has been contagious, drawing previously fragmented sections of the working class into united, concrete activity. Even sections of the working class who more typically identify as “professionals” and therefore separate from working-class concerns are finding their own pathways into the Fight for $15. For example, contract faculty joined the movement in 2015 organizing under the banner of Fight for $15K –$15,000 per course, instead of the current rate of $3,500 to $4,500.  They formed “Faculty Forward” inspired directly by the success of New York’s Fast Food Forward movement.

"I'm 35 years old and still need some support from my parents,” explains Matt Hoffman, contract faculty at Loyola University in Chicago:  “I never considered myself a laborer or someone who would be part of a labor union because I always thought that those were for working-class people in industries that required manual labor... It took me a long time to realize that I was actually part of the working class."

Working class unity

This shift in consciousness is not surprising: according to a 2015 study by the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, fully one-quarter (25%) of part-time university professors rely on some form of public assistance to make ends meet. 

The situation for homecare workers is even worse. The data show nearly half (48%) of US homecare workers are reliant on social assistance to supplement inadequate wages.  But by connecting their collective bargaining strategy to the demands of the Fight for $15, unionized homecare workers in Massachusetts and Oregon have won a starting wage of $15 and paid sick days in Minnesota.

One reason the Fight for $15 has been so successful is that it offers a framework that poses the campaign in class terms – not merely union terms. It's a frame that relies on workers’ self-activity, on networks of activists in union and non-union workplaces, in communities and on campuses. No matter where they are situated, workers can adapt the campaign to suit their particular circumstances, yet still be part of a movement where a victory anywhere nourishes the movement everywhere.

And clearly the appeal is global. In addition to variations of the Fight for $15 across the US and Canada (BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick all have launched campaigns over the previous 18 months), the movement spans continents. Workers are mobilizing for a decent minimum wage from Bangladesh to the Philippines and from Belgium to Brazil. In Japan, workers are fighting for $1,500 Yen. In Britain, the £10 Now! movement draws directly from the $15 Now campaigns in the US (where $15 US converts to about £10).

David Rolf, president of SEIU Local 775, was one of the organizers of the SeaTac ballot initiative. In an interview about the Fight for $15 in The Guardian, a British newspaper, Rolf noted that in previous eras, “It took decades for the eight-hour day movement to have its first success, but it took a matter of months for the Fight for 15 to have its first success. Now a $15 minimum wage is rolling through the US… It has inspired hope in millions of workers.”

Join the May Day celebration at Toronto airport to support the Fight for $15 and Fairness

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