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Momentum of Fast Food Workers Strikes Sweeping Nation Hits Milwaukee

“We’re on strike because we’re tired of struggling just to survive."

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

They came to New York City. Chicago. St. Louis. Detroit.  And on Wednesday the wave of strikes by fast food workers has come to Milwaukee, where hundreds of workers are echoing the chorus of voices calling for $15 an hour and the right to unionize.

One McDonald’s employee's reason for striking captures an all-too familiar scenario. “We’re on strike because we’re tired of struggling just to survive,” said Kenneth Mack. “There is no reason why I should go to work every day and not make enough to take care of myself and my daughter.”

Many of these workers are earning the state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.  Yet the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Living Wage Calculator shows that an adult with one child would need to earn almost $21 an hour to support his or her family.

The Nation's Josh Eidelson reports:

“I’m so amped up and ready,” Milwaukee McDonald’s employee Stephanie Sanders told The Nation last night. Sanders, a 33-year-old who recently returning to working at McDonald’s following a stretch in retail, said that she would be striking “basically to help my generation out, and the next generation to follow.” Along with low wages and the lack of job security, Sanders said she wanted to do something about punitive management: “Just because you have on a blue shirt doesn’t mean you’re better than me.”

As I’ve reported, these recent work stoppages share several common characteristics: Each is a one-day strike by fast food workers, backed by a coalition of unions and community groups, targeting major companies throughout the industry and mobilizing a minority of the workforce in hopes of building broader support. While different local organizations have been involved in each city’s actions, the Service Employees International Union has played a significant role in all of them.

Ned Resnikoff sees similarities in the fast food workers' struggle that has been sweeping cities over the past 5 weeks and the historic fight for an 8-hour work day:

The decentralized, networked approach to advocating a $15 wage is in some ways broadly similar to the 19th century labor movement’s push for an eight-hour work day. In the aftermath of the Civil War, hundreds of “Eight-Hour Leagues” sprung up across the country, counting farmers, union members, and even the unemployed among their ranks. Last week, Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson said the labor movement may soon come to resemble “a latter-day version of the Knights of Labor,” one of the groups that played an instrumental role in the eight-hour push.

Jennifer Epps-Addison, economic justice director for Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said that in the 60s, "Milwaukee workers turned dangerous, low-paying factory jobs into good union careers." 

"Unfortunately, those jobs are gone and aren't coming back. Just like our parents and grandparents, we must demand that big corporations stop padding their profits by paying poverty wages. We’re striking because we still believe in a Milwaukee where anyone who is willing work hard, can earn enough to support their family," stated Epps-Addison.

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