What I Learned Walking The Picket Line

Picket line in front of Wendy's in the Chicago loop. Photo by Aaron Cynic

Picket line in front of Wendy’s in the Chicago loop. Photo by Aaron Cynic

Aaron Cynic writes at Diatribe Media:

Yesterday’s hardest moment came for me when I watched a worker cry. I had been on the streets for about 5 hours with striking workers from the Fight for 15 movement and their supporters, who held a series of actions for two days in conjunction with a national week of strikes and protests to raise the minimum wage. I met the first picket in front of a Subway in the Chicago loop during the morning rush hour where several workers walked off the job. Organizers planned more than twenty pickets spread throughout the financial heart of the city for the day. Hundreds of demonstrators snaked along the sidewalks, stopping in front of retail and fast food outlets to deliver their message – “We can’t survive on $8.25.”

Morning was slowly turning to afternoon and demonstrators lined the sidewalk in front of a Walgreen’s on State and Randolph, a location sandwiched between the Chicago Theater and a Macy’s outlet in the loop. Several Walgreens workers, who had already made the decision to strike, stood near the corner, clad in their blue uniformed t-shirts and spoke about their plight.

“I don’t see my kids until Friday night,” said one worker. He described how he not only worked for Walgreen’s, but for fast food outlet Chick-fil-a. By the time he returned home from working two low wage jobs in one day, his children were already sleeping. “I want to be able to come home and take care of my kids off of one day’s work, one 8-hour shift,” he said. Later, another woman got on the megaphone and started to speak. She said she didn’t know what she would do if she lost her job, but she couldn’t care for her family on $8.25 an hour.

Then she began to cry.

I could feel myself choking up too. I cleared what felt like a large golfball sitting inside my throat, lit a cigarette and kept watching. A co-worker gave her a hug. Soon after, the demonstrators lined along the huge glass windows of the building began chanting “come on out, we got your back!” The woman who had teared up regained her composure and joined them, and the picket line began chanting in unison for Teresa a fellow worker still inside the store to come out. After about 15 minutes, Teresa emerged from the door to thunderous cheers and applause, and was nearly overwhelmed by hugs from other demonstrators.

The group formed up and began to move to the next picket location, energized from the new edition to their growing numbers, and I felt a shot of adrenaline surge through my veins too.

One of the more common criticisms I hear while covering protests and demonstrations fighting for workers rights is that low wage workers aren’t skilled enough to deserve better wages, or they’re lazy and entitled. Often that criticism is backed up by a personal anecdote from a negative experience with a co-worker and how that person doesn’t deserve what little they’re making, or a Horatio Alger type story about how they or someone they know pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.

It’s easy to fall into that line of thinking. America’s labor movement has gotten a bad reputation for decades, and “solidarity” – if recognized at all – became a four letter word long ago. America’s unions aren’t blameless in this – they’ve become just as susceptible to the same type of corruption we see in politicians and CEO’s. But for every story about a union worker sleeping on the job or taking a dozen coffee breaks, I’ve got one about high paid executives spending half their day playing golf or a president taking five weeks of vacation time.

Read the full post at Diatribe Media.

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  • Hadrian999

    I don’t see much hope for fast food workers improving conditions, a strike doesn’t hurt much when the strikers can be replaced by anyone of working age.

    • Anarchy Pony

      One of the joyous benefits, to the owning class, of high unemployment.

    • gustave courbet

      When no one can afford to live on minimum wages the picket lines will swell.

      • Hadrian999

        yeah but the working class people have always been willing to rip each other apart for an extra nickle

        • gustave courbet

          George Orwell and I share your cynicism

  • Noah_Nine

    Buckminster Fuller saw through the whole sham…. even the idea that everyone HAS to work to validate their existence is bullshit….

  • Ted Heistman

    Almost all jobs pay less than they used to. I move around a lot and have quit a lot of jobs. Back in the 90’s I could get various temporary entry level jobs for $11.00 an hour. Now, those same type jobs pay $9 or $9.50 an hour with no benefits. I am talking about fairly technical customer service jobs, working in call centers. These are not the best jobs in the world but not just any idiot off the street can do them. Usually training is a month long.

    Almost all jobs don’t pay enough to live right now, its not just Fast food.

    • Hadrian999

      when there are more people looking you can get them cheaper

  • BuzzCoastin

    public welfare
    managed correctly
    is a better alternative to slaving for the fast GMO food places

  • Kropotkin1936

    Powerful
    movements with society shaking momentum have erupted from the demands
    of dignity from low wage workers. Look at the movement eight hour day,
    or the recent uprisings over bus fare hikes in Brazil. It’s as much
    about rebuilding the concept of solidarity as it is about wages. It
    would be an incredible thing to see workers roving around the
    metropolis, calling out more numbers at each store they passed. That is
    how general strikes happen….

  • InfvoCuernos

    I just talked to a friend that got fired after 10 years from a not-minimum wage tech job because he refused to be on call on weekends without compensation, and that was with a large cell phone carrier (rhymes with “flint”). Corporations are getting pretty ballsy. They are out to squeeze all the job market can bear out of the worker. Remember when a single income family could afford to buy a home? Me neither. Haven’t seen that in years. Meanwhile the Rich get richer.

    • gustave courbet

      I work in a low end corporate retail job that is as soul-crushing as you could possibly imagine. Every once and a while, all employees will be forced to take a survey asking us to rank things like “how inspiring is the company’s corporate vision in motivating you.” It’s not enough for you to show up to work on time to do a menial job for poverty wages. Corporations want you to be excited to drink the Jim Jones Kool-Aid too.

      • InfvoCuernos

        When you have obtained more money than your spoiled alcoholic pill popping kids can blow in their lifetimes, then you have to find new goals, like making everyone in your employ bow before you like you’re a lord.

  • Haystack

    Most jobs are barely worth having.

    Maybe we need to start exploring more alternatives to the regular job market. For example, home businesses, barter systems, etc. Corporations are exploiting the fact that we don’t have better jobs to go to, but if more of us can get by without having to work for them at all, then they might have to think about actually paying their workers again.

  • Rhoid Rager

    How long till the torches come out? Boiling point’s gotta come soon. People don’t stay shit on forever, especially when they outnumber the shitters by roughly 100:1.

  • Heath

    Raise the minimum and business will do what has happened in the construction sector. Make all jobs 1099 making all employees their own private contractors. The pool of workers may be large, but unskilled still controls the outcome.

  • Bob G

    $8.25 an hour is not suppose to be a career. These people want $32,000 a year to flip burgers, empty trash cans, sweep floors, and clean toilets? I don’t think so. Flipping burgers is a stepping stone. A part time job. What they want is akin to welfare. Gimme, gimme, gimme. Just more Barry supporters, the uneducated free s–t crowd.

    • Kropotkin1936

      Hurumph!

    • Andrew

      Quit whining about other peoples’ business.

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