Saturday, April 25, 2015

201.1 - Good News: "Fight for 15" movement grows

Good News: "Fight for 15" movement grows

Starting, as I always like to, with some Good News, the movement known as "Fight for 15" continues to expand.

The effort for a living wage of $15 an hour for notoriously underpaid fast-food workers began with a single rally in New York City in November 2012. Since then there have been nine days of coordinated one-day strikes at fast food restaurants - and on April 15 there was the largest day yet: 230 cities across the country were the scene of such strikes.

The movement has grown enough that it has spread beyond the borders of the US: Some McDonald's outlets in Greece, Canada, Brazil, and Hong Kong saw protests by workers demanding higher wages. There were also reports of strikes in Italy and New Zealand.

Perhaps even more significantly, the movement has spread beyond fast-food restaurants to address the needs of underpaid workers across the reach of sectors of the economy where they are commonly found, areas such as health care, retail sales, home care, and child care.

In the words of Kendall Fells, organizing director of the group Fight for $15, which is backed by the Service Employees International Union, the movement has become "something different" and "much more of an economic and racial justice movement than the fast-food workers strikes of the past two years."

While the company would of course deny any connection, it clearly was in response to this movement that McDonald's announced an intention to raise the minimum wage it pays workers at the restaurants it operates directly to $10 an hour by the end of 2016 - and to pay them at least $1 an hour above the local minimum wage starting July 1. Some critics have noted that this doesn't apply to franchises, which are 90% of all McDonald's outlets, but even at that, it means the company is bending, is being forced by circumstances to raise the pay of its workers.

Which then directly relates this campaign to the broader question of the minimum wage itself. Widely, even wildly, popular with the public, raising the minimum is approaching a critical mass of not just opinion but of active concern. Some cities have passed and others are considering a local minimum of $15 an hour and a number of places have already raised their local minimum wage; in fact a majority of states now have state minimum wage levels above the pathetically-low federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

Again, clearly in response to these developments, some retailers - specifically Gap, Walmart, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Target - representing another area of the economy notoriously populated with underpaid workers, have promised to raise their bottom wages to $9 or $10 an hour.

Which, again, some have criticized as inadequate, which it is. But again, it means that the corporations are bending, they are being forced to recognize economic reality. Yes, they will do as little as they can get away with - but that doesn't change the fact that they, along with local and state governments, are being forced to move because millions of underpaid workers have gotten fed up and increasing numbers of them are willing to take it to the streets to say so.

And that is Good News.

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