Fighting for $15 minimum wage in the South

Atlanta, March 21.

Atlanta, March 21.

Atlanta — With fists pumping in the air, some 500 low-wage workers from across the South filled the sanctuary of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church here with a resounding chant on March 21 to open a one-day mobilizing conference. “I believe that we will win” was the defining slogan as fast food, Walmart, home health care, child care, college adjuncts, retail and auto parts workers gathered from as far away as Missouri and Texas, Virginia and North Carolina to build for the April 15 “Fight for $15” day of action.

Many participants wore the brightly colored T-shirts of their area’s campaign to win economic justice and a liveable wage.

Underlining the confidence that they will win, program speakers listed the achievements of their young movement — such as legislation in states and cities across the country raising the minimum wage as high as $15 an hour in Seattle and Los Angeles, and decisions wrestled from Walmart and others to raise beginning pay by a dollar an hour.

Most speakers were young people of color whose stories of hard work and poverty conditions resonated with an audience that cheered them on when they confessed to being nervous about speaking before such a large crowd.

Dozens came from the Ferguson and St. Louis area. Burger King worker Carlos Robinson connected the police terror to the poverty wages that propelled resistance among youth to the murder of Michael Brown last Aug. 9.

Three of the Memphis sanitation workers, whose 1968 historic strike won the support of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther KIng Jr., were featured in a special panel that connected the fight against racism with the struggle for union rights, decent pay and safe working conditions.

Expressing their enthusiasm for the upcoming national day of action in April, when many tens of thousands of low-wage workers and their allies will march and rally in hundreds of cities, the conference spilled out of the church and took to the streets of Atlanta.

The activists took over Atlanta’s famous Auburn Avenue on the way to the McDonald’s next to Grady Hospital.

The chanting crowd surged into the restaurant, demanding the fast food giant raise the workers’ pay to $15 an hour. A 23-year-old McDonald’s worker, Robertson Anderson, jumped over the counter and marched out of the building to the cheers and applause of the jubilant group. Anderson, who said he had not known about the campaign before, stated: “I do know one thing. Everyone deserves $15 an hour.”

That’s the message sure to grow stronger across the South and the whole country on April 15 and beyond.