Workers and students in Pittsburgh made their largest showing of solidarity and workers’ power yet during the April 14 global strike day called by the Fight for $15 movement. The city has seen these actions grow exponentially and unite more sectors of low-wage workers since the first strikes were held in December 2013.
Strike day started off at 6 AM with fast food workers going on strike and briefly shutting down the McDonald’s on the North Side to demand livable wages and union representation. At noon in downtown, CWA workers went on strike to fight concessions demanded by Verizon.
They were joined by public welfare caseworkers of SEIU Local 668 who then marched to the Omni William Penn Hotel to stand in solidarity with hotel workers of Unite Here Local 57 fighting concessions on healthcare costs and an employer unwilling to bargain in good faith. At the same time healthcare professionals on the North Side rallied outside the Allegheny General Hospital not only to win a fair contract but to build solidarity with the community by demanding quality improvement and the setting of national standards for patient protection.
Strike day culminated in a mass rally of over a thousand on University of Pittsburgh’s campus in Oakland to unite workers all over the city with students and low-wage university staff. Speakers tied together the workers’ struggle and economic inequality with many other struggles: Black Lives Matter, xenophobia, climate change, women’s rights, LGBTQ equality, discrimination against the disabled community, rising tuition costs.
That various speakers all drew connections to economic inequality shows that all of these struggles are rooted in the web of oppression and exploitation created by the wealthy ruling class – CEOs of fast food chains, oil companies, health care providers, bought-and-sold politicians, and more – to keep us separated and competing against each other for table scraps. One speaker ended his speech by saying “when they come for us, like they will, they’ll find us united and they will lose.” The message of unity and fighting everyone’s struggles together was powerful and resonated with the crowd.
After marching to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Montefiore, the protesters shut down the McDonald’s on Forbes Ave. There the people held a moment of silence with fists raised in the air for Jeffrey Pendleton, a Fight for $15 activist in New Hampshire who died in police custody. The Black Lives Matter struggle has made deep connections between systemic racism and violence and economic inequality in oppressed communities at the hands of low-wage employers like McDonald’s and UPMC.
Liberation News spoke with several workers about their motivations for striking on April 14. Anthony Ware joined Fight for $15 because he believed the low wages he and his coworkers are paid hurt his community. A student of the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School who wished to remain anonymous said “every worker deserves the right to live a comfortable existence…. My mom works for UPMC and it has been difficult for her because she works a lot and her hours are unpredictable.”
“I need a union more than I need $15 because without the union we’re not gonna make it,” said Christoria Hughes of the UPMC hospital workers struggle. “If we don’t show that we have a voice and say what we need, and come together and agree on what we need, we’ll be in the same pot that we’re in now.”
The Fight for $15 shows the power of peoples struggle. Many workers in Pittsburgh have won historic victories since the 2015 global strike day: healthcare service and tech workers at Allegheny General Hospital voted 4-1 to join the nurses in SEIU Healthcare PA, UPMC workers won a $15/hour starting wage phase-in, and thousands of nursing home workers across the Pennsylvania won $15/hour in their contract just this month. Add to this the huge wins in New York and California and nobody can deny the power that workers hold when they fight back and get what is rightfully theirs.