Yesterday, a group of about a hundred people convened at Plymouth Pillars Park in Seattle, at the southern part of Capital Hill, to protest for a $15 minimum wage and the right to organize. After several speeches from local activists, politicians, and striking fast food workers, the protesters took to the street and marched on several local businesses, despite torrential rain showers and thunder.
Speakers included Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and City Council Position #2 candidate Kshama Sawant. McGinn thanked the protesters, saying, “This movement that you are a part of today, that is happening in cities around the country, is [sic] one of the biggest issues that this nation has to face,” he said. “And I’ll tell you what I love about Seattle. Seattle can lead the way in this fight.”
Unlike many of the speakers, Sawant and other members of the Socialist Alternative party participated in the entire march. Asked about the possibility of a higher minimum wage slowing business and discouraging employment, Sawant said that it would likely have the opposite effect. “If you give a billionaire yet another million, he’s not going to buy anymore stuff. He’s going to sit on that mass amount of cash, which is what big corporations are doing today. But if you put money in the pockets of workers who are struggling to pay their bills, they will actually be a huge force in re-energizing the economy…” She added, “However, as a Marxist, I wouldn’t stop there…We have to go ahead, much further, and say that the capitalist system itself does not work.” Hear the full interview here.
While marching, protesters recited chants including, “Ain’t no power like the power of the people / ‘Cause the power of the people don’t stop (Say what!),” “You don’t need the boss / The boss needs you,” and “Super-size my salary now!” During scattered downpours, protesters chanted, “Rain, rain, go away / Give the workers better pay!”
Target businesses included Victrola Coffee, Chipotle, Domino’s Pizza, and Subway. At each, protesters unsuccessfully implored workers inside to walk off their jobs and join the march, chanting, “Walk out / We got your back.” Walkouts have played a prominent role in the history of labor organizing since the advent of the Industrial Revolution.
Benjamin Robert of Victrola Coffee was one of those workers who did not walk out. During an interview after the protest, Robert said that he supported the demand for higher wages, but did not feel that he could responsibly walk off his job to join the march. “I work for a small business, and I work for people who pay me well and treat me well, so I didn’t want to leave them high and dry,” he said. Robert estimated that, with tips, he made more than $15 per hour.
The last stop of the march was at the Broadway and East John Subway. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sole worker who had been inside during that protest said he respected the protesters’ goals but felt disrespected when they entered the restaurant to try to convince him to walk out. “I don’t mind you coming up to protest, [but] don’t come in my store and try to make me walk off the job,” he said.
Thursday’s march in Seattle was just one of many across the nation: according to NBC news, thousands of workers in over fifty cities walked off the job. The strikes and protest marches are part of an ongoing movement to raise minimum wage toward a living wage. The real (i.e. adjusted for inflation) minimum wage peaked in 1968. Since then, adjusted for inflation, minimum wage has dropped, average wages have remained stable, productivity has increased, and earnings of the richest 1% of American earners have skyrocketed.