“The audactity of those fast food workers, asking for $15. an hour wages!”
You know they’re thinking it, even if that’s not exactly what they’re saying.
By “they” I do not just mean industry employers. A lot of Americans who make barely more than $15. an hour, or even a lot less, doing jobs outside of food service, are shaking their heads in irritated disbelief at the tremendous crust of those striking workers.
That’s because we have so bought into the invisible class system that has been successfully imposed on American labor that we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
It’s a system that’s worked like gang-busters for low-wage employers, lowering expectations for the vast underclass of manual and service laborers that now represent the majority of jobs in America. In so doing, it has pitted worker against worker, isolating sectors of employment and effectively disabling efforts to unionize.
With that success at isolation, fast food industry giants and poverty employers like Walmart have seen their portion of the American economic pie grow exponentially, while the middle class has suffered a steady decline.
That decline in the middle class has further enriched low-wage employers by expanding their customer base with families who are no longer financially empowered to make other shopping and dining choices.
Those audacious minimum wage workers now demanding a living wage are really doing so on behalf of the majority of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck. If their efforts are even halfway successful, and we see a federal minimum wage of $10. per hour (a figure that even the President has recently endorsed) the result will lift millions of families out of extreme poverty and set them in the lap of only relative poverty.
Why are they demanding $15. per hour, you might ask (an involuntary “tsk” escaping as you do)?
The answer is that they have taken a page from their employers and recognize that, in order to achieve on any level, you’ve simply got to overreach. Success lies in the inevitable compromise; the “grand bargain.”
If they just asked for a minimum of $10. per hour, all negotiation would be built around the assumption that the point of agreement lies somewhere south of that figure; and any gain would finally be insubstantial.
Laborers who see so little to gain for so much risk would be unlikely to join a walk-out; and that goes to the core of why many organizing efforts go nowhere in this crushing economy.
Tired and intimidated as low-wage workers are, it takes an audacious effort, with eyes on a real prize, to mobilize their weary numbers.
It’s a gamble, but many believe its time is right.
The tired old arguments for not raising the minimum wage have lost their timber. Growing income inequity boldly asserts itself at every turn despite decades of “trickle-down” declarations; and social media spreads the message far and wide.
What better place to start than in the fastest growing sector of the economy?
Let’s have some fairness with those (heavily subsidized) fries; and then let’s go visit the local Walmart.