GOOD NEWS FROM THE GRASSROOTS

ABSTRACT: The dysfunction in Washington is discouraging. However, there is good news from the grassroots. Every day people are standing up and taking action when government policies and corporate practices are favoring special interests over the interests of the average citizen and worker.

Workers at Wal-Mart and in the fast food industry are taking action to improve their wages and working conditions. On the day after Thanksgiving, protest rallies were held at roughly 1,500 Wal-Mart stores around the country, about a third of their stores. On December 5th, fast food workers went on strike for a day and were joined by supporters at rallies in roughly 200 cities across the country. They are asking for more full-time jobs, more regular schedules, better pay and benefits, and to stop retaliating against workers who speak out or participate in strikes. They want to ensure they do not have to rely on government assistance to make ends meet.

Efforts to increase the minimum wage are occurring at the federal, state, and local levels, driven by strong grassroots support and activity. In 13 states, the minimum wage increased on January 1, 2014. A number of jurisdictions passed laws in 2013 mandating current or future increases. A push is underway to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to perhaps $10.10, as President Obama has proposed. Analyses indicate that this could lift about 5 million people out of poverty. It would grow the economy by $22 billion and 85,000 jobs because the increased income would be spent in the local economy. Polls show that over 70% of the public, including a strong majority of Republicans, support increasing the minimum wage.

FULL POST: As we enter the New Year, the dysfunction in Washington is discouraging. However, there is good news from the grassroots. Every day people are standing up and taking action when government policies and corporate practices are favoring special interests over the interests of the average citizen and worker. Examples include the following:

  • Workers at Wal-Mart and in the fast food industry are taking action to improve their wages and working conditions. (See below for more information.)
  • Efforts to increase the minimum wage are occurring at the federal, state, and local levels, driven by strong grassroots support and activity. (See below for more information.)
  • State efforts to require the labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are gaining traction.
  • State and local efforts in opposition to fracking are gaining momentum.
  • In North Carolina, grassroots protests are occurring every week at the capitol, known as Moral Mondays protests, to oppose policies that hurt the middle and working class.
  • Teachers, parents, and other supporters of public education are protesting the top-down, corporate-style “reform” and privatization of our schools.
  • Communities are supporting home owners and fighting back against foreclosures with eminent domain takings of homes that financial corporations are trying to foreclose on.

Wal-Mart workers: On the day after Thanksgiving, so-called “Black Friday,” protest rallies were held at roughly 1,500 Wal-Mart stores around the country, about a third of their stores. The protesters were striking Wal-Mart employees and their supporters, who have been organizing under the banner of OUR Walmart (Organization United for Respect at Walmart). The first strike occurred in Los Angeles in October 2012 and the movement has been growing ever since. OUR Walmart is asking the corporation for more full-time jobs, more regular schedules, better pay and benefits, and to stop retaliating against workers who speak out or participate in strikes. [1] Ultimately, their goal is to ensure that Walmart associates do not have to rely on government assistance, such as food stamps and subsidized health insurance, to support their families. Multiple studies have found that the average Wal-Mart employee receives $2,000 – $3,000 per year in government assistance. Nationwide, that means taxpayers are supporting Wal-Mart employees to the tune of $3 – $4 billion annually. [2] (In 2012, Wal-Mart had $444 billion in revenue and profits of $26.6 billion.)

Fast food workers: On December 5th, fast food workers went on strike for a day and were joined by supporters at rallies in roughly 200 cities across the country. These protests for better wages, targeting $15 per hour, began about a year ago and have been gaining momentum. They target McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Yum Brands (which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken [KFC], Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut), and others. [3] (See my previous post, Pay for Workers in the Fast-Food Industry, 9/8/13, https://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2013/09/08/updates-on-posts-on-low-pay-for-fast-food-workers-pesticides-and-bees-detroit/ for more information on the affordability of worker pay raises.) Low wage fast food workers are estimated to receive $7 billion a year in government assistance to help them make ends meet.

The minimum wage: These efforts to improve wages and working conditions for low wage workers are also reflected in efforts to increase the minimum wage. In 13 states, the minimum wage increased on January 1, 2014. A number of jurisdictions passed laws in 2013 mandating current or future increases, including California ($9/hour), Connecticut ($8.70), New Jersey ($8.25/hour), New York ($8/hour), Rhode Island ($8/hour), two counties in Maryland ($11.50/hour), the city of Seatac in Washington state ($15/hour), and the District of Columbia ($11.50/hour). [4] A push is underway to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to perhaps $10.10, as President Obama has proposed. Analyses indicate that this could lift about 5 million people out of poverty. It would grow the economy by $22 billion and 85,000 jobs because the increased income would be spent in the local economy. [5] Numerous other efforts to raise the minimum wage are underway in states and communities across the country. Polls show that over 70% of the public, including a strong majority of Republicans, support increasing the minimum wage. (If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would be $10.50 not $7.25. If it had kept up with productivity gains, it would be over $15 and perhaps close to $22.) (See my previous posts, Lack of Good Jobs is Our Most Urgent Problem, 10/30/13, https://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2013/10/29/lack-of-good-jobs-is-our-most-urgent-problem/, and Labor Day and the Middle Class, 9/2/13, https://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2013/09/02/labor-day-and-the-middle-class/, for more information.)

There is also a growing effort to institute a “living wage” of $15 per hour. The fast food workers and low wage retail workers, and the unions supporting them, are the core of this effort, along with Kshama Sawant, a Seattle City Council member. The 15Now Campaign (http://15now.org) is also supported by newly elected Seattle mayor, Ed Murray. [6]

I’ll provide more information on these and other promising grassroots activity in future posts.


[1]       Berfield, S., 11/29/13, “On Black Friday, strikes and counter strikes at Wal-Mart’s stores,” Bloomberg Businessweek

[2]       Mitchell, S., 6/7/13, “New data show how big chains free ride on taxpayers at the expense of responsible small businesses,” Institute for Local Self-Reliance (http://www.ilsr.org/chains-walmart-foods-free-ride-taxpayers-expense-responsible-small-businesses/)

[3]       Choi, C., & Hananel, S., 12/6/13, “Fast-food workers, advocates rally in US cities for more pay,” The Boston Globe from the Associated Press

[4]       Davidson, P., 12/30/13, “13 states raising pay for minimum-wage workers,” USA Today

[5]       Berman, J., 1/2/14, “A $10.10 minimum wage could lift 5 million out of poverty,” The Huffington Post

[6]       Queally, J., 1/3/14, “The fight for $15: Campaign for Living Wage readies national push,” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/01/03)

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