Thousands of Fight for 15 supporters chanted, marched, sat in and got arrested in 340 cities across the US on Tuesday, declaring that they won’t back down no matter who is in the White House.
Tuesday’s large protest – the fast-food movement’s 12th one-day strike – was a far cry from four Novembers ago when the Fight for 15 held its first one-day strike. That day, just 200 workers walked out in one city, New York, calling for fairer wages. On Tuesday, 500 workers at Chicago’s O’Hare airport alone went on strike, led by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
“Today is the fourth anniversary, and we want to send a strong message: we’re not going anywhere regardless of who resides in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” said Terrence Wise, a Burger King worker in Kansas City and a member of the Fight for 15’s organizing committee.
Wise was in Manhattan to mark the movement’s fourth anniversary and to get arrested along with two dozen others for a sit-in outside a McDonald’s near Wall Street in Manhattan.
“With the new administration taking office, we’re going to double our pressure, we’re going to take bigger and bolder action,” Wise said. “We plan to ramp up our efforts to continue to build our movement.”
People sit in a terminal during a Fight for $15 wage protest at Newark International Airport in New Jersey Tuesday. Facebook Twitter Pinterest People sit in a terminal during a Fight for $15 wage protest at Newark international airport in New Jersey on Tuesday.
Fighting for better wages under President Trump
The Fight for 15 has grown into one of the nation’s largest progressive movements, alongside movements by undocumented immigrants, Black Lives Matter and environmental activists fighting global warming. Beginning with fast-food workers, the Fight for 15 now includes other groups, including childcare workers, home-care aides, airport workers and adjunct professors.
Brad Lander, a city council member from Brooklyn who participated in Tuesday’s Manhattan sit-in, said, “I’m getting arrested because the Fight for 15 workers are the most inspiring group of people I know fighting for a fairer economy. The difference they’ve made over the last four years is quite extraordinary.” Two other city council members and one state assemblyman were also arrested in New York.
“The courage, vision and solidarity that the Fight for 15 has shown is exactly what we need not only to resist Trump, but to put forward a forthright vision of the country we want,” Lander added. “It’s more important in the time of Trump, partly because the goal is to show a more equal, more inclusive economy that offers real opportunity and higher wages for everyone – including workers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and other states.”
In the Trump era, as before, we need a moral revival in which economic justice and racial justice go hand and hand. The Rev William Barber, head of the North Carolina NAACP Spurred by the Fight for 15, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles have approved a $15 minimum wage, and more than a dozen states have also approved measures to raise their minimum wage.
Lander said he had relatives in Ohio, Missouri and West Virginia. “Plenty of them are young people working retail and service who would love a job that pays $15 an hour and has a stable schedule,” he said.
Trump has taken conflicting positions on the minimum wage, saying variously that it’s too high and too low, saying he opposes any minimum wage and then saying he supports a $10 federal minimum (up from the current $7.25 an hour). He has also said that any minimum wage increases should be done at the state level.
The Rev William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and an ally of the Fight for 15, stressed that the campaign should aim to help all Americans living below the poverty line: 17 million non-Hispanic whites, 12 million Hispanics, 11 million blacks and two million Asian Americans. He said the challenge was to bring people of different races, sexes, ages and backgrounds together to lift Americans’ incomes.
“One goal in the south and the rust belt,” Barber said, “is to get many of our white brothers and sisters to think about, ‘Why do you continually vote for people who are against a living wage, against healthcare and against voting rights because those people are going to vote against a living wage that would help you?’”
Barber stressed that the Fight for 15 remains very important for African American workers. “In the Trump era, as before, we need a moral revival in which economic justice and racial justice go hand and hand,” he said.
“This movement is for everybody”
Richard Eiker, a janitor at a McDonald’s in Kansas City, joined several large protests on Tuesday. “This movement is for everybody,” he said. “We are white, black, Hispanic. This movement believes that that no one who works full time should rely on food stamps or public assistance – just to pay the basic bills.”
Some supporters of the Fight for 15 say that in light of Trump’s unexpected victory in numerous midwestern states, the movement would be smart to reach out to and rally many factory workers or former factory workers in the rust belt who make less than $15 an hour.
Naquasia LeGrand, who as a KFC worker in Brooklyn joined the movement’s first-ever strike in 2012, said the Fight for 15 has grown far beyond her expectations. “It has grown more diverse,” she said. “It was at first fast-food workers, but now it’s also airport workers, childcare workers, adjunct professors and more.” She added, “This is for Asians, Hispanics, blacks and white brothers and sisters. Without the white working class, we cannot win this fight. As much as we need them, they need us, too.”
Hector Figueroa, president of Local 32BJ of the SEIU, a giant Manhattan-based union representing building-service workers and pushing to help airport workers, said American workers badly need innovative, nontraditional advocacy efforts like the Fight for 15.
“We have to be all in for workers, we have to be a voice of disruption raising demands for working people,” he said. “The more distant we are from their anger, the more disconnected we will be from working people.” Then referring to union officials, Figueroa added, “It’s time to take off our ties and jackets and join workers in the streets.”
Scott Courtney, an executive vice-president of the SEIU, is the Fight for 15’s chief strategist. “The statement today is that the Fight for 15 and these workers aren’t backing down,” he said. “I’d say ‘15’ has become bigger than a number. It’s a symbol of opposition and resistance now – to Trump and his ilk.”