Militant Journalism

Bay Area workers fight for $15 and a union

Mass resistance from low-wage workers, students, union organizers, and other groups showing solidarity for the “Fight for 15” campaign erupted on April 15 across the Bay Area, in conjunction with demonstrations that spanned over 200 cities throughout the U.S. The day-long strike was a culmination of two years of union organizing and was also an organic response to decades of degradation of the rights of working class people. Workers have felt the oppression of diminishing wages and higher costs of living keep millions stuck slaving in a cycle of poverty, while an increasingly small group of capitalist exploiters consolidate wealth and power at their expense. The demands of a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to union protection are simple reforms that could be made under the existing system,  but the low-wage workers in the streets of San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, and Berkeley made it clear that the system is not working on their behalf.

By 6 a.m. almost 200 people had gathered in front of the McDonald’s at 24th and Mission street in San Francisco. Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), led the protest into the building, where calls were made for the restaurant’s management to come forward while speakers demonstrated to the workers that their struggles for fair wages, fair scheduling practices, union rights, and respectful treatment were being represented in full force.

Jevon Cochran of the Local 2 union of hotel and food-service workers spoke to Liberation News concerning the systematic exploitation felt by low-wage workers: “It’s not just about McDonald’s. All these corporations: Wal-Mart, Target…they’re all a part of this irresponsible and disgusting tradition of paying workers miserable poverty wages. Everybody knows these are multiple-billion dollar corporations, so they’re lining their pockets off the backs of these workers and not compensating them for it. The one percent is holding our future captive…we have to get to the point where we can move against that one percent and take back what’s ours.”

After shutting down the first McDonald’s location in San Francisco, the momentum shifted to Oakland, where low-wage workers and youth representing “East Bay Up the Pay” led a crowd which had swelled in size from the demonstration earlier that morning, to a second McDonald’s location at 45th and Telegraph.

This time around, after flooding the building with protesters and chants of “Si se puede!” one of the employees behind the counter risked her job to walk out to join the action.

Before organizers headed off to Richmond to storm other fast-food establishments, Liberation had a chance to talk to Zharia Harper, a young McDonald’s employee, community college student, and member of the East Bay Organizing Committee, who demanded, “We should be able to get decent pay. Most of us are here everyday, eight hours a day. Our bosses don’t respect us. Our benefits aren’t good. I shouldn’t have to come to work and be uncomfortable around my bosses because I just had to strike against them because they won’t give me my proper pay.”

The “Fight for 15” actions eventually converged on Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley, where a large student contingent joined the unions, workers, faith leaders, local officials, and also members of the Black Lives Matter movement in a rally and march that focused on uniting all struggles of working and oppressed people.

Devonte Jackson of the Bay Area Black Lives Matter chapter stood on a truck in front of the crowd and reflected that state-sanctioned violence is not just confined to police brutality, but also comes in the form of gentrification, income inequality, and other areas like “inadequate public schools,” describing how UC Berkeley has less than three percent undergraduate black students.

Finally, thousands of people marched through the streets of Berkeley, stopping at one last McDonald’s, which had been shut down prior to the protest reaching its doors, and ended at City Hall.

Despite living in a time where only a little over ten percent of U.S. workers have union protection, where corporations have been granted legal personhood, and despite every attempt by the capitalist ruling class to pit poor and working people against each other, unity in struggle is bringing people out in the streets in record numbers, connecting social inequality with economic inequality.

Rene Ruiz, an organizer of fast food workers, offered direction for the future of the blossoming movement of workers and the oppressed: “Ultimately what we need is a revolutionary movement where we take complete control of our political system, whereby the corporations and the billionaires, the McDonald’s and their shareholders, their control over our political system, we take back.”

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