NEW YORK — Thousands of workers fighting for $15 and a union marched down Broadway here April 15 to the cheers of onlookers and workers in stores along the route. Fast-food, Walmart, home health care, airport workers; unionists; opponents of police brutality; and others supporting the fight joined the demonstration.
“Fight for $15” marches, strikes, sit-ins and rallies, qualitatively bigger and broader than last December, took place in more than 200 cities and towns across the U.S., as well as Hong Kong, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Greece, New Zealand, the Philippines and the U.K.
The increased presence of members of a range of unions, including many higher paid workers, was striking. There were contingents from the New York building trades, hospital workers and janitors from Service Employees International Union, the Hotel Trades Council and many others.
“I came out to support the home health care workers,” said Joyce Austin, a nurse marching with 1199SEIU. “They’re overworked and underpaid for work that’s so important. They become like family to the people they care for, but can’t even afford to take a vacation or take off when they’re sick.”
There are some 150,000 home health care aides in New York City. Of those, 80,000 are in the SEIU and earn $10 an hour. The nonunion aides earn less. Signs saying “Invisible no more” were common among the home care workers.
Increased confidence was palpable at actions across the country. Many workers noted that Walmart and McDonald’s were feeling the pressure and had raised wages for some workers recently.
‘We want more now’David Soriano, 39, a wheelchair attendant who works for PrimeFlight Aviation Services at LaGuardia airport, makes $9.10 an hour and has been taking part in protests and one-day strikes. “We were aiming for $10.10 an hour, but now we want $15,” he told the Militant during the march.
In downtown Brooklyn, a 6 a.m. protest organized by Laborers’ Local 79 drew about 500 people. Plumbers, electricians and laborers wearing boots and hard hats marched together with fast-food, carwash and delivery workers.
In Chicago, 125 people rallied outside a McDonald’s on the West Side. Doug Hunter and three other workers from the restaurant joined in.
“The manager is intimidating us,” Hunter said. “They cut the hours and messed up the schedules of those of us who are protesting. I tell my coworkers they have a right to demonstrate.”
“We want more than $15 now,” he said. “We want social justice. We want an end to police brutality. We want child care. We aren’t going to stay on the bottom of humanity. We are standing up!”
Some 45 workers at Brink’s Armored Transportation walked off the job to join the protest. “We’re all in this together,” said Terrance Garrett, 25, a messenger and driver. “I’m ready. Once you take a stand you have to keep going.”
Some 200 workers protested outside a South Side McDonald’s at 6 a.m. chanting, “Get up! Get down! Chicago is a union town!” People driving by honked encouragement.
At protests across the country, workers said they were buoyed by recent protests against the cop killing of Walter Scott in South Carolina and other police assaults.
Workers from Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and the Rio Grande Valley joined the protests in Houston. “Slavery days are over, but we’re still doing hard work for a little bit of nothing,” said Tanzie Dorough, a Burger King worker. “My first strike was last December.”
“Everyone deserves more pay,” said Santa Rubio, a McDonald’s worker. “I have worked here for 11 years and earn $8.50 an hour. My husband has worked for 21 years in construction and still makes $8 an hour.”
Hundreds demonstrated across Washington state. In addition to fast-food workers, Uber drivers, Macy’s and Walmart workers, adjunct faculty members from Seattle University and farmworkers from eastern Washington marched in downtown Seattle.
“Even though we need money, we took the day off,” said a farmworker who asked not to be identified. “We can’t live on what they pay us.”
Nearly 1,000 workers marched from a church in the Black community of Overtown through downtown Miami. At the nearby Ft. Lauderdale airport, Fight for $15 protesters rallied in the terminal.
Debate on wages in capitalist pressThe protests are spurring debate in the capitalist media on increasing wages. In an April 15 article in the Washington Post titled “Americans Are Spending $153 Billion a Year to Subsidize McDonald’s and Walmart’s Low Wage Workers,” Ken Jacobs, chair of the University of California at Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, railed against “the substantial public cost of low wages” and advocated raising wages “to generate significant savings to state and federal governments.” In other words, the liberals can save “taxpayers” money by legislating slightly higher wages for workers, who they view as passive victims.
Michael Strain, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, responded in an April 17 op-ed: “If a worker can only bring in, for example, $9 per hour in revenue to his firm, it is simply unrealistic to expect his firm to pay him, say, $15 per hour.”
McDonald’s, which registered $1.09 billion net income in the fourth-quarter of 2014, and Walmart, which returned $12.8 billion to shareholders in 2014, are not losing money. They are profiting from the exploitation of wage labor, not doing workers a favor.
The vigor and solidarity on display at the April 15 actions showed a working class with growing confidence in its ability to fight and win support, one that doesn’t need the contemptuous handouts of the left or the condescending “tough love” of the right.
Anne Parker in Chicago, Edward Foote in Seattle, Deborah Liatos in Houston, Anthony Dutrow in Miami and Naomi Craine in New York contributed to this article.
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