$15/hr? ‘I can get with that!’
Creative demonstrations and Workers Power Assemblies in several cities on Oct. 23-24 championed the struggle to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour — more than twice the federal rate now — so that workers can take home a paycheck closer to meeting their basic needs. Here are reports from Baltimore, New York, Los Angeles and Providence, R.I., about what happened in these four cities.
The “We Deserve Better” Workers Assembly, Occupy activists, community and union representatives launched a statewide campaign on Oct. 24 to demand a $15 minimum wage. They gathered at Howard and Lexington streets in downtown Baltimore and marched to McKeldin Square.
Hundreds of people waved and cheered as the group of protesters made their way to the square. Many onlookers signed a statewide petition. Some yelled “I can get with that,” commenting on both the $15 and the signs depicting Dr. King Jr. calling for an end to poverty. According to government poverty statistics, one out of every four people in Baltimore lives below the poverty line. Along with joblessness, the other major source of poverty is low-wage and part-time work, particularly for Black youth.
At McKeldin Square the group held a “workers’ speakout.” Crystal Richardson described how she worked two jobs but could barely afford an apartment. She explained, “My first job originally hired workers at $10. They then cut all the new people’s pay to $8.50 and changed full-time workers to two and three days.” She described the inhuman conditions on her second job: “All different nationalities work together, many with children and families. The stress is so bad that people have to quit, and one worker committed suicide.”
Beth Emmerling, an Occupy activist, described the reception that the Workers Assembly received when it went inside a McDonald’s on the march route: “There were two management-looking men standing over the workers and one stationed at the door, both with ‘enforcer’ written across black shirts. Nevertheless, the group was able to distribute beautiful thank you cards announcing ‘Raise workers’ wages day’ under the noses of the bosses, who didn’t know what to expect.”
Other speakers at the rally included representatives of the Food and Commercial Workers union speaking about the OUR Walmart campaign, American Federation of Government Employees civil rights leader Dr. Marvin ‘Doc’ Cheatham, and Barbara Bridges, an unemployed mother and representative of the Workers Assembly, who debunked some of the arguments used to oppose raising the minimum wage.
Sharon Black, a representative of the Baltimore and Maryland Workers Assembly, announced an organizing meeting for the campaign on Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. at 2011 N. Charles Street. For information, call 410-218-4835.
A crowd that grew to several hundred rallied and marched through the busy Herald Square shopping district on Oct. 24, stopping in front of stores and chanting solidarity with the underpaid workers inside.
Solidarity delegations, sometimes as many as 25 people carrying signs demanding a living wage of $15 an hour, entered stores, including Burger King, Duane Reade, the Gap and Foot Locker. They were often greeted by applause and smiles from the workers on duty.
Representatives of Fast Food Forward, the Coalition for a Real Increase in the Minimum Wage, and African-American candidates for citywide offices on the Freedom Party ticket addressed the crowd. So did Christina Gonzales, a militant activist and Green Party candidate for City Council representing Harlem, as well as Larry Holmes of Workers World Party, representatives of Transport Workers Union Local 100, Brenda Stokely, Occupy Wall Street and Occu-Evolve.
Speakers addressed the crowd using “mic check” because the police department refused to issue a sound permit.
The plan was for an informational picket in front of KFC and Taco Bell on busy Martin Luther King Blvd. in South Central LA. But thanks to three very enthusiastic youth coming out of KFC and the great reception from people walking by, the picket turned into a loud, militant and very visible protest that got lots of attention. The youth climbed up light poles to place signs up high and came up with chants like “KFC/Taco Bell, give a raise or we’ll give you hell.” A KFC worker on the loudspeaker at the drive-in window started chanting “$15 yeah!”
The action ended with a visit to both KFC and Taco Bell to order “chicken and a burrito with a side of justice” and then hand out a letter thanking the workers for their service and demanding they get a wage.
A rally calling for “Jobs for All” through a Works Progress Administration-style jobs program, an economic Bill of Rights and a minimum wage of $15 an hour was held on Oct. 23 in front of the Renaissance Hotel, where low-wage workers are seeking union representation by UNITEHERE Local 217.
Called by the Joint Work & Wages Organizing Campaign, initiated by the Rhode Island Peoples Assembly, the campaign chose to make its public kickoff on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the first minimum wage law.
The hundred participants included a dozen Renaissance workers, UH organizers, two dozen union carpenters of Council 94, members of Jobs with Justice, members and an organizer from Laborers Local 271, Inmigrantes en Accion, RI Peoples Assembly, RI MLK Coalition, RI Rosa Parks Human Rights Committee, and Direct Action for Rights and Equality. It was a magnificent and powerful show of solidarity among Black, Latino/a and white, community and labor, immigrants and native born, young and old, gay and straight, able bodied and people with disabilities.
Thanks to Sharon Black, Larry Holmes, John Parker and Bill Bateman, respectively, for these reports.