Where will we find inspiration for the challenging days ahead? Where can we look, as we struggle to resist a President-elect who stirs up division, and whose policies will erode access to opportunity, even for his own working-class voters?
One place I will look: to courageous fast-food workers who have led the Fight for $15. Their courage, bold vision, solidarity across race and gender, and vision for economic fairness have transformed what is possible for low-wage workers. That’s why I’m getting arrested today, as part of their National Day of Action.
Four years ago, just after our last presidential election, a small group of fast-food workers in Brooklyn walked off their jobs, demanding $15 an hour and a union. I was honored to join them in their very first action. But I’ll be honest: I thought their demands were a pipe dream. And I was skeptical that they would risk their jobs.
But they knew that the vision of a living wage—and a sharp critique of the economic inequality in the fast-food industry—would inspire other workers to action. They were right, and they had the courage to back it up.
We’re going to need that courage in the days ahead, in the face of hate crimes and bullying, the loss of health care, the threats to immigrants, to Muslims, to women—such a long list that the erosion of workers’ rights barely gets a mention. Getting arrested today is part of a long tradition of civil disobedience, and it takes a little courage. But it is nothing compared to risking your job.
Two of the workers that I met in those early strikes, Eddie Guzman and Gregory Reynoso, did lose their jobs. Together with other workers and elected officials, we sat down with their managers. Guzman got his job back. Reynoso did not, but was hired as an organizer on the Fight for $15 campaign. That solidarity, and the protection it provided, helped other workers find courage. Together, they sparked a movement that has swept across the country. Four years later, more than 22 million Americans have gotten raises, and 10 million are on a path to earning $15 an hour.
That solidarity has extended across many of the lines that divide our country. Unions have stepped up to push for higher wages for non-union workers. Fast-food workers are mostly people-of-color, and mostly women, but over the past four years, they have stood together with mostly male airport and car-wash workers; with largely white communications and construction workers; even with freelancers and independent contractors, in their push to win legislation to keep them from getting stiffed.