Fight for $15 in Chicago

May 2016 Chicago $15By MARK UGOLINI

— CHICAGO — Low-wage workers and their supporters turned out in force at over 300 locations in the U.S. and over 40 countries on April 14 demanding a $15 minimum wage and union organizing rights. The prime target was McDonald’s Corporation, referred to as a “poster-child” for unfair labor practices and poverty wages for low-wage workers worldwide.

In Chicago, over 1000 protesters, including hundreds of fast-food and other low-wage strikers, gathered at the “Rock and Roll” McDonald’s, Chicago’s “flagship” restaurant, to cap a day of actions around the city. A spirited rally heard striking McDonald’s workers Angel Mitchell and Dominique Bouie, Tess Raser of Assata’s Daughers, a group of young Black women prominent in Chicago Black Lives Matter, and others.

Earlier in the afternoon protesters gathered outside the Penthouse condominium of billionaire Ken Griffin, and the richest man in Illinois. Griffin is a major donor to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, and his hedge fund Citadel has $132 million invested in McDonald’s. A strong opponent of Fight for $15, and promoter of Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda” austerity plan, Griffin also advocates more school closings in Illinois. Griffin has been rewarded with millions in tax breaks in real estate and other business transactions with the city.

Outside Griffin’s penthouse I spoke with Sheldon Sims, a 27-year-old father of two and striking McDonald’s worker from a South side restaurant. Sims had just arrived on one of several buses filled with striking co-workers and other low-wage workers.

“I’m here to fight for my right to a living wage,” said Sims. “I go to work every day and bust my ass to make $8. I’ve got two kids at home and $8 not going to do shit for us. Period. … And even if we do get $15, we need a union … it could be SEIU or we may organize our own union … but we need to work together with anyone stuck at $8 [per hour].”

From Griffin’s penthouse, marchers proceeded to the Bank of America nearby, focusing attention on the bank’s greed. Bank of America has investments of over $2 billion in McDonald’s, ranking among its top institutional investors. The Chicago Teachers Union has charged the bank with failing to disclose the risk of “toxic” interest-rate swaps in investment deals involving Chicago Public Schools. These predatory bank swaps with financial institutions including Bank of America have resulted in losses of over $500 million to Chicago public schools, and resulted in $77 million in profits for Bank of America.

“This is our Global Day of Action,” said rally chairperson Angel Mitchell “But today … is not just about fast-food workers. Other workers, like child-care providers and health-care workers and nursing-home workers, have realized that $15 is the least employers can do.

“With billionaires … and corporations that pay poverty wages to … employees all across the world … it’s obvious that McDonald’s is leading a Global Race to the Bottom, paying poverty wages, [with] no benefits, no respect, and unsafe working conditions.”

Dominique Bouie, who does contract hourly work for McDonald’s and is a leader of Warehouse Workers for Justice, described her workday, beginning at 3 a.m., when a large number of workers are “sorted” by management to determine who will be allowed to work the shift starting at 4 a.m. Only selected workers receive the $8/ hour rate for making McCafé cups.

“McDonald’s is a multi-billion [dollar] company … they can satisfy their customers but cannot satisfy their workers—the people who make it possible to sell the products. … We have families. We have lives we need to be able to pay for. You look at your child and you tell them, ‘I can’t afford to get those shoes you need or I can’t afford those books.’”

Striking McDonald’s workers reached out to other low-wage workers during early-morning activities. Beginning at 6 a.m., striking McDonald’s workers stood with adjunct professors at Loyola University and with workers from Sheridan Shores Nursing Home. In Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, McDonald’s strikers also joined with child-care workers, Chicago teachers, and warehouse workers.

“It’s not just fast-food workers who are getting hurt. All of us are suffering,” said Mitchell, as she concluded her remarks at the rally. “By striking today we are all collectively, from all various work industries, holding McDonald’s accountable.

“Today, we are making history. We made history with Chicago teachers a couple of weeks ago [April 1] by raising our voices and standing up for funding. We just won the biggest raise in history with $15 for millions of workers in California and New York statewide. And Pennsylvania nursing home workers have also won $15 in contract negotiations.

“We know that we can win this! … Until we have respect on the job, safe working conditions on the job, and until we get $15 on our paycheck and union rights, we will not stop until we win!”

 

Photo: Mark Ugolini / Socialist Action