On September 5th there were worldwide strikes/walkouts in the fast food sector of the restaurant industry. These happened in support of the call for “$15 and a union.” You may or may not know much about the current campaign to raise the minimum wage but I would guess you have heard of it. Due in part to the media campaign and in part to the horrible situation of the working class most people are aware of what is going on with this campaign.
Allow me to go into more detail. The more conservative call has been for raising the minimum wage to $10.10. Currently it is $7.25 at the federal level. Some cities and states have higher but they cannot have lower. If the federal minimum wage increases – they all go up. The people fighting for no increase have not had too much success. America loves two-sided is-sues and this one has mainly been presented as $10.10 v. $15.00. This is not to say that the immune wage will be increased. Even though a large amount of the population wants it raised the congress is pretty much dead-locked against it.
Back to September 5th. These one day strikes have happened before. The main backer of these groups has been the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). They have been funding and organizing the campaign.
Now allow me to offer a critique of this campaign and its strategy. I do not speak for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), my union; however I do speak as a member and fellow worker. Let’s say right off that of course the minimum wage should be increased. Honestly, I think the wage should be 15$ and then doubled to 30$ and the work day reduced from 8 hours to 4 hours. Basically, cut the hours in half but keep the amount of money you were making.
With that said, there are several problems with the current campaign and strategy the SEIU and other groups are using. The main tactic is these one day strikes that organizers set up all over the world. A strike is direct action. That is – an action that is taken to directly address a problem, rather than going through a third party i.e. government. In the case of labor, direct action is used at the point of production (at the job) to solve/handle problems on the job. What these strikes are doing is attempting to leverage political power. The main problem with this is it is bastardizing “the strike” as a tactic; the same thing that has happened to “protesting.” In the liberal world a protest is simply saying that you disagree with something, in this case publicly. But as we have seen this has very little effect. Its main out-come is to, again, leverage political power.
There are other problems with this tactic as well. By using the strikes in this way – that is, as a media event instead of as a real weapon – and not actually organizing the workers, the SEIU is leaving workers vulnerable to retaliation in the long run. Even if the wage in-crease is won and raised to 15 an hour after that the SEIU is gone. More than that, not only are they not organizing the workers in this industry but perhaps making it even harder to do so in the future. Because in a lot of cases these workers have never had any interaction with a union before, so their first impression is an organizer coming and set-ting up these actions. As far as I know they are not teaching or showing them how to protect themselves through solidarity or offering any protection that a business union might normally offer such as lawyers, etc.
This current situation reminds me of the struggle for the 8-hour day in the late eighteen hundreds. The anarchists did not want to support the movement because it was a reform movement. However, they realized that a victory in this struggle would bring immediate relief to the working class. They also realized that in the long run they may be able to use it as a stepping stone towards the 4-hour day and on and on. That is, instead of just sim-ply reforming the system these small steps could be used to build momentum within the working class and to build up the idea that the workers hold the power.
The more demands the workers put forward, fought for and won together, the more they would realize that together they have the power to change the whole system. To place the means of production in everyone’s hands instead of just a few.
In conclusion we need to be careful in this campaign. As I stated, the minimum wage should be increased. But let’s not forget the big picture. There is more going on here then a person not being paid enough. There are numerous issues to be addressed at the job – bad scheduling, poor work environments, harassment, retaliation – and only the workers themselves, organized together though solidarity can solve these problems and fight against the bosses. Raising the minimum wage is great, but do not let it distract us from all of these other issues and do not let the campaign to raise it make it harder in the future to fight for overall better working conditions.