Striking for $15: McDonald’s workers take action against poverty wages

McDonald’s workers went on strike in 15 major cities across the country May 19 to demand a living wage and to be treated with respect on the job. Actions took place in Chicago, Detroit, Fayetteville, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Houston, Kansas City, St Louis, Milwaukee and Raleigh-Durham. 

The strike came the day before McDonald’s annual shareholder meeting, with the central demand being for a $15 company-wide minimum wage. The striking workers aimed to send a message to the company’s shareholders, who had almost $4 billion dollars paid out to them last year while many McDonald’s employees make less than $10 dollars an hour and do not receive healthcare benefits or paid sick days. In addition to the billions of dollars paid to shareholders, the company has a gross profit margin of over 50 percent, and in 2020 they paid the CEO over $10 million.

Over the past several weeks, the corporate media has been running stories about a supposed “labor shortage” with employers claiming that people — particularly in the food services industry — are refusing to work. However, the arrogant notion that “nobody wants to work anymore” is false. Several factors are at play. One is that due to the limited but significant pandemic unemployment benefit expansions, workers’ bargaining power has increased. They have more leverage to refuse to accept the terrible conditions and compensation that they were previously subject to. Anti-working class lawmakers across the country have begun rolling back the expanded benefits in an attempt to force workers back into a position where they have to accept a job with low pay and no benefits in order to provide for themselves and their families. 

The recovery in the jobs market from the depths of the pandemic-induced economic crisis has been highly uneven along gender lines. Women workers, who so often have to take on the bulk or the entirety of the work of raising children without any form of compensation, have seen far fewer gains — a clear reflection of how the pandemic has made finding childcare even more difficult. In the month of April, all of the 266,000 jobs the economy added went to men, with employment for women workers remaining static. 

Despite the attempts to coerce workers back into jobs that are criminally underpaid, workers are standing up and demanding better. The McDonald’s strike is significant not only for how far-reaching it was, but also because it points to a broader struggle happening throughout society. Workers have a rare opportunity to push back against the exploitation of the capitalist system, and are taking advantage of the leverage and power they hold at the moment to push for much needed reforms. 

These struggles highlight the inhumane nature of a system that allows employers to pay their workers starvation wages and deny them healthcare and sick days, while the CEO and shareholders see their wealth pile up by the millions and billions. The people recognize that the record profits these companies are seeing are due to their labor and come at the cost of their health and safety. Both the McDonald’s strike and the broader “labor shortage” are a result of a system that exploits, devalues and dehumanizes the working class. The bold action by McDonald’s workers shows what we can do when we recognize our power, join together and take collective action.

Display photo: Credit — Fight for $15

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