By ANN MONTAGUE
On this year’s Labor Day, Sept. 4, there were more marches and rallies than in previous years. Several U.S. cities had large labor actions anchored in fast-food walkouts. Britain saw its first strikes against McDonald’s Corporation; activists chose U.S. Labor Day as a nod to the birthplace of the Fight For 15 movement. We highlight some of the actions below.
Chicago: Adam Shils reports that Labor Day started early in the Pilsen Neighborhood of Chicago, where there was a large strike at McDonalds. They were protesting Governor Rauner’s recent veto of a bill to raise the Illinois minimum wage to $15. Around 2200 workers marched in solidarity with the strikers, and they all marched to the headquarters of the American Hospital Association (AHA) with a rally focusing on health workers.
Katina Davis, a worker at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, answered the question of why they were at the AHA headquarters: “The agenda of the association—just like large corporations—is to maximize the profits and power of hospitals. They keep wages low for frontline hospital workers and make it difficult to form unions, denying us our basic rights and voices on the job. In fact our entire economy is rigged against working people.”
Laura Williams, a fast food striker who has not had a raise in four years, stated: “As a Black woman, I can speak to the importance of unions for people of color. Across the country, more than half of Black workers like me, almost half of women workers like me, and nearly 60% of Latino workers are paid less than $15 an hour. Governor Rauner just stole raises from millions of Illinois workers.”
There were also speeches from rank and file nurses, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and Rev. William Barber. It was a spirited march and rally with the largest contingent from SEIU.
Hartford: Fast food workers joined others on Labor Day demanding $15 an hour and union rights. Cooks and cashiers at McDonalds and Burger King walked off the job around Hartford, East Hartford, Manchester, New Haven and Waterbury. At the beginning of 2017 the Connecticut minimum wage went up to $10.10 an hour. Nayya Malchi, Dunkin’ Donuts worker in New Haven, said, “We need $15 to survive, this $10.10 is not enough.”
Kansas City, Mo.: Hundreds of workers sent a message on Labor Day demanding a raise in the minimum wage. Many of those were fast-food workers who walked off the job. The message was not only about raising wages but about their right to a union. Fran Marion, who works at Popeye’s, said, “We deserve 15 and a union. Someone to have our back.” She emphasized the need for health care, retirement benefits, and sick days. Kansas City voters approved a raise in the minimum wage in August, but the state legislature passed a law to stop its implementation.
Portland, Ore.: There is only one fast food chain in Oregon that anyone has organized. The IWW has been organizing the 47-store regional restaurant chain Burgerville for the last six months. The Portland workers have been on strike twice before. On Labor Day they walked out to demand holiday pay. Previously, the Burgerville Workers Union has been on strike for a $5 an hour increase and affordable health benefits. Burgerville management has refused to recognize their union and community members have picketed their headquarters.
Chris Merkel reflected the history of the day when she said, “Labor Day exists because workers went on strike in the 1880s. The Burgerville Workers Union is taking our fight to the next level, marching with the millions of workers that have fought before us.” Their organizing campaign has been endorsed by the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, Oregon AFL-CIO and other labor organizations. The strikers received a standing ovation when they arrived at the main stage of the annual Labor Day Picnic.
London: British McDonald’s workers went on strike for the first time on U.S. Labor Day. The restaurants in Crayford and Cambridge in southeast London walked out for the first time since they opened in 1974. Before the strike, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, backed the strike. He spoke on behalf of the working-class party: “Our party offers support and solidarity to the brave McDonald’s workers, who are making history today. They are standing up for workers’ rights by leading the first ever strike at McDonald’s in the UK. Their demands—an end to zero hours contracts by the end of the year, union recognition, and a 10 pound per hour minimum wage—are just and should be met.”
Over 100 union and Labour Party members joined the strikers outside the McDonald’s headquarters in East Finchley, London. Ian Hodson, the national president of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), one of the oldest of Britain’s trade unions, said that the strike may spread. Suzanne Moore, a columnist for The Guardian, supported the strike: “It is about class, of course, but it is also about young people refusing to be disposable. They are not lovin’ it and they are not havin’ it. All power to them.”