Today, in cities all over the country, college students and workers from the fast-food and other low-paying industries are rallying under the banner of Fight for 15
, a movement to raise the national minimum wage to $15 per hour, or about $31,200 a year for full-time work. (Here’s a serviceable-enough primer on the national Fight for 15 movement
that appeared in today’s N&O
, complete with requisite quotes from industry types that paying people better will lead to restaurants closing and higher prices and a loss of entry-level positions and all other manner of calamity.)
Students from some 200 colleges and universities across the state and country, including Duke, UNC and Shaw, will be engaging in protests throughout the day; earlier this morning, workers in Durham held a strike action, and fast-food workers from all over will be going on a one-day strike to pressure their employers to raise their wages—the “largest-ever fast-food” strike, according to organizers.
In Raleigh, the tax-day protest—chosen to highlight the fact that many fast-food and other low-wage workers live off public assistance, which the rest of us pay for in checks to the IRS and is basically a de facto subsidy for avaricious corporations—will culminate in a 5 p.m. rally at Shaw University (118 E. South St.), which, not coincidentally, was the birthplace of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Organizers predict attendance in the hundreds.
The N.C. AFL-CIO hailed this event as the birth of a new labor movement:
“Workers in the ‘Fight for 15 and a union’ are the vanguard of a resurgent labor movement in the South, a movement that is focused on raising wages for all workers and empowering them to bargain collectively for their share of the wealth and prosperity made possible by their labor,” secretary-treasurer MaryBe McMillan said in a statement. “Two-and-a-half years since the first 200 fast-food workers walked off the job in New York City, low-wage workers in big cities and small towns across North Carolina have found the courage to demand raises and claim their union rights by standing up and standing together. The strikes and rallies today are evidence that their ranks are growing, and that should be welcome news to the legions of workers here who are working hard while hardly getting by.
“In fact,” she continued, “everyone who works in North Carolina should take a cue from the Fight for 15 and ask for a raise this year. They've earned it. We've all earned it. And our economy and democracy will be better off for it.”
The talk of a “resurgent labor movement” may be—being polite here—aspirational, given how labor is declining in the U.S. and across the world, and how North Carolina’s so-called Right-to-Work Act, passed more than a half-century ago, is seen by much of the Legislature as handed down on stone tablets from the mountain. But on the other hand, in a few short years Fight for 15 has prompted Seattle and San Francisco to raise their minimum wages to $15—in fairness, adjusting for cost-of-living, $30,000 a year in San Fran works out to about $17,000 in Raleigh, and Seattle isn’t much better—so there’s a something like looks like traction.
How that will play out in North Carolina—one of 21 states whose minimum wage is not higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour—remains to be seen.