After the media blitz on Ferguson, and amid coverage of America’s response to ISIL, another topic has been getting attention. People are on strike, demanding a 15 dollar wage and the right to unionize for fast food jobs. This is a good effort, because fast food jobs seriously blow chunks. More to the point, minimum wage and fast food wages are dangerously close to “this is total bullshit” levels of inadequacy. The protests have actually been ongoing since November of 2012, with strategies changing every few months as they struggle to be noticed. Now, strikers are being arrested for non-violent tactics such as blocking roadways and sidewalks, and they are being noticed, by people who think strikes don’t work, and that fast food workers don’t deserve a wage increase anyway. Thing is, strikes do work, and every worker deserves a wage increase.
It’s often pointed out that minimum wage isn’t intended to fully support an individual or family, and never pointed out by the same person that when McDonald’s held a job fair in 2011 for 50 thousand jobs, it received over 1 million applicants. People need these jobs to live, and there aren’t enough to go around. It isn’t supplementary income—if it was, wouldn’t fast food workers be held in higher regard for being so determined to succeed that they work for extra cash at fucking McDonald’s? Everyone knows what minimum wage is for.
Although the minimum wage has risen by several whole dollars since its implementation, it’s fallen in power in real terms. Adjusted for inflation, today’s minimum wage is 20 percent lower than it was in 1967, minimum wage’s value peak. And if we look at how much profits have risen for executives and CEOs, worker pay matching pace with those gains (and why hasn’t it, really?) would mean a national minimum wage of 23 dollars an hour. Meanwhile, full-time work at a real minimum wage job leaves families below the poverty line. Fast food jobs, long-standing symbol of minimum wage employment, are a good place to start.
On the “con” side, this article was written by somebody who is probably younger than Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), but it nonetheless hits most of the points brought up by those against raising the minimum wage (hmm). People who hold these jobs are seen as parasites, hangers-on who only manage to survive by doing the stupidest, least desirable jobs around, jobs only losers would take. By demanding higher wages, they’re basically stealing from us, cause I could do that job/would never do that job. In reality, they’re providing a service that the country would sorely miss and spark letter-writing campaigns over. More people would be outraged if McDonald’s just closed suddenly due to lack of staff than if it was revealed McDonald’s is so aware of its deficient wages it advises workers to sign up for welfare. Flipping burgers isn’t worth 15 dollars an hour? Tell that to McDonald’s 5.5 billion dollar profits last year. Sorry to keep picking on you, McDonald’s, wait, no I’m not.
The current protests play on that stupendous lack of empathy. Americans don’t want to think about how little their server is making? All right, no service. Workers have taken to the streets, and blocked them in acts of civil disobedience that have been met with over a hundred arrests. The National Restaurant Association has dismissed the protests, saying it’s an effort by unions to increase membership. You know, cause why would fast food workers be displeased with their station if not for rabble-rousing unions? Accusations have been made as well that protesters have been paid to show up, which is about as stupid a smear as it is common. Hand-wringing abound over small businesses (and even giant corporate businesses) suffering under the yoke of higher wages, but studies show business and hiring do not suffer from a higher minimum wage.
Despite the nay-saying, the protests are working. It’s very doubtful that the strikes will actually resolve in a 15 dollar fast food wage across the company board, but it was never the campaign’s expectation. It’s a starting point in a bargain that has sparked serious discussion and action. Let’s be real, fast food companies will never meaningfully raise their wages in response to this. And it would be hard if not unconstitutional to force only fast food companies to raise their pay. These protests address minimum wage as a whole. Since the protests began in November 2012, several states and cities have raised their minimum wage. Minimum wage initiatives have appeared on voting ballots, and the president has come out for a wage hike, for whatever that’s worth. Several cities are considering a 15 dollar minimum wage, and Seattle actually has pledged to gradually increase its minimum wage to 15 in response to protests.
While people have to fight for years to raise minimum wage, it can be immediately disastrous for minimum wage and cost of living to mismatch. It may be impossible for wages to be adjusted for inflation constantly and reliably, but we aren’t even at a point when it can be agreed that we should be trying to do so. Really, the majority of Americans should be making more money than they are. But as long as we’re holding onto the ludicrous divide between corporate profit gains and worker compensation, can we at least make sure everyone is being paid enough to live under a roof and not have to stress out over buying food? Strikers are working on it.