“Today they want $15. Tomorrow they’ll want $30. Pretty soon they’ll demand Full Communism!” – The Bourgeoisie
Every year, Americans dread April 15th for its association with National Tax Day. However, this year workers in cities across the country took to the streets to demand raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. In New York, city unions came together for a large permitted rally on Central Park West that fired off a march toward Time Square. Although the permitted march was the main attraction, a smaller group of workers shut down Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn earlier in the day. Still, the 6:00pm march drew thousands of workers and community members all demanding a radical increase in basic wages. Speeches were made by the usual union bosses and city council members, and with the jumbotrons, musical performances, marching bands, and massive police presence, the march felt more like a parade than what organizers were labeling as a “strike.”
Despite this pacification, which has become normalized with most activist gatherings these days, the fact that these mainstream unions were endorsing the call for $15 rather than $10 shows that grassroots radical demands do eventually make it to the public consciousness. This could also be a reflection of how incredibly unequal American society has become with rank-and-file workers tired of political pandering at the expense of their decreased living conditions.
“Fifteen isn’t enough,” exclaimed one member of the AFL-CIO affiliated Hotel Trades Council who asked for anonymity. He ranted against the wealth of the One Percent and how gentrification destroyed local businesses for the benefit of the big box stores. “A friend of mine used to own an office supply store on Lenox Avenue. A Staples moved in around the corner and ran him out of business. Fuck Staples, don’t buy from Staples!”
Other radical sentiments were shared between rank-and-file members, many of whom longingly desire for a new political organization that could truly agitate on their behalf. This sentiment probably explains the success of groups such as Socialist Alternative who have been at the forefront of minimum wage organizing through their 15 Now affiliate and who have seen electoral success with Kshama Sawant in Seattle’s city council. Other activists see the intersections between economic exploitation and other social justice issues, which is why Black Lives Matter groups also turned up for Wednesday’s minimum wage actions.
While the American Left is slowly being rebuilt, we should understand that this country is no where near the level as other nations with leftwing coalitions such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain making large electoral gains as well as mass militant demonstrations from Ireland to Québec. While race struggles seem pretty radical in the current moment, the labor and feminist movements in this country are stifled by liberal reformists who either fail to see larger sociological forces at play or flat out reject the radical demands advocated by grassroots activists. Its important to support activist struggles of all varieties but we still have a long way to go before we will see marches like this.