Tens of Thousands Across the U.S. Strike and Protest to Demand Rise in Minimum Wage

November 16, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


November 10, Chicago

November 10, ChicagoNovember 10, Chicago

Chicago protest, part of the November 10 National Day of Action for economic and racial justice. Photos: Bobbosphere

On November 10, more than 60,000 people in at least 270 cities and towns across the country held strikes, rallies, and protest marches demanding an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. People who work at or slightly above the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour were joined by others—students, union members, teachers—in raising this just demand.

For three years people across the country have been fighting for a rise in minimum wage, and these protests were the most widespread yet. Reports indicate that protesters blocked traffic in Brooklyn, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Boston. Workers walked out of McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants in New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City.

Not a Life Fit for Humans

The rulers of the U.S. never tire of presenting this country as the “land of opportunity.” But for tens of millions of people, a line in an old song expresses a bitter truth: “seems the land of opportunity for me is just a curse.”

For tens of millions of people in the U.S., just being able to live gets more difficult day by day, week by week—one agonizing decision after another over how to use a meager income to meet basic needs. “Should we pay the rent... or should we get medicine for the little one’s asthma?” “We need to get winter coats for the kids, but then we won’t be able to make the car payments.”

People can’t live a life fit for humans on minimum wage. Two people, often working multiple uncertain jobs, can’t support a family on the pittances paid out in these jobs. This is intolerable! A study by the Economic Policy Institute concluded that one adult in Memphis would need to earn $27,000 yearly to meet the annual cost of living, by which they mean earnings that cover basic necessities without government assistance. But a full-time minimum wage earner in Memphis makes only $15,080, before taxes. In cities like New York, the gap is even greater. A full-time worker on minimum wage in New York, where the state minimum wage is $8.75, makes $18,200—but needs $43,000 just to stay even with the cost of living, even with no partners or children.

A Chasm of Inequality

A Statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party ON THE STRATEGY FOR REVOLUTION

The minimum wage, low as it has always been, has not kept up with the rise in the cost of living, especially of the essential means of life such as food and housing. People making minimum wage today have significantly less “earning power” than they did 20 or 30 years ago. In fact, the earning power of the minimum wage has been in decline since 1968. The percentage of the population earning at or around minimum wage is highest in the South, but the real earnings of minimum wage people are lowest in big cities, with New York City at the bottom of the list.

About 3.6 million people worked at or below minimum wage in 2012, according to the federal government’s own figures. Tens of millions more work at slightly above the minimum wage but below the $15 an hour the protesters are demanding—42 percent of the overall employed workforce, more than half of African-American workers, and nearly 60 percent of Latino workers. [See Fortune.com, http://fortune.com/2015/04/13/who-makes-15-per-hour/]

Most of the people with jobs at or just above the minimum wage are adults supporting a family—and often working two, three, even four jobs just for bare survival. Women are disproportionately among those making minimum wage. Tens of millions of people, especially children, are supported by people working these jobs. Most of these jobs provide none or few of the “benefits” essential to functioning in this society, such as health insurance, sick pay, and child care.

Much—in fact most—of the “job growth” in the U.S. that Obama brags about is minimum- or low-wage jobs. According to the organizing director of the Service Employees International Union, low-wage jobs are “the fastest growing jobs in the U.S.” A report by two Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors indicated that low-wage jobs include “food service workers, security guards, janitors and gardeners, cleaners, home health aides, child care workers, hairdressers and beauticians, and recreation occupations,” and “maids and porters, call-center workers, bank tellers, data-entry keyers, cooks, food preparation workers, waiters and waitresses, cashiers and pharmacy assistants, parking-lot attendants, hotel receptionists and clerks, ambulance drivers, poultry, fish and meat processors, sewing-machine operators, laundry and dry-cleaning operators, and agricultural workers.”

These jobs are not just a way for teenagers to earn some cash—they are not marginal to the functioning of the capitalist-imperialist economy. They are deeply integrated into and play a vital role in the overall functioning and profitability of capitalism-imperialism.

Changes and developments in the global imperialist economy have contributed to and accelerated changes within the U.S. economy. Millions of people worldwide have been pulled directly into the vortex of capitalist production, under brutally horrific conditions: young women in garment sweatshops in Bangladesh, Vietnam, and the Philippines... youths in China working endless hours making products for Walmart and other Western outlets... farm workers who have been driven off their land in Mexico and now picking produce that winds up in U.S. grocery stores and restaurants.

This heightened globalization of production and the ongoing “outsourcing” of many industrial jobs; rapid developments in technological innovation that have impacted all levels of production, transportation, distribution, and communication worldwide; and a global assault on wages and living standards—all this has been shaped by intense competition between blocs of imperialist capital and imperialist countries. All this has meant even greater horrors and misery for billions of people in countries around the world oppressed and dominated by the U.S. and other imperialist powers. And it has driven the growth of low-wage jobs in the U.S. and the increasing poverty among growing numbers of people.

Democrats—and Dead-Ends

The November 10 demonstrations were timed to be one year before the next presidential election. A major theme of protest organizers was “come get my vote.” Leading protest organizers said that this appeal was “non-partisan”—not aimed at either Democrats or Republicans. But in fact the Democratic Party was a key force behind the protests’ themes, and leading Democrats, such as New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, spoke at some of the events.

Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and other Democratic Party leaders have indicated support for the demand to raise the federal minimum wage. Meager concessions have been made in some places to the struggles people have waged for years to raise the minimum wage. Seattle and San Francisco have a $15 minimum wage. New York governor Andrew Cuomo said he is pushing measures to raise the minimum wage for all state workers.

The top Democrats are not supporting a rise in the minimum wage out of any benevolence or real concern for people’s well-being. Coming from the outlook and interests of powerful forces in the ruling class, they are deeply concerned that the widening gap between rich and poor could give rise to even wider and more intense social conflict. Tens of millions of people in this “greatest of all societies” are becoming increasingly impoverished, with little or no prospect of their lives getting any better for them. This is one very sharp expression of the utter worthlessness of a system based upon relentless exploitation.

People like Clinton and Sanders aim to mollify some of the extreme edges of income inequality, not end capitalist exploitation. They hope to channel the widespread simmering anger and discontent at the inequities of U.S. society into the dead-end of support for the Democrats.

An Outmoded System

Capitalism is completely outmoded and a detriment to humanity; it can’t in any way meet the needs of the masses of people. Human potential will be twisted and crushed, and the lives of tens and hundreds of millions of people will be destroyed and sucked dry as long as this system dominates the planet. It needs to be overcome, through an actual revolution, as soon as possible, everywhere on Earth.

The ruthless exploitation faced by low-wage workers is an expression of the actual workings of capitalism. The struggle people are waging to improve their living conditions and raise their wages is righteous, and can be an important component of mounting resistance and opposition to the savage injustices and inequalities of the system of capitalism.


Constitution of the RCP,USAIn today’s world the production of things, and the distribution of the things produced, is overwhelmingly carried out by large numbers of people who work collectively and are organized in highly coordinated networks. At the foundation of this whole process is the proletariat, an international class which owns nothing, yet has created and works these massive socialized productive forces. These tremendous productive powers could enable humanity to not only meet the basic needs of every person on the planet, but to build a new society, with a whole different set of social relations and values…a society where all people could truly and fully flourish together.

From Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA



Volunteers Needed... for revcom.us and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

REVOLUTION AND RELIGION The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion, A Dialogue Between Cornel West & Bob Avakian
BA Speaks: Revolution Nothing Less! Bob Avakian Live
BAsics from the Talks and Writings of Bob Avakian
Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)
WHAT HUMANITY NEEDS Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism
You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation Its History and Our Future Interview with Raymond Lotta
The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need