by Bill Onasch
Last Thursday there was another national round of Fast Food worker strikes and demonstrations in 150 cities. As I waited for fellow retired bus driver Tony Saper to pick me up to go to a rally in Grove Park, I read an early NBC story datelined Kansas City entitled “We’re a Movement Now.” It was clear these actions, enabled by extensive staff and financial support from the Service Employees International Union, were adding a couple of new dimensions.
In six cities–Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Seattle–Home Care workers paid by state governments were included in the program. SEIU has won bargaining rights for these workers in a number of states–including recently in Minnesota–and have won significant improvements in wages and health insurance in some. Just announced is a tentative agreement with the state of Washington to boost Home Care pay to 14 dollars by 2017.
But these gains are threatened by a counter attack mounted by the National Right to Work Committee who won a Supreme Court decision weakening the union’s ability to function. (See the July 4 WIR.) Kendall Fells, organizing director for Fast Food Forward told the New York Times, “With the integration of home care workers into this effort, this is starting to become a larger low-wage workers’ movement.”
And, for the first time, an element of civil disobedience was injected in dozens of cities. This supersizing began with arrests in New York City and moved westward with the sun.
That sun and oppressive humidity felt like the hottest day of the year when we arrived at the Kansas City rally but everyone was in high spirits. Fast Food workers dominated those gathered, most African-American or Latina. There were also union contingents from the UAW, Communication Workers, Hotel and Restaurant Employees, and ATU. We heard moving testimony from Fast Food workers about why they were out to build a movement for Fifteen and a Union. There were also a number of solidarity greetings from clergy, civil rights leaders, union officers, a City Council member, and a member of the state legislature. Some made the point that in the past unions as well as the civil rights movement had utilized nonviolent civil disobedience in addition to strikes and mass demonstrations to win recognition.
As we assembled to march a few blocks to a McDonalds at Prospect & I-70 we were cautioned to stay off the store property to avoid trespassing complaints–but were assured there would be other civil disobedience. The organizers requested that only those who had gone through training participate in the CD. That left Tony and me as observers this time around.
A later updated version of the above mentioned NBC account said,
“In Kansas City, workers were expected to walk out of 60 restaurants, and more than 50 workers were arrested. Ten minutes after they sat down and linked arms in an intersection in front of a McDonald’s, police arrived with vans and plastic cuffs and arrested the protesters one by one. They were joined by more than 100 other fast food workers, clergy members and other allies who stood on the sidewalk across the street and chanted ‘15 and a union,’ and sang spirituals.
“Latoya Caldwell, a Wendy’s worker, sat near the edge of the group in the street wearing a t-shirt that read ‘Stand Up KC’ and beside a woman holding a sign bearing the face of Rosa Parks. Caldwell was arrested and loaded into a van.
“‘We’re a movement now,’ Caldwell [had] said on Wednesday before starting a shift at Wendy’s. She and several co-workers said that 25 of the more than 30 non-management employees in their restaurant have pledged to strike. ‘We know this is going to be a long fight, but we’re going to fight it till we win,’ said Caldwell, 31, who is raising four children alone on $7.50 an hour and was living in a homeless shelter until earlier this year.”
Certainly the Kansas City police response was nothing like that recently exhibited by their brothers in blue across the state in Ferguson. In fact the KCPD seemed a little rusty in making mass arrests. The final national arrest count was about 500–55 in Kansas City. There were no incidents of violence by protesters or brutality by cops. They were loud, lively, but peaceful and disciplined. These workers mean business.
The first Fast Food strikes took place in New York about two years ago. This was the seventh such action, each bigger than the previous. Thursday’s escalation was planned at a gathering of 1300 workers from around the country meeting in suburban Chicago in July (see the July 28 WIR.)
The prospects for the movement got a boost since then when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonalds has to share responsibility with franchise owners for rights of workers toiling under the Golden Arches. If this ruling survives court challenges–no sure thing–it would mean the parent corporation would have to bargain with the union when and where representation elections are won and could ultimately lead to a uniform contract throughout the vast chain. Logically this should be extended to Wendy’s, Burger King, and other national chains with franchise operators as well.
But the decisive battles will be won not in the courts but in the workplace–and in the streets. If Fifteen and a Union prevails it will produce a sea change in union organizing and bargaining. This is the most important working class struggle in the USA today. They deserve our active solidarity.
Recovery Still Fragile–But Not Handled With Care
The BLS August Employment Situation report says, “both the unemployment rate (6.1 percent) and the number of unemployed persons (9.6 million) changed little.” An additional 2.1 million are reported as “marginally attached to the labor force,” covering those long term unemployed who would still like full-time jobs but no longer regularly conduct job search because they are convinced there are no suitable jobs available for them. The involuntarily working part-time number stands at 7.3 million. Adding these categories gives us the so-called real unemployment total of nineteen million who want and need full-time jobs but can’t find one.
Persistent high jobless groups remain so–teenagers 19.6 percent; Blacks 11.4; Latinos 7.5. The huge number of involuntary part-time jobs holds down the average work week for private sector production and nonsupervisory employees to 33.7 hours. Wages continue to lag behind inflation. Average hourly earnings of private sector production and nonsupervisory employees rose by 6 cents to 20.68. Over the past year wages have gone up a meager 2.1 percent.
Canada lost 11,000 jobs in August. Taking the population difference between our two countries in to account that equals a 100,000 loss in the USA.
Many pale greens hail the present Administration’s environmental initiatives, such as limited, state administered cap-and-trade schemes for electrical power. The New York Times reports a new bold step worth noting,
“As the country struggles to find a place to bury spent nuclear fuel, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has decided that nuclear waste from power plants can be stored above ground in containers that can be maintained and guarded indefinitely. The decision, in a unanimous vote of the commission on Tuesday, means that new nuclear plants can be built and old ones can expand their operations despite the lack of a long-term plan for disposing of the waste.”
Undoubtedly, the Tokyo Electric Power Company thought they could protect their above ground waste at Fukushima indefinitely. Instead it has indefinitely contaminated land, devastated aquatic environment–and sickened many humans. Claiming to indefinitely protect us against radioactive waste that can remain dangerous for millennia is not just a fool’s errand–it’s a fraud that endangers humanity present and future in order to reap rich corporate profits now.
Nuclear power is not clean, not renewable, and therefore not a solution to the climate crisis linked to fossil fuels. There is always a danger of catastrophic accidents in the plants, such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, or through natural disasters such as the tsunami at Fukushima. But the biggest single danger remains its radioactive waste.
The new climate action movement beginning to come together around the September 21 People’s Climate March needs to confront this danger as well as the fossil threat. We should oppose any new nuclear plants and demand existing ones be shut down as quickly as can be safely done. The sun, wind, and water can meet our energy needs without further nuking our planet.
I want to thank Javier Perez for kind words in his column in the Amalgamated Transit Union magazine In Transit about a past article of mine on transit issues. Javier is now Executive International Vice-President but was President of Local 1287 when I joined 24 years ago. He always found worthwhile volunteer projects in the Local for me until he started moving up the IVP ladder. As the ATU has become more focused on mobilizing membership in action since Larry Hanley’s election as President Javier still has some suggestions for retirees as well.
I’ve milked this holiday break for about all I can and am returning to normal schedule. Tomorrow (Monday, September 8) daily news updates will resume on our companion Labor Advocate blog.
That’s all for this week.
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