Largest protests ever by US low-wage workers over minimum wage

April 19, 2015
New York Fight for 15 protest. Photo: Edward Leavy.

Workers in more than US 200 cities across the US went on strike and joined marches on April 15 “during what organisers claimed was the largest protest by low-wage workers in US history”, the Guardian said the next day.

The Guardianreported: “Some 60,000 workers took part in the “Fight for $15” demonstrations, according to the organisers. The protests are calling for a minimum wage of [US]$15 an hour in the US, more than twice the current federal minimum of $7.25.”

The Morning Star reported: “McDonald's restaurants across the United States were targeted yesterday as campaigners demanded a decent wage and labour rights for fast-food workers.”

It said as well as a $15 minimum wage, the campaign, spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is also demanding the right of low-wage workers in industries such as fast food to organise in unions.

The Morning Star said: “Since its 2012 launch [the campaign] has spread to a variety of other industries, including care workers, airport staff and university lecturers on part-time and zero-hours contracts.

“But the fast-food focus was centre stage yesterday, with tens of thousands of campaigners taking part in demonstrations.”

Fight for $15 organising director Kendall Fells said McDonald’s recent decision to announce its first ever national pay policy “shows the workers are winning”. But Fells said the world’s biggest burger chain would remain a focus of the campaign.

Morning Star said McDonald's new policy has been criticised for failing to meet the $15 demand — merely introducing a starting rate pegged at $1 above the local legal minimum — and because it only applies to company-owned outlets.

“Since around 90 per cent of McDonald’s restaurants in the US are franchised, most workers will not be included,” it noted.

McDonald's has united with fast-food giants Burger King and Wendy’s to claim they have no control over terms and conditions at franchised plants, “a claim that the SEIU challenges”, Morning Star said.

The union has highlighted a study that found families in work in the US receive $153 billion a year in welfare payments to make up for poverty wages.

SEIU president Mary Kay Henry said: “Powerful CEOs could pay people more, but they simply choose not to. Together, we are fighting for an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few.”

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