As the gears of federal government have ground to a halt, a new energy has been rocking the foundations of our urban centers. From Atlanta to Seattle and points in between, cities have begun seizing the initiative, transforming themselves into laboratories for progressive innovation. Cities Rising is The Nation’s chronicle of those urban experiments.
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Back in the ’90s, following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, some of the pundit class predicted that the global spread of the Big Mac marked the world’s inexorable path toward the End of History; the golden arches of America’s favorite fast-food chain would serve as the triumphant gateway to a neoliberal peace of borderless consumerism and free trade.
Okay, well, that didn’t happen. But the fast food industry today is fostering a different kind of unity—this time through postindustrial class struggle. Having shaken up big burger chains with strikes and protests over the past year, fast-food workers are now consolidating their mobilization both by seeking international solidarity and by localizing their struggle with targeted campaigns for decent working conditions.
In New York, where local workers launched the first protests for fair wages and labor rights in the fast-food industry in late 2012, a coalition of faith, community and labor groups rallied on Wednesday at the Riverside Church in Harlem to push for a $15 hourly minimum wage for New York City.
Currently, New York City—like other towns and cities nationwide, thanks to corporate lobbyists—is barred from enacting a local minimum wage hike. A decades-old court ruling preempts localities from raising the base wage above the state minimum (now $8 an hour), but a pending Senate bill would enable New York City and other cities in the state to raise the wage floors in their communities to reflect the local cost of living.
The $15 wage faces daunting political hurdles (even Seattle’s new $15 wage legislation is fraught with compromising pro-business loopholes). But if the de Blasio administration takes the lead in responding to the campaign’s demand for a $15 wage floor, that could set a major precedent for the rest of the state, where nearly 40 percent of workers earn less than $15 an hour, and fast-food workers earn on average just $11,000 annually (their CEOs might make more than double that amount in a single day).