Fast-food workers and their allies in the “Fight for 15” movement who were gathered Sunday in Detroit to plan strategy for action in the streets and at the ballot box got an unexpected call from the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination and, perhaps, the presidency.
Declaring, “I want to be your champion,” Hillary Clinton told the activists, “We need you out there fighting against those who would strip away Americans’ right to organize, to collectively bargain, to fair play. No man or woman who works hard to feed American families should have to be on food stamps to feed their own family.”
The Sunday morning phone call by the former secretary of state to the national gathering in Detroit was a breakthrough moment for the movement to raise pay for fast-food and retail workers, as it signaled that their issues are going to be a major part of the 2016 debate. It was also something of a breakthrough moment for Clinton, who has been seeking since announcing her candidacy to distinguish herself as a more progressive and populist contender.
But how much of a breakthrough remains to be seen. Clinton did not talk numbers in her call. Indeed, as CNN noted, ” Just how high a wage hike Clinton supports, however, remains a mystery. The candidate has not provided a figure yet. Her campaign did not return a request for comment Sunday night.”
Specifics are going to matter.
Facing a spirited economic-populist challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who has long championed wage hikes, and prodded by former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, who has a track record of work on living-wage issues, Clinton could not avoid the debate about hiking wages; she had to offer the party’s base voters some economic populism. A recent Politico headline sums the circumstance up. “Hillary Clinton Camp Fears Bernie Sanders,” read one, while another declared, “Wall Street Fears Leftward Swerve By Clinton.”
To Clinton’s credit, her referencing of the Fight for 15 movement was not a mild reference. It was laudatory. “I hope that every one of you will continue to raise your voices until we get all working Americans a better deal,” the candidate told the fast-food workers who had come to Detroit from across the country. “I want to be your champion. I want to fight with you every day. I’m well aware that the folks on top already have plenty of friends in Washington, but we together will change the direction of this great country.”