Thousands of fast food workers went on strike across the USA on December 5, in a signal of the growing clamour for action on income equality.
In Chicago, hundreds of protesters gathered outside a McDonalds at 6.15am, and demonstrators chanted for the minimum wage to be increased to $15 per hour. It was the first of nine strikes in Chicago, with employees at McDonalds, Wendy’s also due to walk off shift. Low wage workers were due to strike across 100 cities through the day, including Boston, Detroit, New York City, Oakland, Los Angeles and St Louis.
The nationwide strike come as momentum appears to be gathering for action on increasing the federal minimum wage. On December 4, US President Barack Obama gave a landmark speech on income equality, which he said was “the defining challenge of our time”.
The federal minimum wage – which many fast food restaurants pay employees – is $7.25, or about $15,000 a year for full-time work. That rate was set in a 2009 measure that increased the minimum wage but still left it, in real terms, at the same rate as when Harry Truman was in office – a fact Obama mentioned in his speech on Wednesday.
The rate is actually higher in Chicago, as Illinois has set its own minimum rate of $8.25 per hour. But protesters say it is still far too low. Backed by unions such as the SEIU nationally and smaller coalitions in different cities – in Chicago, the Fight for 15 campaign has been put together by the Workers Organising Committee of Chicago, made up of a series of smaller action groups such as Arise Chicago and Lakeview Action Coalition – campaigners are calling for the federal rate to be increased to $15 per hour.
In New York state, where the nation’s largest metro region, New York City, is home to 55,000 fast food workers, the minimum wage is at the federal rate of $7.25.
Obama called for the federal rate to be increased in his speech on Wednesday, specifically mentioning fast food workers in a demonstration of the impact demonstrations are beginning to have. The president has suggested he would back a Senate measure to increase the minimum wage to $10.10, although Republicans oppose the initiative. Obama had previously called for the wage to be increased in his State of the Union address in February. Critics say little progress has been made since then.