LAS VEGAS (KXNT) – Thousands of fast-food cooks and cashiers in two-dozen cities walked off their jobs nationwide on Monday, the 50th anniversary of the historic Memphis sanitation strike–carrying on the fight for higher wages and union rights led by hundreds of black municipal workers whose 1968 walkout became a rallying cry of the Poor People’s Campaign led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In Las Vegas, fast-food workers from several restaurants went on strike and rallied with dozens of community advocates, union members, and elected leaders, calling for a $15 minimum wage and union rights. Monday’s strikes and protests come as politicians have cut minimum wages and attacked union across the country, disproportionately harming workers of color.
“On this day 50 year ago, Dr. Martin Luther King stood with striking workers at the Memphis Sanitation Strike because he knew workers needed unions to be treated with respect. We are all here today to continue that fight, because we see what happens when workers are powerless and have no voice at work. Billionaires and corporations have all the power over politics and the economy, they get massive tax breaks, skyrocketing profits and millions in CEO pay, but 64 million Americans get paid less than $15 per hour and 25 percent of children in this country live in poverty. There is something very wrong that in one of the richest countries in the world, everyday working families who make minimum wage must continue to struggle to make ends meet,” said Luisa Blue, Executive Vice President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
After rallying outside of the McDonald’s on S. Eastern Avenue, participants entered the restaurant, peacefully chanting “Workers’ Rights are Civil Rights” and holding “I AM” and “Fight for $15” signs.
“I am fighting for my children, to be able to give them more than what I can just manage on $9 an hour. I lived in another state where workers fought and won minimum wage increases, and it makes a difference in being able to afford the necessities. Here in Nevada, it’s so hard to make ends meet, all workers deserve a living wage and union rights to have a shot at a better life,” said Brittany Wolfe, a Burger King Manager.
Laura Martin, Associate Director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), noted, “Here in Nevada, minimum wage is still $8.25/7.25. More elected leaders need to recognize that working families are falling behind, and action needs to be taken to lift their quality of life. In 2018, we have an opportunity to make a difference. It’s time to mobilize, because right now, it feels like big corporations and politicians are against the working class, against the poor people,” Martin said.
Workers in the Fight for $15 declared they will participate in six weeks of direct action and non violent civil disobedience beginning Mother’s Day as part of the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, uniting two of the nation’s most powerful social movements in a common fight for strong unions to lift people of all races out of poverty.
The actions stretching from coast to coast on February 12 culminated in a 1,500-person march from Clayborn Temple to Memphis City Hall–the same route sanitation workers walked 50 years ago–led by strikers in the Fight for $15 from across the Mid-South; Memphis sanitation workers who participated in the 1968 strike; the Revs. Dr. William Barber II and Dr. Liz Theohariz, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival; Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union; Coalition of Black Trade Unionists Founder Bill Lucy, who collaborated with Dr. King during the 1968 strike; and other national labor and civil rights leaders.
“The fight for strong unions was at the heart of the original Poor People’s Campaign, and it must be at the forefront of our effort as well,” said the Rev. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival. “To truly defeat systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation, all working people must have the freedom to come together and harness their power collectively. Our movements are prepared to do whatever it takes–including taking to the streets and risking arrest through civil disobedience–to win the right to a living wage and union for all,” said Reverend Barber.
The Memphis sanitation strike began on February 12, 1968, when hundreds of black men went on strike for recognition of their union, a local of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and demanded a raise to $2 an hour–the equivalent of $15.73 today after inflation. Strikers marched daily from Clayborn Temple to Memphis City Hall holding signs declaring, “I AM A MAN.”
The February 12 strikes and protests come as politicians have cut minimum wages and attacked unions across the country, disproportionately harming workers of color. Workers in predominantly black cities including St. Louis, Kansas City, and Birmingham, Alabama, have had minimum wage increases nullified by white state lawmakers in recent years. Meanwhile, union jobs in state and local government–which have historically provided a pathway to the middle class for workers of color–have been under attack from corporate-backed politicians like Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, who has refused to bargain a contract with state employees for nearly two years to break their union.