Something new happened on the planet on May 15. Low-wage workers in the fast food industry and their supporters went on strike and took part in protests in hundreds of cities across the United States and around the world.
In its press release, FastFoodGlobal.org said that protests for higher wages occurred in 158 U.S. cities, including 56 cities where there had been no previous strikes since the wave of fast food actions began last December. Workers also protested in 93 international cities in 36 countries.
Fueled by anger and frustration with non-union, minimum-wage jobs that do not provide a sustainable living for individuals, let alone workers with families, protests and strikes gained momentum and support from the ongoing national movement to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The Service Employees union has played a strong role in organizing and encouraging these protests.
Here is a sampling of some of the actions that took place in the U.S.
Fast food workers from McDonald’s, Arby’s, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts and other poverty-wage workers joined a rally and march in Philadelphia that targeted three separate McDonald’s restaurants. After assembling and hearing speakers in front of the McD’s at North Broad Street and Girard Avenue, the chanting crowd of over 100 marched up the street for another McD’s rally. They then marched into an underground concourse for two blocks to a McDonald’s at Kennedy Boulevard and 16th Street.
Undeterred by hot, dry, Santa Ana winds that were spreading raging wildfires in urban, suburban and rural areas in parts of the county, nearly 100 “Fight for $15” activists held three marches and rallies at San Diego Burger King restaurants. At midmorning, they marched through central San Diego’s poor and working-class City Heights neighborhood and rallied in front of a University Avenue Burger King. Introduced by Service Employees union Local 221 organizer Jeff Graves, a number of fast food workers, including several from the University Avenue location, described for the crowd the exploitation they suffered and emphasized the need for a living wage and a union. Several union locals, the Interfaith Center for Worker Justice, the San Diego People’s Power Assembly and a group of City College students supported the action.
In Detroit, hundreds of mostly young African-American workers took part in two demonstrations outside a McDonald’s and other fast food establishments. Members of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition attended the actions and distributed leaflets announcing the Freedom Friday protests to oppose the city’s bankruptcy and austerity restructuring.
Chanting “Burger King! Your workers! Need a union! Burger King! Your workers! Need a raise!” a group from the Buffalo, N.Y., International Action Center marched into the restaurant with big signs calling for a $15 minimum wage. Customers joined in, and the workers came out of the kitchen and took pictures.
Mass petition campaign launched
On the same day low-wage workers were taking action globally, Seattle workers launched a mass petition campaign for “$15 now.” The 15 Now organization officially started collecting 20,000 signatures to bring to the City Council and possibly the voters in a referendum in November. Socialist City Councilmember Kshama Sawant was present, along with low-wage workers and union and community organizers.
More than 200 workers rallied and marched downtown in an action organized by Working Washington. The entire nonmanagerial crew of the First Hill McDonald’s had already walked out on May 14. The workers marched on the downtown McDonald’s where several more workers walked out. The march traveled to Target, where eight workers walked out all at once, taking off their red shirts and speaking out against low wages.
Workers from cities across North Carolina took to the streets on May 15. Multiple strike actions were held in Greensboro, Charlotte, Durham and Raleigh. These brought in workers from Greenville, Goldsboro and other cities throughout the eastern part of the state.
Multiple strong strike lines were held throughout the morning across the state, with a final demonstration of workers from different cities in Raleigh during the afternoon. Starting early in the morning, workers and community supporters showed militancy and spirit, gathering outside the restaurants where workers were on strike. Chants of “We can’t survive on $7.25!” broke the morning air and received honks of support from passing drivers. It’s an encouraging sign that organizing by fast food and low-wage workers is continuing to spread and deepen in the South.
A “Walk for Justice” in Baltimore supported the global fast food workers’ strike with calls for a $15 minimum wage and organizing fast food workers in the metropolitan area. Protesters, many of them unemployed or low-wage workers themselves, gathered in front of a downtown McDonald’s. They were greeted by police and McDonald’s management, who blocked the door to the store and were visibly upset by the protest. The march, led by members of the United Electrical Workers, wound through the downtown area to a second McDonald’s, ending in the Lexington Market area.
‘Supersize our wages!’
Heavy rain storms in Atlanta failed to dampen the determination of fast food workers and their allies from union, faith and community groups who launched the strike day at 5:30 a.m. at a midtown Krispy Kreme. Hours later at 10 a.m., workers from Long John Silver’s, McDonald’s and Wendy’s returned to a busy East Atlanta street with multiple fast food outlets where they had brought “Fight for $15” and demands to join a union during previous days of action.
Moving at 1 p.m. to the westside of Atlanta, near the historic center of Black colleges and universities, demonstrators induced Burger King’s management to heed the spirited picket line led by its own workers and shut the restaurant down. The loud chorus of honking horns from passing vehicles at each site underscored the wide support for low-wage workers and the fight for a $15 minimum wage.
Boston area fast food workers and supporters took to the streets to say “No” to starvation wages and demand $15 and a union now. When the Burger King management opened its doors for business in Dorchester, Mass., at 6 a.m., it was confronted with angry, striking fast food workers and supporters chanting “On strike, shut it down! Boston is a union town!” By 6:15 BK management shut the doors and closed for business to the cheers of the workers — that was a real taste of workers power! The protesters then modified their chant to “On strike, we shut them down! Boston is a union town!” Steelworkers Local 8751 Team Solidarity sound truck and leaders played a key role assisting this militant protest.
Later “$15 and a union” protesters marched through downtown Boston, stopping at several fast food sweatshops, chanting “Keep your burgers, keep your fries. Make our wages ‘Supersize!’”
The People’s Power Assembly, along with activists with $15 Now, Occu-Evolve, Laundry Workers Center and others, held a strong picket line at Herald Square in front of the largest McDonald’s in New York City. Passersby in vehicles honked their horns and those on foot gave thumbs-up signs in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and a union. Protesters then marched in the street to another McDonald’s several blocks away.
On May 17, representatives of some of these same groups including the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists held a low-wage people’s assembly at Teamsters Local 808 in Long Island City, Queens, to strategize about building for a major protest against the Oct. 7-8 World Business Forum scheduled in New York City. Activists pledged to organize an activity in every borough on the 15th of every month leading up to the October protest.
In Oakland, Calif., fast food workers, Walmart workers from OUR Walmart, hotel and restaurant workers from UNITE HERE Local 2850 and community supporters marched about 200 strong in two actions on May 15. At 6 a.m. they marched inside a McDonald’s in the Latino/a Fruitvale district, then marched to a nearby Jack In the Box. The latter had fired a number of workers months ago as part of an E-Verify-initiated raid against undocumented workers.
At 10:30 a.m. the protesters regrouped at a downtown McDonald’s, again marching inside, where two workers walked off the job as the crowd cheered. From there they marched to a nearby Burger King, again going inside, where they gave speeches and maintained a presence for about half an hour.
Abayomi Azikiwe, Baltimore WW Bureau, Ellie Dorritie, Durham WW Bureau, Terri Kay, Stevan Kirschbaum, Dianne Mathiowetz, Bob McCubbin, Jim McMahan, Monica Moorehead and Joseph Piette contributed to this article. WW photos: New York City by G. Dunkel; Philadelphia by Joseph Piette; Oakland, Calif., by Terri Kay; Buffalo, N.Y., by Ellie Dorritie; San Diego by Bob McCubbin; Baltimore by Sharon Black; Boston by Stevan Kirschbaum.